23-year-old Jonathan, a Singaporean international law student in London was attacked unprovoked earlier this month. “We don’t want your coronavirus in our country”, they shouted.
During a pandemic, what spreads is not only a virus but also fear.
The impact on lives, plans and hearts
Beginning in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 swept across the East Asian nations and has now reached every corner of the planet. In many countries, schools and universities are closed and employees are working from home.
In the world of student ministry, training, camps and events have already been postponed or cancelled, or are looking doubtful. One particularly close to my heart is the triennial East Asia Regional Conference, due to take place in Thailand in July. We were expecting more than 600 students to attend. To cancel such a strategic event would be a huge loss.
People are paralysed with fear. We have been confronted with our frailty and vulnerability by a microscopic, yet potentially fatal virus.
Yes, we are facing a fiery trial indeed. But how are we as Christians to respond?
Seek the Lord
Rather than panicking, Christians can respond differently. In the Bible, when facing trials, godly leaders showed one clear response: coming to the Lord in prayer and confession. We are to face our suffering squarely, and seek the Lord.
King Solomon prayed for the Israelites (and then similarly for the nations):
“When famine or plague comes to the land… whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel – being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple – then hear from heaven, your dwelling place…”2 Chronicles 6:28-30 NIV
So too, we are to pray, confident that He hears. In East Asia, we are using our noon time to share prayer items and spend time praying for the people and situation. Through this epidemic, we are learning to humbly submit to the sovereignty of our Lord.
Love the least
Another Christian responsibility during this trial is to practice compassion for the marginalised. Whenever there is suffering, the less privileged are the first ones to suffer. The coronavirus outbreak proves it again. In South Korea, free meal service charities have shut down their centres and programs, meaning the hungry struggle even more to find food. But Christians are looking for ways to deliver food to the elderly and poor. In contexts where many are struggling to buy face masks, Christians are encouraging one another to give masks to others who may need them more.
Continue with creativity
Christian students and staff workers of IFES movements are using creative ways to reach out to one another at this challenging time. They are using social media as a medium to pray together and continue with Bible studies. Evangelism and discipleship continue through online platforms. For those students whose church services have been cancelled, Sundays are now an opportunity to stay at home and witness to their families, while joining services online.
We are humans, bound by our weakness and culture. We need to take precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves from potential harm. Yet we are called to be faithful, even during a pandemic. This requires faith, love and creativity. It is my prayer that through this fiery trial, we may be found purer before the Lord, deeper in love and faith, and more faithful in stewarding God’s creation.