By Patty Villarreal
It is summer on the northern hemisphere! In my corner of the world, usually families are on vacation or children are spending the day at grandma’s house while parents work. However, this summer season is very unusual due to the collective experience of a pandemic crisis.
People wonder when we will go back to “normal”. Many leaders, however, think that we will instead experience a “new” normal. Others are urging us to consider a “better” normal. As a leader and as a believer of Christ, I agree. We need to strive for a “better” normal.
From my perspective as a licensed social worker, normal was not so great and this pandemic crisis has revealed some gaping holes in equality and equity.
In my city of San Antonio, we averaged 60,000 hungry people coming monthly to our food banks. Since the pandemic crisis, according to the office of the city mayor, the number of households requiring food assistance doubled and continues to grow. The growth of hunger is happening worldwide. In addition, we have witnessed how due to poverty, race, class, and age factors, the lives of the elderly and persons of color have been adversely affected during this crisis.
The new normal needs to be better than “back to normal.”
So, what do we do during this time of crisis as Christian leaders? What lessons can we learn?
As Christ followers, we are a people of hope. We draw upon the source of our power, the Mighty Three–God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit! Since we know that there is power in prayer, we stay in touch with God. We go to our knees, our “prayer closets” the “war room”, in step within a daily spirit of prayer. We also respond in the name of Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
How do we do this? We claim that familiar verse, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6. Isn’t this wonderful? It is not just up to us. God directs.
Do we do this alone, by ourselves, just God and me? Sometimes, yes. But a significant majority of the time, God directs us to find others to work together to make a difference. That’s how CLLI got started. Two Latina leaders (myself and Dr. Nora O. Lozano) sharing a passion, then a mission to equip other Latinas, and Latinas at heart. Then God added a team of leaders to serve as advisors, and then a formal board for a non-profit organization.
Healthy leaders strive to find collaborators to find solutions to challenges they face. Working together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, brings out the strengths of all parties involved. The crisis may be personal, but it may take longer than necessary to walk it alone. Ecclesiastes 4:9 reminds us that two are better than one. However, some challenges (like a pandemic crisis) takes more than two to address crisis situations.
Many of you readers are church leaders. The church world-wide has responded to the call of the needy and has been an instrument of hope even before the pandemic crisis. Many church leaders like you are working hard to find resources to provide basic needs and to give hope to the hopeless. Let me urge you to help your church consider serving with other entities outside the church, its community leaders. Not just now but in the future of the ministry. Whether it is a pandemic crisis, a community crisis, or with a community who has yet to receive its potential.
Julianna Marraccino, student at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and Garland School of Social Work, highlights:
Our way of being and doing as children of God is shifting into a redefined understanding of the imago Dei (the image of God),of fellowship and of serving the community. It is requiring us to think, act and love in different ways… Rather than relying on their own strengths, churches have looked to their communities to identify relationships, determine ways to maximize resources and offer care to their neighbors that does more good than harm.
Marraccino noted that there is strength and effectiveness in the work of the church when we explore what the “better normal” can look like, a “mutual collaboration of churches and communities.” The church brings its strength as a spiritual source and an army of volunteers. The community brings its members who are just as gifted with its resources of education, health, and businesses. The “better normal” is already practiced in some communities where churches and community leaders have organized together to meet the needs of its community, especially in low-income areas.
There is risk involved. Collaboration efforts may mean adjusting expectations of what short- and long-term outcomes might be. It may be uncomfortable meeting with other leaders who do not come from a Christ-centered perspective. It might take more time to achieve goals. However, change and betterment for the community is well worth it. The reputation of the church will be greatly enhanced in good standing and as a trusted member of the community.
There is so much more that can be said about the “better” normal. In the meantime, let’s imagine how this “better” normal may look like in our churches, communities, and circles of influence.
As we do this, let’s continue praying for health care providers, for elected officials who are tasked with making decisions for the good of its residents, and for the church and her willingness to take risks and work in healthy collaboration with its community and its leaders.
Patty Villarreal LMSW, is the Co-Founder of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, and Adjunct Professor at the Baptist University of the Américas.