First, some news for all of us who are in self-quarantine and most likely reading this at home.
Nick and Megan Lamoureux have safely returned home after serving in Malawi for the past year. As the Coronavirus crisis came up very suddenly and was beginning to disrupt international travel, we thought it best to bring Nick and Megan back to the United States as soon as possible. They arrived back on U.S. soil last Friday after a harrowing experience to get out of Africa. Major countries were closing their borders and not allowing international flights to land or even pass through. This included the major gateways of South Africa and Kenya. Nick and Megan were able to get seats on an Ethiopian airlines flight. Ethiopian flies to Malawi, and they were able to get out via Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. On the news last night, I watched the plight of many nationals of both the United Kingdom and the United States stranded overseas. Nick vividly describes his experience and miraculous exodus in his blog Out of Vermont at https://outofvermont.travel.blog/2020/03/23/into-vermont-or-out-of-africa/
We are especially concerned for our Italian brethren who live in the northern province of Lombardy that includes the cities of Milan and Bergamo. Bergamo is the location of our Italian office. It was also called the most dangerous city in the world because of the Coronavirus. As of this morning, 74,000 people in Italy have been infected and more than 7,500 have died. In my sermon last Sabbath, I read a report from Carmelo Anastasi about what is happening there. On Tuesday this week, I recorded a podcast with him that gives more of his on-scene observations. The podcast is online at https://www.ucg.org/inside-united-podcast/inside-united-podcast-156-carmelo-anastasi-coronavirus-in-italy.
In spite of the hardships in their midst, the positive faith and courage of our brethren is inspiring as they await the passing of this scourge.
Each week, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new quarantine rules. Yet, this has not stopped the naturally social spirit of people to communicate, worship and work.
This past week, the Governor of Ohio asked all offices to close for two weeks to further curtail the spread of the virus. We held a major administrative meeting to discuss how to operate under these conditions and communicated the outcomes of these meetings to our employees and ministers.
A crisis always makes us think in terms of necessity, essentials and priorities. We need to continue processing incoming mail, making bank deposits and processing payroll for our employees. I’m so thankful for the people I work with who all know their jobs well and who respond to emergency conditions instantly.
We are finding ever more effective ways to be with one another, albeit online. While we have had to separate ourselves through social distancing and quarantine, this has not stopped robust Sabbath services, Ambassador Bible College classes and the normal flow of work and communications. In fact, some of the new innovations that have been implemented will continue even after the pandemic passes.
Last Sabbath, we streamed our church services from Cincinnati. About 10,000 people were online in unity singing, praying and hearing God’s Word preached. While scattered and separated in homes all over the world, we felt the surge of unity and an emboldening strength that came only from God. We will continue with our 2:30 PM EDT service, but are encouraging pastors to conduct their own webcasts. One congregation that I know of uses a call-in phone bridge for those who have no computer or smartphone. They just dial in and listen. We want our brethren to be well-connected with their pastor and congregation.
Ambassador Bible College continues to function online with its normal class schedule. Our students are intent on finishing the school year. Yesterday, I sat in on three classes and felt as though I were there in person. Students can continue to ask questions of the instructor and can communicate with one another via video, audio and chat. This online culture has a life of its own. It is fascinating to watch and experience as text messages fly in group chats.
Physical isolation has forced us to examine how well we are equipped and how proficient we are with current technology. Fortunately, the infrastructure of the Internet along with everyone’s personal computer or phone, coupled with free or low-cost apps, has already put into place most of the communication pieces. Some of these elements we have not used because we never really had to. Now we have to—and have done so marvelously.
Virtual Sabbath School
Our pastors and their wives are using technology in creative ways. In Indianapolis, they are conducting Sabbath school class online. Here is what pastor Joshua Creech writes:
“During this time of isolation and uncertainty, we have all faced loneliness and anxiety. We are not alone in this—our children feel those same feelings. They hear their adults talking in hushed voices, worried tones, and their world has changed in big ways. They have been disconnected from their church family and friends. In an effort to bring joy and unity to their Sabbath day, we will be having a virtual Sabbath School every Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. This will allow them to learn more from God’s Word and give them an opportunity to ‘chat’ with each other.
“The first lesson this coming Friday will be about the Old and New Testament Passover. The children will hear a lesson and do a craft together with the teacher, Mrs. Creech. She can easily take their questions or comments through the chat box and will allow them time to chat with each other after the lesson. This will be done through a Facebook Watch Party on the Virtual Sabbath School Facebook group page. There is a possibility for us to use a different platform in the future, but for now this is how we will ‘meet’ together.
“If you are interested in your child being a part of the Sabbath School lessons, please contact Lizzy Creech via Facebook and ask to be added to the group. It will not be open to the public to protect the children’s privacy. Before the lesson begins each week, please make sure your children have paper, pencil, crayons, glue, and scissors. Mrs. Creech will present two different craft options to cater to different age groups.”
Webcast Bible Studies
While there are different methods used for webcasting, one technology that I’d like to mention is the use of Zoom for Bible studies. Rick Shabi has told me how successful he’s been in using it in Orlando and Jacksonville.
Here’s what he wrote about his use of Zoom:
“The recent global health crisis has kept us from meeting together in our local churches for a few weeks now. We miss seeing each other and being with each other, and it appears this time of separation may continue for several more weeks.
“In thinking and talking with some about doing an online Bible study where we could see each other and interact with each other, a member recommended Zoom, so I checked it out and it came with very good reviews.
“Zoom is a free service you can use for meetings up to 40 minutes in length, with a limited group of participants. For our purposes, to serve the churches here, I purchased the $15 a month service which allows for unlimited number of meetings per month, no limits on meeting time, with the capacity for up to 100 connections. Phone-in options are also available.
“To schedule a meeting is quite easy, and the host is provided ‘invitation’ material to send to all those you want to invite to your meeting.
“Yesterday we had our first online Bible studies using Zoom. We decided to schedule an afternoon and an evening study, to allow for all members’ schedules. We had good participation and utilization for both the afternoon and evening studies.
“Both studies went very well. The video and audio quality was exceptional, even in the evening session that had several more connections than in the afternoon. It was great to see everyone and the participation and interaction was very good.
“We have scheduled another set of studies for next Wednesday.
“Born of this crisis period, I think we’ve found a very useful tool we will use going forward for local Bible studies in this area. We also plan to use Zoom to coordinate the Passover service this year.”
Local programs to keep in touch with one another
Here in the Cincinnati congregations, pastor Steve Myers has implemented a program called “United Together” during this time of uncertainty. It’s a way that brethren can stay in touch with each other, fellowship together and be sure our needs are met. Perhaps you have something similar in place already in your congregations. Steve Myers explains how it works:
• First, the congregation is divided into small groups of several families each.
• On the Sabbath, the first person on the list contacts everyone, preferably by phone and sees how things are going, find out if there are any needs and enjoy an uplifting conversation, etc. It’s a way for us to get to know one another better.
• Then, on Wednesday, the second person on the list will contact everyone.
•The process continues, so that each Sabbath and Wednesday, the next group member takes the opportunity to contact all on the list.
• When all have had the opportunity to contact the others, then it starts over again.
While better days are ahead, allow the ones we’re going through to teach us vital lessons of relationships, kindness and love one towards another. After all, that is how we will be recognized as Christians (John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version×).
Take time to reach out to one to another in a special way. Do something kind you hadn’t done before. Yesterday, Bev and I took a walk in our neighborhood at the same time my son and his family of six walked their neighborhood in Indiana. We communicated with each other by Google Duo that let us see and talk to each other. Use the time of isolation to creatively do new things.
Yesterday I looked over the 2020 Festival Brochure that has now been sent to the printer and will be mailed to you shortly thereafter. It filled me with hope and joy, knowing that better days are ahead.
May God be with you this coming week. Stay safe. Please pray for us at the home office. Ask God to give us wisdom, discernment and strength to lead the church through these times. We pray for you.