Yesterday afternoon Joel and I went around our neighbourhood posting letters that expressed to our neighbours that we're here to help and inviting them into a community whatsapp group so we can keep in touch. We want to get to know better these people whom God has placed us among and journey through this crisis together - and hopefully they'll catch a sight of the hope we have found in Jesus along the way. The responses mailed back have been encouraging!
Even as we are advised to go into self isolation if we are vulnerable or unwell, even as many of us have to change our working patterns to be away from our colleagues, even though social interaction is being discouraged - it's a great thing to hear Jesus say to us: "Surely I am always with you, even to the very end of the age". But then it's also challenging to realise that He says that in the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). The coronavirus situation has not rescinded or suspended the Great Commission - we are still on mission for God, ambassadors of Christ, Spirit filled witnesses of the gospel in word and action. We just have to be a bit more creative about the ways of opening up and inviting people into our lives.
I've been going back to read about what the early church did in times of plague. They really are so inspiring. One writer talks about how the Christians became a "mini welfare state in an empire that lacked social services". Another describes how the Christian literally "outlived" their pagan neighbours, because they cared for those who were sick and dying (which not only increased their chances of recovery by 2/3s but also meant the Christians built up immunity and won a hearing from the non-Christians they blessed with nursing care). Thus the two great plagues of the 2nd and 3rd century actually led to the massive increase of the Christian population in more ways than one.
So in these days we need to be caring for ourselves and our own family (and remember the Bible defines family not just as biological but as spiritual family) - but let's not lose sight of those God has placed around us. Christ loves and cares for them too - and He wants to use us to express that as the body of Christ. Let me leave you with these helpful thoughts from my friend, evangelist Glen Scrivener: " Pastoral care is evangelizing Christians, and evangelism is pastoring non-Christians. Once we grasp this essential unity we can properly pursue both disciplines to enrich the church and to reach the world" (Read the short article here: "Evangelism and Pastoral Care: The Best Of Friends")