The Bible teaches us that it does not help much if we are weak in time of crisis. In fact, Solomon says that to act with weakness in a crisis is a sign of having very little strength indeed. A crisis is identifiable by some or all of the following components – threat, surprise, urgency and uncertainty. The pandemic brought on us by the novel coronavirus and the disease called Covid-19 can indeed be described as a crisis of catastrophic proportions containing all the above components. It not only challenged the way of life as we knew it, but also our ability to see opportunities in a time of crisis.
Life as we knew it
At the outset it must be said that the church is a place where we find comfort in the presence of the Lord and the believers, the place where our weary souls are restored, our hopes renewed and where we are reminded of 1 Peter 1:7 “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ”.
We believers are encouraged in the book of Hebrews not to neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but are supposed to encourage one another to meet regularly in the house of the Lord, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near! Going to Church on Sundays and even in the week, have been viewed by believers as their Christian duty. The fellowship and gathering of the saints are no small matter to God’s children and many of us have become used to and comfortable with the way the church functions. In doing so we limited God to fit into our existing paradigms.
Locked down and locked out
When the South African nation went into total lockdown at midnight on 26 March 2020, no one could remain in any zone of life as we knew it. Everyone was unceremoniously evicted from what we were used to and almost overnight the entire world became a strange place. There came an abrupt end to all the things we took for granted. Going to the gym, the hairdresser, and the mall. Popping out for a takeaway meal or going to sit down at your favourite restaurant. Visiting friends and family, attending parties and funerals, even going to church, no more life as we knew it.
The impact on the church
The impact on the local church was felt in a number of ways. As already mentioned, there was the loss of communal worship and fellowship. There was the challenge of adapting to new and strange ways of “doing church”. Not everybody warmed up to receiving sermons via WhatsApp and the other social networks. Besides, not everybody could afford the cost of airtime and data. No more opportunity to take the Lord’s tithe to His own storehouse on Sundays. And how many would take the trouble to tithe in “strange new ways?”. The result – the income of the church was also impacted negatively.
A biblical lesson
There is a story in the book of Jeremiah 29:4-7 about those who were carried into Babylonian exile. The exiles in Babylon were also overcome by all the elements of a crisis. They also hoped and prayed that the crisis would be over soon. That they will return home quickly. But God advised them differently. Take the longer view, they were told – “Work towards the peace and prosperity of the city where you are”. God gave them instructions to plant their own gardens and live from the produce thereof. To look to the future. The efforts of the present always have an impact on the future. Doing nothing is not an option. But what can be done? How can we built today to secure a sustainable future?
Community involvement and socio-economic opportunities
Pastors and congregations could consider broadening their impact on their surrounding communities by starting socio-economic programs that could create income generating and/or job creation opportunities. Such programs could include Child and Youth Care Centers and Foster Homes, drop-in centers for children, care and support of older persons in institutions and communities, care and support of persons with disabilities, gender-based violence/domestic violence support services and shelters, early childhood development centers, literacy programs, substance abuse institutions and community based programs, poverty alleviation and job creation.
To assist AFM Assemblies the AFM Welfare has extensive experience and tools to provide technical support with the initiating, developing, and providing of programs and projects (especially where funding is required from the Department of Social Development and other sources). The assistance would include guidance on the policy and legal framework, understanding the requirements and the registration process related to both as an NPO (Non-Profit Organization) and as a designated service. Consideration should also be given to partnering with existing NPO’s.
When Moses stood in front of the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt was behind him, the Lord asked him “What do you have in your hand”. I pray that God will provide creative insight and wisdom on how to apply what He has placed in our hands, to meet the demands we face today and in the future.
Past. B. Petersen (General Treasurer of the AFM of SA)