This Thanksgiving wasn’t so kind to the families of the quarter of a million people in the U.S. who parted this world into eternity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But it’s only 1 percent!” *
I can’t count the number of times that phrase resounded in my mind and in conversations that I have had in the past eight months.
“Just let the herd immunity run its course and get over it!”
But then that 1 percent happened 100 feet from our church doors.
Tony Garcia Jr. passed away Nov. 1, after a week-long battle with COVID-19 in our hospital, by himself with no immediate family members present to hold his hand through those valley of death days that closed in so quickly in his life.
No sooner had Tony Jr. passed when Tony Garcia Sr. was admitted to the hospital on the following day, Nov. 2.
Felisa, Tony Sr.’s wife, was admitted three days later on Nov. 5.
The funeral for Tony Jr. was held Friday, Nov. 6. Three hours after the family laid him to rest in the grave, Tony Sr. passed into eternity losing his battle with COVID-19. This time, by the grace of God, his two daughters were able to hold his hands as he took his final breaths.
His funeral was held Nov. 20, with high hopes that Felisa would recover and be able to attend his funeral service. Her health took a turn for the worse, though, and she passed into eternity two days later Nov. 22 with only one of her daughters able to be present at her side as she took her final breaths on this earth.
But it’s only 1 percent.
I don’t know if you can hear the tone in my voice as I write these words at 4:00 a.m. This is the first time I’ve been able to cry over the deaths of my three dear friends and neighbors of 30 years. In 21 days, they were gone.
But it’s only 1 percent.
One percent … 100 feet from our church doors …
It was the night of Thanksgiving Day that God awakened me and disturbed my soul with his words, his words of compassion and grief for his sheep.
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the 99 others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the 99 that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14).
One hundred feet away from our church doors, this 1 percent just became more than a number.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I rejoiced with the “99” as I ate my Thanksgiving dinner! I rejoice that my father-in-law and my mother-in-law survived the virus and were at the table with us. I rejoice that my brother and sister-in-law are recovering right now. I rejoice over the “99” in our church family that have recovered as well!
But I grieve. I grieve over the 1 percent, the quarter of a million lives that have been lost just in our country, 1.5 million worldwide, because they are no longer just a number.
So when I hear that masks don’t really work that well, or ‘It’s my right to assemble as a church!’, I am grieving … grieving for the 1 percent that may be affected by my words and actions. And I am quickened in my spirit over the one that is isolated from the flock. And my heart is a bit softer for the things of my Shepherd. And I weep.
Our church leadership took measures on November 9 to hold remote worship services till the numbers in our community begin to turn around. We are looking at creative alternatives to connect and care for the community of faith and our community that is suffering. This last month, ICU beds in the state of Kansas where filled to capacity and many have had to be taken to neighboring states for necessary care. With a current 47 percent positive test rate in Finney County, healthcare workers are overwhelmed and burdened with the increase in demand for care and have pleaded for help from the community in slowing the curve. Please do what you can for the vulnerable among us. I might be one of them! — SE
*And, yes, I rounded the number up to 1 percent for the sake of discussion.
Steve Ensz is senior pastor at Garden Valley Church, Garden City, Kansas. Ensz began in youth ministry in 1985 after graduating from Grace College of the Bible, Omaha, Nebraska, in 1983. He served as the youth pastor for Garden Valley for 22 years and in November 2012, transitioned to senior pastor. Ensz and his wife, Lesa, were married in 1984 and have three children: Karena, Tina and Jeremy.