Hope and help in challenging times

The measures imposed in connection with the Corona crisis have a strong impact on life in the countries of Eastern Central Europe and the Balkans. However, the UMC cannot be dissuaded from continuing to give signs of hope and provide concrete assistance.
Life has changed dramatically in Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania in recent days. Not only have borders been closed, but also schools, public leisure facilities and shops. Especially in the Balkan countries, many people are now worried about the future. How will the inadequate health system be able to cope with the crisis without collapsing? Will it be possible to ensure the supply of essential goods? And what will be the consequences in terms of work and income if the State fails to put together measures packages worth millions or even billions?
The United Methodist congregations in these countries are trying to respond to the current situation with confidence, creativity and great commitment. Church services and other events had to be canceled. Institutions such as the kindergarten KORAB in Pivnice (Serbia), the Christian Family Center PASTELKA in Protivín (Czechia) or the school and counseling center for Roma children in Ohrid (North Macedonia) were also forced to temporarily suspend their operations. Several UMC staff members had to undergo quarantine.
But this does not mean that the voice of the Church has been silenced or that there are no longer any concrete acts of love of neighbor. On the contrary. In many countries, church services are transmitted in the form of live streams or made available as audio/video files via appropriate websites. In this context, the Media Commission of the UMC in Hungary had very quickly developed and published a guide for online church events. The experiences made so far are very positive. In Bulgaria, for example, more people are reached these days than ever before as a result of the fact that technical means are used.
Here and there creative forms are found to help people in need. In Czechia, for example, where there is a general obligation to wear masks in public, face masks have been sewn and distributed - especially to homeless people. The employees of the KORAB kindergarten in Pivnice (Serbia) now also produce face masks. In some places, help has been offered for everyday errands and activities to help the needy and especially members of risk groups. And with the distribution of food, an attempt is made to alleviate need.
However, there remains a big but. Where people in all the countries of Eastern Central Europe and the Balkans cannot afford the appropriate equipment, the electronically transmitted words of hope do not find their way to them. Where Roma families with up to nine children live in one-room social housing, either the rules of "social distancing" can hardly be followed because the children move around uncontrolled outdoors despite everything, or the close living together holds a great potential for conflict. On the part of the church employees, it is also difficult to maintain the previous personal contacts with individual children. A combination of a shortage of food as well as hygienic aids (masks, gloves, disposable coats) and a massive price increase threaten the existence of the Miss Stone Center in Strumica (North Macedonia). Without additional support from abroad, it will be difficult to maintain the "Meals on Wheels" program, the home care service for the elderly and the help for the needy in Radoviš in the long term.
Perhaps especially in times like these it will become clear whether "church" is a noun or a verb.
Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff