2020 was a tumultuous year that will be etched in our memories as a time of perplexity, fear, and challenge. It was, in many ways, simply bizarre. Toilet paper shortages, empty highways during rush hour, and separation from family and friends seemed more like fictional events than daily realities. For Christians, it was also a protracted test of faith. Is God still in control? Will He keep His promises to protect us? Why would He allow the pandemic to happen? Does He still care?
The answers to some of these questions will most likely not be disclosed until we enter eternity. After all, Paul reminds us, “O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and untraceable His ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34). It will be nice to understand more about this season from God’s perspective!
Yet, here at the Mission we are very much concerned with the now, as well as eternity. Although we did not have answers to many of our questions about God’s purposes, we do have His Word. And this is His promise: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” (James 1:2-4).
And so, we persevered in our work, finding new ways to serve the community’s increasing need while simultaneously complying with CDC guidelines and local restrictions. We have written about some of the changes that have affected the Mission’s programs, and our website still reflects these changes as of this writing. Some services have been altered, while others – like showers – remain suspended for the foreseeable future.
But now we want to give you a more personal glimpse “behind the scenes.” We’d like for you to hear from program managers and directors not only about what changes they made in their area of ministry, but how these changes have also included “silver linings.” You will be encouraged to see how persevering through these difficult times by faith has produced some good outcomes right now.
Guy Mutchler, Director of Food Services and Facilities
One of Guy’s deepest disappointments about COVID’s effect on the Food Distribution Center is that our guests can no longer shop for and choose their own groceries. Prior to COVID, guests were able to walk through the building, browsing the shelves for items specific to their tastes and needs. “If someone had diabetes, for example, they would choose different items that someone who did not,” he says. “But now we have to pre-pack grocery boxes without allowing for differing needs.”
Even so, there are several encouraging outcomes from last year. First, guests can now receive groceries three time each week instead of two, and no ID is required. Also, due to increasing supplies from the Maryland Food Bank and grants received from generous local funders, the Mission has increased the amount of food available for distribution. Finally, the F.O.O.D. Program developed during COVID, which works to ensure that more people have access to food throughout the county.
Niccole Rolls, Partnership Development Director
The greatest day-to-day impact for Niccole was that nearly all personal interaction with the public came to a sudden stop. Before COVID’s arrival she was busy meeting with our community of supporters, speaking at various gatherings around town, and helping to connect people with available resources. She immediately sought new ways to connect with the community, such as hosting a Facebook live prayer event in March that accrued over 11,000 views. She could also be found almost anywhere on the Mission’s campus, from cooking in the kitchen with her husband, Dave, to answering phones at the front desk.
She is encouraged by how quickly Mission staff, volunteers, partners, and associates demonstrated a “whatever it takes” philosophy. “From the staff to business associates, I experienced people’s willingness to do things differently,” say Niccole. “Since our volunteer population was drastically reduced due to COVID restrictions, staff members pitched in wherever needed. Our focus is serving people – whatever it takes.” She is also grateful that so many were willing to meet via Zoom, even though it was unfamiliar to many. As we continue to open up gradually, we will maintain many of the efficiencies we realized during 2020.
Terri Gray, Faith House Director
Terri Gray is quick to identify her decision-making process as being immediately affected by the pandemic. “Considering how to mitigate risk of exposure drove many decisions,” recalls Terri. “For example, how could we gather for evening devotions while still main taining social distancing guidelines?” Ultimately, the staff split the group into two separate groups with a limited number of attendees. “The women would sit in the doorways to their rooms, while their children played inside. This way, the children were safe, social distancing was maintained, and this important component of the women’s journey toward healing and hope could continue,” she says. Also, the Faith House 90 Day Shelter residents were moved into the newly renovated Transitional Living Program apartments, where social distancing is easier to maintain than in the shelter.
Terri is still amazed by God’s perfect timing. Because the apartments had just recently been completed, there were no occupants yet. This meant that there was plenty of room for the eight women and seven children from the shelter to live in safety. Also, since the apartments had just been deemed ready for occupancy, they had not been fully equipped with supplies. But the community rose to the challenge, providing items through local drives and generously giving funds for items needed. Finally, Terri is grateful for the staff at Faith House. This small and committed group of women became even closer be cause of the COVID situation.
Danielle Jagerson, Development Coordinator
Danielle came to the Mission last year as a senior at Salisbury State University, where she earned her degree in social work. She had previously volunteered at the Mission and wanted to complete her required field internship here. As a social work major, she expected that much of her time would be spent in person-to-person interactions. But shortly after her internship began, COVID restrictions tightened. Danielle persevered, however, learning how to connect people with available resources virtually. “I was really disappointed that there was so little personal contact with the community,” Danielle recalls. “But I learned how to be patient and to persevere in finding new ways to help others.”
Despite the challenges, Danielle views her internship as a success. She was able to understand the needs of the community through her work each day, and through helping to lead the Needs Survey (read more about this in another article). In addition, she learned about the importance of a dedicated volunteer team not only to the Mission, but also to the community at large. And perhaps the brightest silver lining of all is that Danielle is now on staff as the Mission’s Development Coordinator!
None of this has been easy. Fatigue, weariness, and discouragement are real temptations when we walk by faith. But while God may not reveal His purposes in the COVID crisis right now, at the Mission we have a strong determination to follow Him regardless of what comes tomorrow. We look to His Word, persevere, and continue to pray that He will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Eph. 3:20).
We follow Jesus’s example and love our neighbors in need, supplying food on campus and throughout Frederick County, helping those in recovery, sheltering women and children, and providing clothing and other items to all who ask. And as we work to help others each day, we are encouraged by James 1:12, which says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” We trust that as we look to Him to direct us now, He will bring blessing to others and glory to His name in eternity.