When Christians say Deo Volente (James 4:13–15), we say it because we know we can unexpectedly find ourselves where we are as I write these words: in day 24 of the 35 days of a nationwide lockdown. One Friday, 23 days ago, we woke up to a different South Africa.
Coronavirus and Hope Bible Church
The declaration of a national disaster, and a nationwide lockdown by our president, caused us as a church to meditate on Psalm 46. This psalm speaks of a time of crisis, war, and of a city under siege. This scene of war, conflict, and uncertainty threatens the livelihood of the psalmist. For us in South Africa, and across the world, it may seem like the world is about to collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa has (at the time of writing) 3,158 (903 recoveries) confirmed cases and 54 deaths of COVID-19. (Free State, where HBC is, has 100 confirmed cases, 4 deaths, and 71 recoveries.) But when we think of all of this we can only say “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Certainly, the livelihood of many people is going to be negatively affected, as the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown might inflict irreparable monetary harm on many families. But God is good and, in his good and wise providence, has allowed things to be where they are and has given the authority to our government to gazette into law (Romans 13:1) lockdown regulations, which restrict us to our homes, but allows us to only go out to do essential services, buy food, or seek medical care. Government says it is doing this to protect physical health and physical life.
The signs were there that this was coming, so as a church we did not wait on the pronouncement of the lockdown to start doing things differently. Before the lockdown we had already set up the church hall for seating arrangement to be two metres apart, plugged hygiene guides inside the hall, discouraged handshakes, encouraged people to stay home, and used sanitiser for everyone coming into the church.
On 22 March, we had already cancelled all the other services, so at the service we had only eight people in attendance. There was a scare for 13 of the people at church who feared being contact, although distant, with one of the first cases of COVID-19 here in Bloemfontein, but praise God that the people who could have infected them with the virus tested negative.
The president announced a lockdown in this week, so we have not had corporate worship for four weeks. From the first Sunday of our not meeting I started recording ten-minute devotionals through the book of Romans: one at 7:00 AM and the other at 7:00 PM daily. We completed Romans (40 devotionals) on Friday, 17 of April, and started Hebrews today. I do this for the church of God to still be shepherded during this pandemic. The voice they hear is the voice of their shepherd who cares, prays for, and loves them so much. It is based on a relationship we have.
We have had birthdays, the birth of a baby, and anniversaries during the lockdown but have not been able to see one another. This is sad. We have people at church who do essential services, so they have been working. We have students who have to study online. We have people who are not at work. We have children who are not at school. We have it all, except someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
We can’t have “virtual” church service because we can’t see one another. However, I am encouraged by the care church members are showing one another during this time, the prayers offered, and the longing to see one another again. Many people use the devotionals I do as evangelistic tools, and the feedback from their family and friends has been encouraging.
Family: The Kukunis
We celebrated our seventh year anniversary on 30 March, during the lockdown, and Warona turned 5 on 14 April. Both Warona and Tikvah are longing for the lockdown to be over, so that they can go to church and school. This past week, Keitu moved her maths teaching classes online. It was an anxious start mixed with Zoom’s cyber security fears, but she managed to make great progress and got through the week without any major issues.
Keitu and I talk about this lockdown a lot. It has been a sanctifying time for me since some of these lockdown regulations do not make sense, but we have to comply in honour of God’s word and love for our neighbours. We do not preoccupy ourselves with news around coronavirus a lot, which is why we have told our children just about enough for them to understand why they can’t go out and have kept them longing to see other people once everything is open.
Pastoring through a pandemic is not a course offered at Bible school, so preparation for it could only be indirect and through the application of everything we were taught. However, while doing an internship at Antioch Bible Church under Tim Cantrell in 2013, we read The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mindshift that Changes Everything. In it, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne write,
Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world, and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for eighteen months. How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function—with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of three)? If you were the pastor, what would you do?
I have applied suggestions in this book; writing regular emails, phone calls, and devotionals. Once the lockdown is lifted, I will seek to apply some more of the suggestions in this book, but it will all depend on how the easing of the regulations is going to look like. Outside the church, I have had the privilege to talk with likeminded brothers in other parts of the world about navigating these unprecedented times. I have gone about doing this in order to encourage the church to persevere in these trying circumstances, not trying to achieve normalcy, but intentionally keeping a healthy tension between complying with the government orders and accepting God’s hindering providence. We long to sing to the Lord again with one voice, and to live out his word with one heart.
Together with a group of Christians here in Bloemfontein, and a few people at church, we contributed to social concern by donating ±90 food parcels to ±90 families of people who make a living from hand to mouth in the townships and densified settlements. We did this on three occasions since the start of the lockdown. Pictured here was the last time. We handed out a gospel tract with each parcel, so please pray that God would save his people and continue to graciously provide for the needy.
The effects of the lockdown will only be felt and quantified after the gradual reopening of things. Every country has its own unique corona challenges, same as every family, and every church. Please pray that God would help us to respond well and may he receive all the glory through all of this. He knows what he is doing, he is at work, and he is in it. Lord willing, we will do this or that when and if this pandemic/lockdown is past.
Grace and peace to you,