NEWLAND — The BIble is full of stories in which the people of Israel are afflicted by war, famine and disease, yet time after time God always reveals His mercy and grace in the end. So why would the present time be any different?
Christianity is a religion that was born in the midst of great persecution and adversity. Even though many large congregations have disbanded to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the church suddenly looks like it did in the early days when Christians met in small groups in cities throughout the ancient world.
Today, however, the church has the comfort of the internet to help connect it with its members. It’s an amenity that churches like First Baptist in Newland have put to good use given the present circumstances.
“We can come together via the internet now, which is something that is nice to have since we can’t come together physically,” First Baptist Church of Newland Pastor Dr. Bill Jones said. “Fear is a normal response, sometimes fear can be healthy even if it helps you to comply with the disease control agency in the way that we should. There will be a time that will come when we can assemble and life will come back to some sense of normalcy. It will take a while, it looks like, but we’re just hoping and praying that this passes soon and everybody will be safe. That’s all we can do at this point.”
Through the church’s social media accounts and website, Pastor Jones and his son Pastor Burke Jones have been live streaming a message of hope to their congregation.
It’s a message that is reverberating across the county as other churches begin to increasingly use these online resources to share scripture.
“The scripture gives us a lot of encouragement around these things,” Jones said. “For the believer, this is just part of life. We live in a fallen world that has disease and poverty and these kinds of issues. Those crises are [constantly] out there for folk who we never touch or have contact with in the third world. We want to be calm about the whole thing as best we can. We have people in the church who are willing to help anybody.”
Pastor Jones offers Romans 8:28 for people to meditate on and to remind them of God’s promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
“I’ve been going to the Ukraine for a long time and the Ukrainian church has worshipped underground for a long time,” Jones said. “Sometimes the church does even better when it is in a crisis. It brings people closer together in spirit and breeds harmony. Hopefully, if the crisis does nothing else, it will teach us that we need to be dependent upon each other and to be kind to one another and to love one another.”
Pastor Brad Calhoun leads a smaller congregation at Faith Baptist Church in Linville. At a recent service, Calhoun led the church’s members to remember their daily walk with God. He read from the book of Psalms to remind them even during these times of uncertainty, God is always with us.
“For the person who knows Christ as their savior, there is no reason to fear,” Calhoun said. “That doesn’t mean to be flippant about it or to be careless, but we don’t have to fear this coronavirus. Mortality is 100 percent. We are going to die one day from something. We have to be ready to die one day.”
Calhoun stresses that God is in control and that panic is not the right response during times such as the present situation. Calhoun encourages be closer with God and to listen to His voice.
“C.S. Lewis said that God whispers in our pleasures, but he shouts in our pain. God is speaking to people and he is saying that life is fragile and that you’re not going to live forever and you need to get right with Him,” Calhoun said.
Pastor Brent Snyder at Minneapolis Baptist Church says that the situation with the coronavirus may be difficult, but it is an important opportunity to reach in the community to those who need help.
“It’s an uncertain situation, but it’s a really good opportunity to love your neighbor,” Snyder said. “That probably doesn’t mean spending an hour visiting with them, but it could very well mean going and to the store and picking up some milk, bread or toilet paper, if you can find it, and going and dropping it off for them so that they don’t have to get out. It’s a good opportunity for the church to be the church.”
Snyder is also streaming the church’s services and messages from the pulpit through social media. He has seen his online views jump since social distancing practices have been implemented.
“With there being so much unrest and unknown in the culture right now, I think there are more people who are looking for answers and who are looking for encouragement,” Snyder said.