The impact of the coronavirus struck home for me at the end of February when my sister-in-law Charlene found out she had contracted COVID-19. She is a New Zealander in her 50s, temporarily teaching in an international school in Indonesia. Charlene was already under hospital care for what doctors thought was bronchial pneumonia when her friend was diagnosed as one of the first two known cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia. She was immediately moved into complete isolation in a hospital set aside for COVID-19 patients.
Although Charlene is generally fit, she was considered high risk because she has underlying issues of asthma and hypertension. So when she was diagnosed, it was accompanied by a high level of fear and anxiety. She was kept in strict isolation, interacting only with hospital staff who were covered head to toe in protective gear. The only windows in her room were between rooms and high up on the wall to prevent looking into the adjoining rooms. Adding to her anxiety was the lack of information on her condition from the hospital staff. This was partly due to the language barrier and partly due to what seems to be a policy that the president of Indonesia must be informed of the results of every coronavirus test before informing the patients themselves. She said she was actually relieved to find out she had the disease as the void of information was more stressful than knowing she had contracted COVID-19.
In response to her older sister contracting the disease, there was an explosion of communications from my wife Teri and her younger sister to their COVID-stricken older sister, a seemingly constant stream of text messages, video and voice calls, online sermons and worship songs, and, of course, cute and funny pics. They responded to every anxiety attack, every interaction with medical staff with words of empathy and words of encouragement, and finally celebration when she was declared clear of COVID-19 after two weeks of battling the disease.
Here are two powerful things I observed from my sister-in-law’s battle with COVID-19 that I think we can apply as we walk through these challenging times:
The Power of Prayer
Charlene told us that one of the things that impacted her most while she was in quarantine was that her nurses, whether Muslim or Christian, would continually encourage her to pray. At first, she said it added to her fear, wondering if the nurses thought that she was so bad that the only thing that could save her was prayer, but as the battle continued and her faith grew, prayer became one of the things that encouraged and sustained her most, especially knowing that friends, family, and even strangers were praying for her daily. After she beat the disease she said,
“I felt blessed and protected by all the prayers from family and friends. Thankful that I was able to recover when others have not. Thankful that so many people were praying for my healing and helping me beat this.”
No quarantine can deflect the power of prayer and just the knowledge that people are praying can defeat fear and anxiety while the authority we have through Christ can defeat the disease and fight the devastating impact the disease is having on our church, our city, and the rest of the world.
The Community of Care
A crisis like the current coronavirus outbreak, with its accompanying suffering and fear, creates a deep need for fellowship and community. The current social distancing and quarantine combine to create an even deeper hunger for human connection and can amplify the anxiety and oppressive pain of isolation. What we discovered during Charlene’s battle with COVID-19 is that quarantine doesn’t mean being alone. Through social media Teri and her sisters became a community of care, providing constant, meaningful comfort and encouragement. We could do voice calls, text messages, and video chats. We sent her worship songs, videos, encouraging sermons, and, of course, tons of funny photos. Through social media, Charlene discovered that some of her friends who were also quarantined were actually in adjacent rooms and by climbing up they could draw the curtains and see each other through the high windows between rooms. Knowing that others are aware of and sharing in the suffering we are walking through makes a huge difference.
What can we, the church, take away from this experience?
1.Build a House of Prayer
God’s plan has always been that the Church would be a house of prayer and that we would pray without ceasing. We believe the pain of this crisis which will likely get worse, perhaps much worse, before it gets better, is a rallying call to prayer.
Practically, here is what you can do: Join our daily prayer calls, Monday – Friday at 7:00 AM and Tuesday night at 7:00 PM. Text ‘prayercall’ to 97000 to get the zoom call number straight to your phone.
Reach out to others for moments of prayer through prayer calls, texts, and video calls. These don’t need to be long or deep prayer times, just sincere. Make a list of people you can partner with in prayer and a list of those who might need prayer and then just reach out. The coronavirus has created a widespread need and an incredible openness to prayer like we haven’t seen since 9/11.
2. Intentionally Care
As the impact of this pandemic floods our communities, we need to minister comfort and care, like Teri and her younger sister did for her older sister.
Practically, here is what you can do: Ask God who you can reach out to and minister comfort and care to each day. Make a list of names and simply start reaching out. The internet and mobile phones give us unprecedented access into the lives of those around despite any kind of quarantine or social distancing. The coronavirus crisis is an invitation to go through that access and enter into their lives.
3. Build Community
This is a time to build communities of care. This was what Teri and her sisters were as Charlene battled COVID-19. They were already a community that simply ramped up to respond to the need. As a church, our Connect Groups, ministry teams, and circle of church friends are already existing communities of care that we can simply invite others into. Look for opportunities to create new communities of care. A group chat with co-workers.
Last week, I created a Facebook Watch Party. Just a few dozen invites resulted in over 100 people joining my watch party! I am using this connection to following up with many people I haven’t seen for a while with a simple text.
Care begins by doing all we can to wash, quarantine, and keep social distance in order to protect ourselves and others from the disease. But as we saw with Teri’s sister, being isolated in a highly quarantined hospital halfway around the world didn’t prevent her from being brought into a community of care that stretched from Indonesia to New Zealand to New York.
The Church was never intended to be a building or a meeting, but a people touched by the peace, power, and love of God who share that love with others. Let’s go be the Church!
Meeting at an Every Nation World Conference, Pastor Bruce and Teri Ho were both employed at other Every Nation churches before working at Every Nation Church, New York. After moving from Hawaii in 2004 for a one-year sabbatical, Bruce never left us and is now our Discipleship Pastor. Teri moved from the Philippines to New York City in 2011 and directs all things worship across both our Manhattan, AM and PM sites.
Voted most photogenic smiles and most likely to let you sleep on their couch, Bruce and Teri can often be found taking someone out to one of their favorite restaurants in Manhattan.