Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough."
"From the parable of the yeast, Jesus is teaching us about how the Kingdom of God works. Instead of expanding with landmark gestures and grandiose acts, it infiltrates life in small ways, often hidden from view, but as it expands, it actually touches every part of life."
~Osheta Moore, Woodland Hills,
Tearfund Ireland’s Coronavirus response in Ethiopia reminds me a little bit of the yeast Jesus spoke about. Set against the huge needs of this country, it almost seems inconsequential – invisible. I’m grateful for the hope and the faith that these verses stir in me.
Our Self Help Groups in Ethiopia are like yeast. Group facilitators identify the poorest of the poor in a community and invite them to become members. Together with 10 – 15 others, they gather weekly to save small amounts of money and help each other lift themselves out of poverty. As well as the material benefits of these groups, the group provides a community and network of support for individuals who may only have had a few years of schooling, are mostly likely to be child brides and have experienced all kinds of abuse and setbacks in their lives so far. The bonds that are formed by these groups go deep, some have called their fellow members their ‘next of kin’. Visitors from Ireland who have seen these groups in action, how they care and love each other and what they have achieved materially together have described them as ‘a little bit of heaven’.
Group of Tearfund Ireland Supporters visits Ethiopian Self Help Groups in October 2019
So you can imagine with Covid-19 restrictions in place how difficult it is for these groups (Tearfund Ireland supports over 700 such groups) not be able to meet and continue their activities together. But like the yeast in Jesus' parable, it is hard to stop once it gets going and so in this Coronavirus season, these groups have become a wonderful channel to spread accurate Covid-19 prevention messages into some of the remotest areas and communities in rural Ethiopia. They have also become a model for good sanitation practices and social distancing. When Self Help Groups meet, handwashing is compulsory before the group begins, individuals sit two meters apart and the meeting duration is halved.
Our response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 taught us that faith leaders play a vital role in conveying accurate public health messages to communities and so our Self Help Groups (along with 1,200 local churches) are being used to counter some of the Covid-19 misconceptions and build awareness.
Misconceptions, such as fears around eating fruit or any non-boiled/cooked foods etc., can exasperate food shortages, especially in a country facing the prospect of dire food shortages brought about by months of locust attacks on crops.
In addition to using our Self Help Groups and local churches to covey accurate public health messages, our partners in Ethiopia have produced COVID-19 brochures and posters (see image below) in two local languages. They have also engaged the help of a local journalist, local radio stations and are using mobile phone technology to continue to communicate COVID-19 prevention messages.
The COVID-19 infection rate in Ethiopia is low but rising and there is evidence of cases in rural areas. Through the support of individuals and churches in Ireland the most vulnerable in Ethiopian society are helping to stop the spread of the virus - our hope and prayer is that many will be protected.
Thank you for your support so far.