This outbreak has impacted economic growth, tourism industries, geopolitical landscapes, and “people on the move.” Specifically, thousands of travelers—businesspeople, international students, migrant workers, family members seeking reunion, and even recreational migrants, have been locked down and isolated.
Airports, markets, malls, schools, recreational facilities, and even church buildings are closely monitored. Foreigners in China are now being evacuated and repatriated to their homelands — a reverse diaspora!
Last week, the Asia Theological Association announced that Rev. Dr. Wilson Teo, a respected Singaporean church leader, senior pastor of Grace Assembly in Singapore, has been infected with Covid-19. To date, 16 cases linked to the congregation have been identified.
How do we respond to the Covid-19? I am not a medical expert, economist, or political scientist, but just like Wilson Teo, I was a local church pastor, and a reflective practitioner of international migration.
Let me suggest a brief response to this global crises through the lenses of biblical-theology, missiology, and pastoral ministry.
First, we need our theology to be moored in solid biblical truths and principles, because this will help our ethical practices.
God is sovereign and all-knowing. His eyes are not closed to global current events and personal crisis. God is our refuge in times of troubles, and he is our defender, as well as our deliverer.
With this guarantee, we must not fear (Ps. 91). Even God’s children are exposed to pestilence, as recorded in the Bible. For example, leprosy was deadly and rampant during the Roman period. The lepers were isolated and considered unclean social outcasts, but Jesus, the compassionate healer, ministered to them, transcending gender, cultural, and racial considerations of the time.
Today, we are exposed to all kinds of infectious diseases, including Covid-19. The words of the Apostle Paul are comforting: “Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times or hunger and nakedness, or danger or death... I am sure nothing can separate us from God’s love...” (Rom. 8:31-39).
Second, during seasons of epidemic outbreaks, the church must respond pastorally.
I am writing this post in Toronto, Ontario, arguably, “the most multicultural city in the world.” Recently, I invited a friend for dinner. He responded, “Great, but I don’t like eating ‘oriental’ food — these restaurants have corona viruses!”
I was appalled to hear these condescending and discriminating comments. Pastors have a prophetic voice and we must remind God’s people to practice peace, hope, and courage, and encourage God’s people to be empathetic and sympathetic to those who are hurting.
Further, we must encourage our congregations to pray for and support the medical scientists, pharmacologists. medical doctors, and hospital workers as they diligently research and care for those afflicted, even as we extend care to families and communities affected by disease.
And, somewhat overlooked in pastoral dialogue, we must encourage responsible citizenship. I am referring to practicing good hygiene, and heeding quarantine instructions.
Finally, the Covid-19 crises gives us incredible missiological opportunities.
The prophet Micah summoned God’s people to show justice, constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with God (Mic. 6:8). During the worst times, enmity among nations can be alleviated when benevolence, justice, mercy, and humility are extended to those in national crises.
God expects his people to display the Kingdom ethics and qualities including humility, mercy, peacefulness, etc. (Matt. 5:2-12). The disciples of Jesus Christ are summoned to be his witnesses of God’s goodness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and everywhere in the world. How do we do that in a time of restricted travel?
Let us remember, we are living in technological age. Technology makes people accessible.
Immigration experts are predicting this to have the potential of being a great “lock down,” that is, people cannot travel beyond their borders. Travelers and pilgrims are shut out and forbidden to travel.
For example, many Chinese nationals are currently considered persona non grata in many countries. Even international students and diplomats are restricted from travel. Public spaces are being locked down to protect people from potential exposures to the virus.
Still, these people may be reached via technological tools such as the radio, TV, internet, YouTube, social media, and communication apps (e.g., Skype, Zoom), and telephones.
Local congregations must adjust their missional thinking and be innovative in their evangelism, discipleship, and worship activities, including prayer services and eucharist celebrations. The church buildings and assembly halls may be inaccessible, but congregations can carry on in their “Kingdom business.” They can even send their financial contributions via online banking. Small group discipleship classes and even board or committee meetings can be held via Zoom conferences. People can still come together in the cyber world.
The church is God’s family, called to persevere in times of trials, tribulations, and suffering; to pray for each other, and to extend care and respect to other nations.
Covid-19 cannot hinder the mission of the church. The Kingdom advances.
Sadiri “Joy” Tira (DMiss, Western Seminary; DMin, Reformed Theological Seminary) is Coordinator for the Lausanne Diasporas North American Strategy Group. He also serves as Missiology Specialist at the Jaffray Centre for Global Initiatives at Ambrose University and Seminary (AUS), Calgary, AB, Canada; on the Advisory Council of Gospel-Life.net at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, USA, and on the Board of Directors for SIM (Canada) and MoveIn International.