As I write this, the entire world is in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 has required a response never previously experienced. We all know this; we’re all living it. I remember the responses, both personally and corporately, to 9/11 and, for those of us who live in Oklahoma, to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Those were devastating experiences that resulted in days full of news-watching, and as a pastor, dealing with the fallout as people’s fears escalated.
But COVID-19 is different. It’s all-encompassing. It appears to be long-lasting in its effect on our nation’s daily life. The ramifications for the church and ministry seem daunting at times. When will this all end? When does life get back to “normal”? Will there ever be a time when we return to normal? Will there be another pandemic after this one?
In the midst of this radical change for our lives and for the life and ministry of our USMB churches, I have witnessed a truly amazing, passionate, inspired, unruffled and composed response from our pastors and leaders. The ingenuity, imagination and problem-solving capacity of our MB family has been nothing short of incredible. We’ve turned to Jesus, pleading for wisdom and insight for how to move forward, and he has answered.
Jesus saw this coming. God hasn’t been caught off-guard. So, what we’ve beheld is exactly what we’ve consistently claimed to know and trust. That Jesus will be with us and will never forsake us. That he will see us through the darkest of valleys. In fact, our trust has soared as we’ve encountered Jesus in fresh new ways and feel and know his presence as we move forward during these most challenging of times.
I am honored to be associated with men and women who have rallied with grace, faith and immense energy in facing an unseen adversary. Instead of cowering in the shadows, our Mennonite Brethren family is doing all it can to help mitigate the effects this virus has brought upon us and our communities. I think we’d be doing even more if we weren’t restricted by personal contact rules and recommendations.
I’ve witnessed older people learning how to use Zoom so they can be a part of a small group. I’ve heard of groceries delivered, communion drive-thrus, innumerable phone calls to check on a person’s welfare and people connecting by FaceTime just to bring a cheerful word of encouragement. Pastors have learned how to preach to an empty room—and do it well. Worship leaders inspire us via Facebook Live. Children’s pastors teach kids through Zoom breakout rooms. Prayer teams use up lots of bandwidth as they gather to pray fervidly for our people and those around us. The church boldly sails ahead into unchartered waters with Jesus at the helm.
This is mission and ministry as it should be. It flexes as needed. It seeks new pathways. In fact, there are things we’ve learned during the past few months that will remain with us regardless of whether or not we return to our previous ways of life. Ministry won’t be the same—ever again. That’s a good thing. Hardship has a way of refining us and teaching us how to cope in ways we hadn’t yet imagined.
We can take these things forward into the future. To look at it that way, COVID-19 will result in many good things: innovative methods, intensified reliance on Jesus, novel ways of expressing compassion, experiencing the family of God plowing through challenges together and above all, knowing the One we serve is most worthy of our trust!