By: Christa Meland
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and rebuilding efforts in the Twin Cities continue after the uprising that followed the killing of George Floyd, new church start Iglesia Piedra Viva is helping families navigate this challenging season while also attracting new members.
Many families that are part of this Spanish-speaking community of faith in South Minneapolis are low-income and have been particularly affected by economic hardship related to the coronavirus. Some also lost their immediate source of food due to the destruction and closing of so many grocery stores.
So Piedra Viva created an Equity and Benevolence Fund in an effort to collect donations to ensure housing, food, and technology for families in need. So far, $20,000 has been given to the fund, and $14,000 has been distributed to 11 families for rent and utilities. (Donate to the fund here.) Piedra Viva is also distributing food baskets to families in need on a monthly basis.
“God is calling my community of faith in this pandemic time to be the church,” said Rev. Jesús Purisaca Ruiz, who pastors Piedra Viva. “God is using us to do holistic work. We are bringing spiritual and social support in practical ways, not only to our community of faith but to our social network of about 50 families.”
In June, Piedra Viva started a tutoring program so children don’t get more behind in school. Colleen Beebe, who serves in a chief operating officer-type role for the church start and is married to Purisaca Ruiz, explained that most kids connected to Piedra Viva are negatively impacted by the education gap because of poverty and inequities in our educational system. This is often compounded by lack of access to technology. So Piedra Viva recruited 15 volunteer tutors and paired them up with 23 kids between the ages of 6 and 16 to help with math and reading via Zoom.
Eight computers have been donated to those lacking technology so that they are able to stay connected and avoid isolation. This has enabled families to participate in worship, kids to engage in remote learning and receive tutoring, and students to remain in Piedra Viva’s signature ministry—a (now virtual) guitar program that gives young people the opportunity to learn a skill that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive.
Partnering with other churches has helped Piedra Viva further its reach. Along with Park Avenue UMC in Minneapolis and Messiah UMC in Plymouth, Piedra Viva assisted with a food giveaway and resource fair in Park Avenue’s parking lot in June—and a second one is planned for July 31 (donations are being accepted at Park Avenue at 9 a.m. that day). In addition to providing free produce, diapers, and other essentials to more than 50 families, ministry and community partners also offered medical and legal resources and advice to anyone who needed them. Messiah UMC has additionally provided some of the volunteer tutors for students, and members of both Messiah and Park Avenue were among those who donated to the Equity and Benevolence Fund.
Piedra Viva—which has also started a virtual youth group, Bible Academy, and summer kids camp—has reached new people through its efforts: Two families have joined the congregation in recent months.
One of the families had a student in the guitar program. When Purisaca Ruiz and Beebe learned that the family had contracted COVID-19 and the father was hospitalized with a particularly severe case, they called to check in almost every day, prayed for and with the family, and provided a grant from the Equity and Benevolence Fund that allowed the family to keep its housing. After the dad returned home, Purisaca Ruiz and Beebe invited the family to Piedra Viva’s virtual worship services. They have been coming regularly ever since—and the man’s wife listens to Purisaca Ruiz’s online devotionals on a daily basis.
“He had a spiritual conversion along with his physical recovery,” said Beebe. “He and his wife were thirsty for God and grateful for God’s mercy.”
For Purisaca Ruiz, leading in this season has been about following God’s call to work for justice so that all of God’s children can thrive. Micah 6:8 is the scripture that has guided him: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Purisaca Ruiz and Beebe are both passionate about justice—and Beebe points out that their belief in God is an asset in this important work.
“Jesus didn’t convert me to justice; justice converted me to Jesus,” said Beebe. “My hope and dream is that people would know Jesus and the profound love and sacrifice made for all of us because we are all sinners. It’s only when we recognize that that change will come. We’ll change our hearts and minds and work together.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church