How one church provided childcare for essential workers during the pandemic

April 28, 2020

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, a feeling of helplessness and fear hit many of us. What could we do? How would we be able to serve in the midst of restrictions? What if we got sick? But one church in Mississippi stepped up to meet an immediate need. First Baptist Church of Picayune started a free daycare for healthcare providers. So far, they have had a total of 42 children—a number that fluctuates each day depending on the shift—with ages ranging from 1 month to 13 years old. The pastor, Tony Lambert, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his church’s ministry. We hope this will encourage your church to care for your community, no matter how great or small the needs. 

Lindsay Nicolet: What led your church to beginning this free daycare? 

Tony Lambert: I became pastor of Picayune's First Baptist Church just seven months ago. We sensed God had placed in our hearts five very specific things to lead the church to do as a part of our calling. 

One of those was “caring for those who care for us.” I had met with several physicians, nurses, and various other healthcare providers to find out what needs they had. I believe this to be one of our most neglected groups in society. Most feel they have no needs. But the tremendous pressure they are under from multiple directions creates a high rate of burnout, compromise, and temptation. 

We were in the middle of putting together a couple of things when one of our doctors reached out and made us aware of what they saw coming. Shortly after that the request was made for us to utilize our resources to begin making PPE’s for local healthcare providers. The Family Physicians of Mississippi picked up on this and our story, and the mask design went viral. 

A few days later our local hospital administrator called and said, “Well, you have been asking . . . so, here it goes.” He then outlined the need of healthcare providers who were on the frontlines fighting the pandemic and the added stress of protecting and providing for their own children. Tears began to stream down my face, and all I could say was YES. Truly, God can do in a moment what we cannot do in a lifetime!

LN: How did you go about setting it up? What procedures did you have to go through? 

TL: We asked what the needs were, potential number and ages of children, and hours of provision expected. This was on a Thursday afternoon. We began to pull together information and allocate space to be used on our campus. Friday night we called a meeting of staff, lay leadership, and local educators to develop a strategy. We decided to treat it much like an extended day camp even though we could have operated under our preschool license. They needed us to open in 48 hours, and we did.

LN: What things do churches need to remember as they seek to serve healthcare providers in this way? 

TL: I think the key is listening carefully. If you plan and provide based on your wishes and desires the opportunity is missed. The safety of the children and our volunteers has to be top priority. We also felt that we must submit to local and state authority in order to maintain our integrity. 

LN: What safeguards did you set up to ensure that children are safe from abuse while in your care? 

TL: We limited our volunteers to those who had been vetted through our own ministries with background checks, ministry safe training, or those approved by our local school systems. All are members of our congregation. The rules are simple: No one is to be alone with any children at any time. Our directors or staff step in when volunteers need any kind of break to ensure this. 

LN: How are you seeking to protect others from contracting the coronavirus in light of healthcare workers posing a significant risk of spreading the virus? 

TL: No one except childcare workers, cook teams, or our cleaning teams are allowed in the building at any time. Children are dropped at the front doors each morning with parents signing them in. Each child is checked for temperature, had hands sanitized, and kept in groups of immediate families or consistent groups of five each day. We require that each child sanitize hands each hour. Workers who are in close proximity to the children are required to wear masks at all times.  

LN: How did you ensure you were complying with government regulations for the pandemic? 

TL: We consulted healthcare providers first. I also called the city manager and talked with an attorney in the healthcare industry to make sure we were in compliance. We fell under the essential category due to providing for the healthcare industry. 

LN: If churches are looking to serve their communities in this way, what advice would you offer? 

TL: Take time to consult church leadership. Ours was totally on board. The key was having leaders who would be engaged on a consistent basis. We turned to two ladies who have served as co-directors through the process. They have been amazing. I would also suggest making commitments for short time frames. We have run in cycles of two weeks with a mutual evaluation at the end of those two weeks. We just completed week five. 

It is not easy. The stress level has been high at times as we are balancing our calling from God with compliance to authorities. Our hours have been from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. most days. The nature of shift work with hospitals has continued to demand our schedules be fluid. After the first week, we divided our volunteers into three daily shifts. This helps tremendously with the daily stress levels. We must consider that our families are dealing with this personally each day as well. 

Unfortunately there are those in the community who have not been supportive. For us it seemed as though we had no choice but to walk through the door God had opened. How could we not support those who are on the frontlines “fighting” for us? It has been one of the greatest honors in my ministry, and we have rested on Esther 4:14, “for such a time as this.”

For more information on making your church a place that is safe for survivors and safe from abuse, visit the Caring Well site or read Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused

Lindsay Nicolet

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24