Friday, September 4, 2020

COVID-ERA CHURCH

The dirt road I was driving on got bumpier by the minute. I was concerned by the ominous storm clouds blowing in above me. It was the middle of Cambodia’s monsoon season, and if we experienced a heavy rain, the potholes would fill with water, the dirt would turn to mud, and I would be stuck. I prayed against rain and pressed on.

Our destination was a house surrounded by rice fields and palm trees, the site of a house church planted two months prior. The grandfather of this household had become quite ill, and his family brought him to Pastor Kongyu, leader of the Cambodia Baptist Union (CBU) in Kampot Province. Kongyu prayed over the man, and he eventually got well. Kongyu invited this family to know the God who had healed them. She helped them start a house church and has been teaching them what it means to be a church. Twenty families are now part of the church. 

Kongyu told me this story while we drove together to the house church, beaming that this was a “Covid-era church.” Her implication was clear. Many things have had to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But the Holy Spirit does not close. God is still at work.


Kongyu and I joined with other CBU leaders at the house in order to distribute rice and other food items to the families at this church. This time of year in Cambodia, many families run out of food reserves while waiting for the next rice harvest. The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. The CBU sponsors food distributions in hard-hit villages. Wherever they go, they share a gospel message, and new believers, non-believers and even local government leaders have learned about this Jesus who has compassion on us and is the true bread of life. I was visiting one of these distributions so I could learn how to more effectively partner with this CBU ministry. 

But as I sat listening to the message, my eyes kept wandering up. The dark storm clouds were rolling in, the wind picking up, the temperature dropping. Would I make it out of here before the rain came? I was getting more nervous. 

Suddenly, I heard a quiet whisper in my heart, a nudging from the Holy Spirit: “Stop worrying.” Worry seemed like the only logical response to me, so I tried reasoning with the quiet whisper: “If it rains, I’ll be stuck here!” The reply was, “It may rain, it may not rain. There is something to learn either way.” It didn’t rain until later in the day, after I made it back to paved roads. 

As I drove back with Kongyu, she shared her two prayer requests for this new church: that they would grow in faith and grow in love. They will have many challenges and problems in the coming months and years, but if they grow in faith and love, they could face anything. I reflected on my own experience that day. I spent much of the time worrying about rain, worrying about myself. I had much room to grow in faith and in love. How much worry I could have saved if I had focused on faith and love instead. 

I came away from my experience with this new “Covid-era church” praying that we would all learn how to be “Covid-era churches.” This means that we won’t just see all the things that have been shut down; the Holy Spirit never shuts down. Instead we will look for the new ways that God is working and ask how we can participate in that work.* 

Being a “Covid-era church” means that, when we see the dark storm clouds rolling in—my experience with actual rain clouds reminded me of the small, large and life-or-death-sized problems that we all face—we will turn our worry into prayer. We will acknowledge that sometimes it rains, making some paths impassable, and sometimes it does not rain. Either way we have an opportunity to trust God more.

Finally, being a Covid-era church means that we will pray to grow in our faith and in our love. Our tendency often is to grow in our worry, fear, selfishness and pride. That’s why the prayer to grow in faith and love is so simple, and yet so profound. Whether we face big challenges like lack of basic daily needs, or smaller challenges like washed out roads, we cannot sincerely pray for faith and love and also continue to grow in worry, fear, selfishness and pride.

Let’s all strive to become “Covid-era churches.” It will take work. It will take prayer. It will take faith and love. But when the storm clouds close in on us, we can continue to trust in and follow the Holy Spirit who never closes. 

*The absence of community transmission of Covid-19 in Cambodia for many months now makes in-person church gatherings a limited possibility, whereas gathering and church planting as we think of it, might not be possible in some parts of the U.S. right now. Our job is still to ask how God is at work and how we can join in with that work.