During this past year, pastors and lay leaders around the world have had to adjust to the new realities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ways we conduct Sabbath School and divine hour services have been affected. Many churches at different times went completely online, something unimaginable a year ago.
In the midst of this new landscape, one area with the most challenges has been outreach. All of this has been true for my church too.
I was sitting on a plane about a year ago (when flying was fun), heading to a wedding in the Loma Linda, California, area, when the news reported that the airport where I was about to land had just confirmed a case of COVID-19. Panic came over me.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I realized that this pandemic was not going away for a long time. It felt like a tsunami was on its way. The majority of our church functions involved personal contact. But that quickly changed. A strange virtual communication app such as Zoom became so common and understood that it has transformed into an action word like “Facebook me,” “I just tweeted it,” “google it.” Now we say, “Let’s Zoom!”
While the constraints imposed by the pandemic felt restricting to our ministry, our limitations were God’s opportunities. We serve a God who is never caught by surprise and has His eye on His church, His bride. As the Bible says: “The LORD will guide you always; / he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land / and will strengthen your frame. / You will be like a well-watered garden, / like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11, NIV).
As local church leaders, we decided to go to our knees and humble ourselves. We did not know what to do but pray earnestly and seek God’s wisdom. We first started to pray for 40 days together via conference call, praying for the Lord to lead us to people who were earnestly seeking Him. We enjoyed that experience together so much that we started a weekly prayer time apart from the normal prayer meeting. A few months later, we joined the 10 Days of Prayer organized by the Revival and Reformation initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And God moved upon us. Through that process, we realized that the Holy Spirit is not quarantined and that God was preparing us to meet the people who really were seeking Him.
Our church secretary texted me one morning and said to contact a lady who had called the church. I called, and what happened next was a direct answer to our prayers. Due to the pandemic, their church had gone virtual, and she and her family were trying to find supplemental spiritual programs. After channel surfing, she came across an Adventist program on prophecy and discovered the Sabbath truth. They were hooked. Searching for a Sabbath-keeping church, she called a dozen churches, one of them being ours. After our conversation, she meticulously looked at our church website, including our doctrines, and started returning tithe. The husband started searching for work that did not conflict with the Sabbath, and they are now actively enjoying Bible studies and attending church. But this is only one of the many stories of people who have sought us out instead of our seeking them over the course of the months we have been praying as a church family.
We now have three times more Bible studies and solid interests than we did prior to the pandemic. All the glory goes to God. We cannot boast but earnestly praise the Lord. I am convinced more than ever that a church that prays together stays together and, by God’s grace, grows together, even when physically distanced from each other.
“The greatest victories to the church of Christ or to the individual Christian are not those that are gained by talent or education, by wealth or the favor of men. They are those victories that are gained in the audience chamber with God, when earnest, agonizing faith lays hold upon the mighty arm of power.”1 God moves among us even in a pandemic. He is never caught by surprise.
- Ellen G. White, Conflict and Courage (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1970), 69.