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Visions of hope amid pandemic

The coronavirus challenged compassion-providing ministries in new ways

Visions of hope amid pandemic

This is year 15 of WORLD’s Hope Awards for Effective Compassion, and the strangest. The 100-plus ministries our readers nominated had to adjust their programs in the face of COVID-19. We had to adjust our process of choosing winners. 

Over the years we’ve learned to verify by in-person visits what ministries put on websites—but this year we decided not to send our team into viral hazard all across the United States. Instead, we visited eight impressive East Coast ministries and then chose four to profile in this issue. (Happily, before the pandemic one of our reporters had already eyeballed the ministry in Malaysia that became our international winner.) Next year our reporters will head west. 

Our common denominator each year is that winners offer challenging, personal, and spiritual help. That’s harder under coronavirus conditions. In 1892 the charity magazine Lend a Hand told readers, “Let us beware of mere charity with the tongs”—but what happens to compassion from a distance? Back then author Edward Everett Hale analyzed the success of a ministry to alcoholics: “Five hundred people in a year take 500 of these broken-down women into their homes, sometimes with their babies, and give them a new chance.” That doesn’t sound like social distancing. 

SO THIS YEAR WE LEARNED how each ministry dealt with pandemic problems, as you’ll see in the next 20 pages. Homeless clients at the Dream Center in South Carolina sewed thousands of masks. Its “Opportunity Village” in South Carolina includes 23 tiny houses: That degree of separation helps keep people healthy. Gilgal, an Atlanta program that helps addicts rebuild their lives, sees problems when the women it serves leave too early: COVID-19 forced some to take more time to learn new ways of thinking and acting. A Gilgal pastor is now conducting Bible studies by phone. 

In Maryland, Overflow Cafe has the simplest model of all: It’s a restaurant where troubled individuals already socially isolated—and not by a virus—eat affordable meals and get counseling. Overflow helpers have to work particularly hard when people wear physical masks along with psychological ones. In North Carolina, Refugee Hope Partners has learned not to fix problems for clients but to teach them to solve their own. This year, though, families have been hurt so badly that the ministry has had to deliver not only grace and hope but basic supplies and food. 

Our international winner, ElShaddai in Malaysia, is an openly Christian organization working with mainly Muslim refugees in a majority-Muslim country with strict laws against proselytizing. But Malaysia, with a population of 32 million, has probably 6 million foreign workers from at least 20 countries who take on dirty, dangerous, and difficult jobs: Their needs are obvious under COVID-19 conditions.

PLEASE READ AND RELISH the following descriptive stories. We can’t offer a vaccine, but we’ll give each ministry a monetary shot in the arm. Please read these stories or listen to our podcast accounts, and then vote for your favorite any time from now through Oct. 17 by going to wng.org/compassion. Whichever ministry gets the most votes from our readers and listeners gets additional funding. All five of these ministries get a well-­deserved publicity spotlight after years of perseverance sometimes noticed only by God.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.