New Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Our Reflection and Response
From Pastor Juta Pan, CBCGB Senior Pastor
The outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is raging around the world. In just two months, an epidemic that originated in one city engulfed one country before spreading rapidly around the world. For those of us in Boston, we have felt the pressure of the pandemic, originally in our worries and concerns for our fellow compatriots abroad, then in dread as cases began to appear in Boston and now in our everyday existence as the United States and Massachusetts declare a state of emergency. Although there have been no reported cases in our church so far, many of us feel the daily pressure of not knowing whether we or our relatives and friends have or will become infected. The pandemic brings fear, inconvenience to daily life, compassion for people, and even the shadow of death. How then should Christians respond in times such as these?
Why Humans Suffer
From a grand perspective, human suffering is caused by people's rejection of God's sovereignty and protection. Genesis chapters 1-3 show that man is the crown of God's creation and was created in the image and likeness of God, entrusted to be the keeper of His creation. As such, man should surrender to the God who created him, and recognize God as his sovereign Lord. Only when humans surrender to God, can we experience the blessing of God and manage the land entrusted by Him. It is a pity that mankind has refused to regard the Lord as God, trying to be God ourselves, mistakenly believing that we can manage the whole world by ourselves. God respects people's choice, and human’s selfishness leads to us losing the protection of God. When the world loses the protection of God and the selfishness of humanity adds fuel to the flames, all mankind and the earth will inevitably fall into catastrophe. This cycle has continuously appeared throughout human history, circumstances we feel even deeper with the spread of the current virus.
Why Christians Also Suffer
When mankind suffers because of its rejection of God, why do we, the children of God who believe in God and receive His salvation, also face threats of infection? It is because God does not want His children to be outside the sufferings of humanity. Instead, He wants His children to identify ourselves with the suffering of the world, to offer care and extend loving hand to those who are experiencing the suffering and amongst the struggles of fear. Just as God ’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, came into the world two thousand years ago (John 1:12), lived among us, cared for us, and ultimately died on the cross to save us, we too are expected to live like Christ lived. Following Christ's commission to His disciples after the resurrection, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” (John 20:21) we must imitate the life and spirit of Jesus’s incarnation. Therefore, we will not be immune from suffering precisely because we must suffer together with the world, identify with and show our love for humanity. Only in this way can we truly allow the people of the world to experience the greatness of God’s love, turn from rejecting Him, return to Him and receive His grace.
Our Attitude Towards the Pandemic
This does not mean that we can be careless in the face of a pandemic, acting with a casual attitude and not being concerned with possible infection. We need to rely on the grace of God and our own efforts to maintain the health of our bodies, minds, and spirits in order to provide love and care to those around us. Consequently, when the pandemic started in Boston, our church leadership settled on the principle of, “Trust God and Respond with Prudence.” We have conviction that our God is sovereign – He is also a powerful healer and the great shepherd who cares for us. At the same time, we also acknowledge that God wants us to learn to be mature people, to use our wisdom, and to do our best to prevent diseases. We invited medical professionals in the church to form a "Public Health Emergency Advisory Team” to provide their professional knowledge and to make recommendations regularly to church leaders to help the church make the right decisions. At present, we have moved all worship services online. All fellowships, bible studies, adult Sunday school, prayer meetings, coworker meetings, and other activities are conducted online, and the church office has been temporarily closed. We know that although the opportunities to meet and share with each other have diminished, we are still one church, and we are and will always be members of the same spiritual family. As Jesus said: A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:21, 23). Inner godliness is more than just space and distance, and our relationships will not change because of fewer opportunities to meet.
Practicing Faith Under Pandemic Restrictions
In reality, the spread of the pandemic and the shelter-in-place directives of Massachusetts have indeed caused us physical, mental, and spiritual distress. In the confinement of isolation, how can we keep ourselves healthy in body, mind, and spirit, and in turn help others? We have the following suggestions.
Massachusetts health advisory restrictions have included forcing schools to switch to home-based classes, companies to implement work from home policies for the majority of their employees, and only leaving your home to address essential needs. The monotonous living space and pace, isolation from others and lack of social life, all plunge our body, mind, and spirit into depression, anxiety, and panic. Being on the internet with no restrictions and alertness will make us live in an illusory state and even lure us into temptation. Therefore, how we calibrate ourselves while we are “alone” to have a good and healthy relationship with God and other people is what we should pursue in today's confinement. In fact, being temporarily isolated from others is an opportunity to simply come to God and establish a closer relationship with Him. Just as Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness, many churches throughout history have had monks that would stay away from the crowd to get closer to God. Today, as we are in a kind of spiritual wilderness, may we come to seek God earnestly and establish a good relationship with Him.
Since the beginning of the year, the Chinese Ministry has introduced devotional material - Our Daily Bread. Now it can be used daily as a reference for the practice of devotion. Our reading the Bible in one year initiative started at the beginning of the year. Even if you are three months behind, you can use the extra time now to catch up and still complete it by the end of the year. In addition to the materials provided by CM, I believe that Crossbridge, COM, Youth Ministry, and Children Ministry have all thoughtfully supplied us with many spiritual materials. If we neglected these materials in the past, now is the time to use them properly for spiritual growth. When we are overwhelmed by the fear of the pandemic, feelings of loneliness, and lack of hope for the future, what we need most is to pray to God. May we extend our hands of prayer to God at any time and in any circumstance, and let us, within these moments, experience God’s light, comfort, and guidance.
In fact, we are not really alone, we are confined together as a family. Without choice, we are actually spending more time with our families than ever before. This isolation of the whole family is a good opportunity to build on our relationships. The key is whether we will grasp this good opportunity. We should take this unique moment to interact more with our families, cook and bake together, enjoy food together, talk and share together, do housework and engage in fun family activities, conduct family worship through the materials provided by the church’s family ministry or have a family Bible study. These are opportunities for the whole family to bond and grow together in Christ.
Our Spiritual Family – Church
For those who are single or live alone, we are not alone because we are part of the spiritual family of the church. Recently, the attendance of online small group Bible studies within our fellowships continues to increase, showing that the distance in space has made everyone cherish the relationships that were taken for granted in the past. While we cannot enjoy face-to-face "family" relationships because of the pandemic, current technology has helped us solve many problems. We can use online platforms to communicate with family members. The church has conducted online Sunday worship and prayer meetings, while fellowships and small groups have used video conferencing platforms like Zoom to conduct Bible studies and sharing. We encourage fellowships and co-workers to make more use of online platforms to create opportunities for brothers and sisters to communicate and share. As far as I know, COM’s student fellowship began online tutorials for baking on weekends. They also started online prayer meetings twice every day. We can creatively design more online activities that will connect us more closely and grow together in Christ. In addition, church leaders, counsellors, and co-workers can also use the phone and online platforms to shepherd and care for brothers and sisters, helping solve difficulties for those in need. We also encourage church brothers and sisters in times of need to take the initiative to connect with church leaders or fellowship counsellors for help and consultation. Limitations of time and space cannot separate the love between us and God, nor can it isolate our love from other brothers and sisters.
Our Testimony to the World
The spreading of love is not only limited to our brothers and sisters, but also a Christian's responsibility to humanity. In John 9, when the disciples saw a man who was blind from birth and went into a conceptual discussion of the cause of this suffering, Jesus reminded them that when suffering comes, the focus is not on conceptual discussion, but how to act and show God's glory. As this pandemic spreads, let us spread love together. When many people are threatened by the pandemic, when many medical staff are in danger of being infected because of the lack of medical equipment and facilities, when someone is laid off, when there are difficulties with livelihood, when someone is panicking or even in despair, let us live out love in our communities. Even though there are many restrictions on caring for each other, we can still contribute as much as we can within our limits, take practical caring actions, pray, bring comfort through the phone or online, and preach the gospel of true peace. There are many creative ways to love those in need around us, to demonstrate God's work and glory.
The spread of the pandemic makes us feel that this is the worst of times, an era of foolishness and darkness, but these times provide us with the opportunity through the power of Christ to make this - as Charles Dickens says in The Tale of Two Cities – the best of times, an age of wisdom and a season of light. The key lies in how God’s Church acts in times such as this so that we can be a testimony to His amazing power and give many people in crisis a turn for the better. Let us live healthy lives for the glory of God, so that we have the ability to act and become channels for God's grace in times of suffering,