This Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread were like none other in our time. The COVID-19 crisis silently roared through the world during a time when we are commanded to assemble in solemnity, remembrance and rejoicing. Half the world is still in lockdown. Yet, the Passover was held with great solemnity in our quarantined state, similar to the first Passover of Exodus. Through modern communications we met online and listened to a common message from our pastor or did the service ourselves. We made the best of a crisis that faces a world which has no clue as to the underlying cause of its trouble, nor does it have the security of hope that we do—of knowing the end of this calamity.
The evening before the Last Day of Unleavened Bread we were able to see services live from Brisbane, Australia. Yesterday, home office services were streamed to the world. We were grateful to hear responses from the United Kingdom who heard our morning service at 2:30 p.m. their time.
We, who have been told for decades of prophecies that would be fulfilled at the end of this age, are not to be dismayed about what is happening. We know that these things must come to pass. We have a protective Father in heaven Who hears our prayers. His Kingdom will come. His will shall be done. He will provide our daily bread each day. He will protect us from the hour of trial and deliver us from the evil one.
But God also loves the world and is working with it. Right now He is telling the world: “I have breaking news! I interrupt this program with this special message.” Using the coronavirus crisis, God is drawing attention to His message of repentance and reconciliation with Him by striking at the things that the world idolizes. Sports stadiums and arenas are closed. Theaters are closed. Cruises and exotic travel have stopped. The worship of money is met with a blow to the stock market and economy. Twenty-two million people have lost their jobs. As never before, we are forced to stay home. God is giving us all extra time to think.
This warning message is not only to the world, but also to us whom God has called. He tells us to stop, think and recalibrate. This is the time to readjust our lives. We need to take care of personal things we have neglected in this busy-busy world. This is a time to become aware, take responsibility, forgive and find peace. The time is NOW to “think differently” which is the meaning of the Greek word in the Bible that is translated “repent.”
Proclaim a Fast
We suggested taking time to fast and pray when we first canceled in-person Sabbath services for a couple of weeks at the beginning of this crisis. But, this condition of lockdown and prohibition of public gathering has now expanded to six weeks or more and there is no definite restart date at this moment. Many are hopeful that it will be in May. As a consequence, along with Chairman Don Ward, we would like to call for a church-wide day of fasting either next Sabbath or Sunday, April 25 or 26.
• For our minds and hearts to be humbled so that we can understand and act on the deep things taught by Jesus Christ about repentance, becoming like Him, and abiding in Him.
• To look to the needs of others. We have brethren around the world in desperately poor places like Myanmar and Malawi whom we can’t even directly help at this time. Ask for God’s intervention and help for them.
• Pray that we can take seriously the commission that we have been given to preach a warning message to the world.
The next edition of the Beyond Today magazine coming to homes shortly after May 1 will feature the following strong and timely articles:
• Practical steps you can take to endure worrisome times
• Epidemics in Bible Prophecy
• COVID-19 and Rampant Fear
• The Snare of Sudden Change
• Will He Find Faith on the Earth?
• In a Post Pandemic World, Choose to Change
• Five Tools for Dealing with Trials
• Coping in Times of Crisis
• Could it Happen Again?
Our goal is to preach a stronger warning message of repentance to the world while we have their attention.
Ambassador Bible College
Ambassador Bible College is continuing its academic year via online classes. The students have worked hard to maintain their enthusiasm and attention. They and the faculty agree that conducting classes via video conference is inferior to the classroom, but having been together most of the year makes it manageable. This year has provided a unique group of students with a unique experience.
We hope to be able to reconvene in May and finish several class activities. If a live graduation can occur, it will be streamed over the Internet. We are also making plans for an entirely online ceremony, if that is needed.
The faculty also decided that it will be best to defer the one-week Continuing Education program to next summer, rather than involve so many mature students in travel and group meetings. A date will be set later this year when interested individuals can register for next summer’s program (please do not try to register before it is announced).
Meanwhile, ABC is on schedule for next year and still has room for students in next year’s class. Applications can be found at abc.ucg.org.
Home Office Focus Meeting — April 13
We meet every Monday for about 30-45 minutes to report to one another about the past week and I want to share some of this information with you. Conducting the meeting by video has been a great way to connect, but it is not a replacement for physical contact and seeing one another in person.
Jorge de Campos reported that our brethren in Angola and Brazil are doing well. Of course, they are coping with the anxiety that this situation brings. We recently received confirmation that our magazine A Boa Nova will be printed in both Brazil and Angola this month.
As of April 13, our financial report is looking good. Rick Shabi reports that God is continuing to provide for us and that our brethren have been very loyal in sending in their tithes. The online process for collecting tithes and Holy Day offerings seemed to be working well. We are on target for budgeted income for April and the income for the fiscal year continues to run above budget and the prior year.
Charles Melear reported that feast registration is open and 3,583 people had registered as of Monday. Our Festival Brochures should be arriving soon. Some of our international Feast sites have a different registration schedule. You can find Feast registration information at our website: https://www.ucg.org/members/feast.
General housing reservations will start April 19. We encourage our members to review cancellation policies when reserving condominiums and homes. When making reservations, realize that many hotels, convention centers and visitor bureaus have been directly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and may be short-staffed, which may require patience on our end.
We are still moving forward with Feast planning at this time (which is 6 months out). However, we will continue to monitor what is going on and any future decisions will be based upon the situation and regulations at that time.
Richard Kennebeck thanked all his staff who have been working long hours to help everyone adjust to new working conditions. Many are helping ministers get their equipment up and running for streaming services and remote work. We have also been offering support to our ministers in Canada and England to help them connect remotely and solve internal computer needs.
The Feast registration website capacity has been increased so that it can handle more traffic during this time. From a technical standpoint, I think everything ran more smoothly this past weekend.
Literature mailings continue to go out. We have worked out a schedule for the work to be done and keeping our employees safe. Our online donation website is working well.
In Ministerial and Member Services, Mark Welch has been in touch with many of our pastors and everything has been going well. We are fortunate in the United States to have access to so many services. Many continue to look for ways to stay connected through email chains, call lists, and online meetings. This is certainly a time to imagine and be creative.
In Media, Peter Eddington reports that the “Work” continues to be done. The staff has done an excellent job of adjusting to new working conditions. BT Daily segments are being recorded, articles are being edited, proofread and approved. This week’s Beyond Today program “Easter — The Rest of the Story” is tracking to become either our 3rd or 4th highest response for this fiscal year. We continue to run ads on Roku.
Take note of the coming day of fasting when we can all combine our prayers for the Work of God so that we can courageously go through doors of opportunity that are opening at this unique time.
Pray for our brethren to be out of harm’s way in this worldwide epidemic. Some of our people work in hospitals and facilities with COVID-19 patients.
Thank you for your continued prayers for us to guide the Church through this time. We know you have. Our heartfelt prayers of thanks go to God for you.