By Dr Elias Chakabwata
No one saw the pandemic facing us coming. With all the advances in science and technology not even a hint was given by science. On the spiritual side there was equally a deafening silence concerning the advent of this pandemic.
Governments, nations, churches, religious groupings, families and individuals were caught unawares. It was a huge plunge into an unknown territory full of uncertainties. We found ourselves faced with the “new normal”.
It was like a nightmare as governments all over the world pressed the panic button and put in place measures to curtail the pandemic. In the process even the Church was affected by the measures that were put in place. Without touting for controversy, the move to stop gatherings was a necessary move due to a number of factors including the following;
- People had a lot of misconceptions concerning the pandemic with some trying to explain it in terms of spirits and as the eschatological mark of the beast in the Bible.
- The issues of faith and presumption that were at play would have resulted in a catastrophe if the measures had not been put in place. In some places the church members shared microphones and other equipment and some ignored the issue of face masks and sanitization. It is important that I point out at this point that God protects His people and this is true ,yet there is a responsibility that God expects men to do on their part. Eg Noah was commanded to build an ark ,he went on to cooperate with God and obeyed the instruction. Paul in Acts was lowered in a basket from a room when his life was in danger. We do what we can in the natural as we expect God to do the supernatural that we can’t do
- There was no adequate dissemination of information to the people concerning the pandemic. People were groping in darkness. There were gaps in the information and events were happening very fast .It seems were in an emergency and hence stopping gatherings was a necessary move. Yet at the same time allowing people to pray in their homes .Church was never banned, gatherings were prohibited .People could still pray in their homes and share the Word of God. Online services were not prohibited.
- The way things were happening and the rate of infection caused the authorities to stop gatherings.
The above list is not an exhaustive one on the reasons why the authorities prohibited gatherings. Now the church minister found himself/herself faced with a situation which was completely new. One of the mandate of the gospel minister is to lay hands on the sick for their wellbeing. Now this was prohibited because of the issue of social distancing.
The way things were taking place meant now the minister could not be present to minister at funerals of church members. The minister is required to offer support to the sick and their family but due to the situation that was prevailing this became very difficult.
Previously the gospel minister would be called even at night to attend to a church member who had fallen sick, but now there was a curfew in place which meant that the minister would get in to trouble if they try to move to attend to the issues of their church members.
If there was a time church ministry was very difficult it is now. I would like to suggest some ways ministry can be done even in these challenging times:
- A realization that God is not limited by distance .You can pray over the phone for someone and they can still benefit from the prayer. An example is Jesus Christ who healed the centurion’s servant without physical contact. There is no distance in the spirit realm.
- The minister sometimes finds himself /herself going to the sick person due to some compelling factors It is important that the minister observe all the safety measures being advocated for ie proper wearing of face mask, maintaining social distancing and sanitizing properly.
- While ministering to the sick person encourage them to read portions of scripture like Psalm 91 and meditate on the Word of God. Avoid giving them too many scriptures, Use your own discretion on this one. If possible give them homework and ask them to share with you what they may have learnt from the scriptures later as the day progresses..
- Those who may not be able to read send them an audio message.
- To those who will find themselves going in to the room where the sick person is take note of the following
- Avoid shoes that make noise
- Walk slowly towards the sick person maintaining the social distancing
- If they are on a life support system do not remove the support system
- When you pray lower your voice , avoid drama .In any case God hear prayer it doesn’t matter the decibels. So don’t try to impress the relatives by shouting at the top of your lungs. Offer gentle prayers especially if someone is critical.
- Leave the results in the hands of God without over promising the sick person and the relatives.
- If they have a favorite song sing with them gently try not to stretch them
- Follow up checking on the sick person and the family members later on.
- Ask the sick person to share some of the things they recall where God came through in their life.
- Allow them to express their emotions. Don’t interrupt them. As they share their feelings pick hints to their fears .
- It is important to the minister to understand that when someone if facing a severe sickness especially the one that may be killing others in large numbers people feel numb, they feel stuck, they feel hopeless and helpless. They are afraid at times of the unknown and also the fact of ceasing to exist.
- Allay their fears using scriptures like Psalm 23 where it says even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….. and Romans 8 which says…nothing shall separate us from the love of God.
These suggestions help. They can be adjusted or varied to adapt to different situations. It is important to realize that some of the people you will pray for will die in the process of praying for them. The issue should not discourage you from helping others who may need prayers. God is sovereign. We can’t hold Him accountable.
The gospel minister also needs to encourage the person who is sick to take their medication even after prayer. The minister himself /herself needs to have someone to share with some of their experiences with the sick to manage issues of burning out. You may not give details to maintain confidentiality.
When you go back home from your visit, ensure you change your clothing before contact with family members. Take a bath. Sanitize to protect your family.
Dr Elias Chakabwata PhD D.D , Director Impact School of Training