As COVID-19 strikes San José, California, SP staff mobilize their neighborhood into a holistic response
San José is a flashpoint for COVID-19 cases in the state of California. Since Jairo and Lourdes Sarmiento, Servant Partners staff and pastors of Shalom Iglesia, first learned of the virus, they have resourcefully responded to the abrupt financial, emotional, and spiritual needs of their East San José and Washington-Guadalupe neighborhoods.
“To help, you have to be organized—not just working by yourself, but with others,” Jairo said. “As we are part of our communities, we have to know our limitations as well. We’re not saviors trying to help those infected. We’re living in the same experience with our community.”
Shalom Iglesia has partnered with local community organizations like Healing Grove, Friends of Washington School, and Madre-A-Madre to holistically respond to community needs. They are identifying needs, collecting prayer requests, and using digital platforms to share information, encouragement, and advice. They have also designated key leaders for food distribution, medical practice, and counseling. As bilingual local ministers, Jairo and Lourdes are crucial voices in relaying medical and governmental information to their Spanish-speaking neighbors.
“We tell our community to stay home, but there are some who don’t have anywhere to go,” Jairo reflected. “We’re trying to be in solidarity with them.” The Sarmientos have opened their home to one such resident, and continue to support others who have lost jobs due to lockdowns. Between persistent economic burdens and their new loss of income, residents' usual anxieties are heightened. Still, this community has a deep reservoir of resilience to draw from.
“We see the resilience and power in our community,” Lourdes said. “In some way, our community may be more prepared to confront this, because we are regularly in experiences that are not easy—and still, we keep going. But this situation has also humbled our neighbors to ask for help.”
With anxiety and fear gripping the world, the Sarmientos recognize that mental, emotional, and spiritual health is a priority during this crisis. Lourdes provides her phone number to neighbors as an open resource for counseling.
“As Latinos, we don’t often seek help when we feel down or anxious, because we think it means we’re ‘crazy,’” Lourdes said. “But this has made the community more open to receive that kind of help. When I receive calls from women having panic attacks, I’ve been able to breathe with them and talk through their situation.”
Along with mental and emotional stability, neighbors are also seeking God amidst this crisis.
“People are more open to experiencing God,” Lourdes said. “Even if you have money to pay rent and buy food, there’s a gift that only God can give: peace. There are options for food. But what about the hunger of your heart? It’s important to receive that spiritual food.”
Jairo suggested Matthew 9 as spiritual food for Christian leaders during this time.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” - Matthew 9:35-38 NIV
“Compassion means to be identified with the pain of others,” Jairo said. “The capacity to see and identify the needs among us. The capacity to generate vision of what we can do. The capacity to pastor and accompany others. But also, the limitations and dependency. That is why Jesus says, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest,’ because I can’t do it myself. We’re under God’s authority, dependent on him.”
The Servant Partners COVID-19 Community Support Fund is providing residents in East San José and inner cities around the world with essential needs. You can contribute to it at www.servantpartners.org/covid19 and follow Shalom Iglesia here.