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By Ruth Schenk, The Southeast Outlook
Sitting in the middle of a global pandemic seems surreal.
Among fear, isolation, closed businesses, and climbing numbers of infections and deaths, it’s hard to find any purpose in the midst of COVID-19. Christ followers must grapple with hard questions that could impact generations.
Last fall, Southeast Christian Church released Purpose in Pandemics, a documentary that follows the response of the church to pandemics throughout history. It is narrated by Southeast associate pastor Matt Reagan with insight from professors, doctors, and historians who document how believers grappled with pandemics. Sometimes they stood strong; other times they missed the biblical mandate to be faithful, courageous, and creative in the face of danger.
Purpose in Pandemics may be viewed at www.purposeinpandemics.com. The site also includes a study guide for small groups and individuals.
“We want to be engaged in times like this, but we may not know what to do in the middle of this,” Reagan said. “This documentary shows our place in the story, how Christians can be aware, courageous, and creative.”
In 166 A.D., the early church faced a pandemic brought to Rome by soldiers fighting the Persians. Scholars believe it was smallpox or measles that killed about 2,000 a day, and the emperor blamed Christians for it. Desperate to save themselves, people threw the sick out of their homes to die, and terror reigned.
But some early Christians did the unthinkable. They stayed to care for sick family members, neighbors, and strangers. They buried bodies and delivered food, risking their lives to care for the sick. What they did mattered. People saw their courage and their love. By the time the plague subsided, there were thousands of new believers.
Another plague hit the Roman Empire in 250 A.D. during a time when Christianity was strictly forbidden. Christians went into plague- and disease-stricken neighborhoods to give comfort and aid to the sick, though they knew they would probably contract the disease. Many who saw Christians caring for the sick were impressed, and the church grew.
In the 1500s, the Black Death pandemic killed 75 million to 200 million people, wiping out about one-third of Europe’s population. Commoners assumed it was God’s judgment. There was a lot of fear and isolation. But in Rome, Christians cared for 1,600 widows and orphans.
“Everyone’s greatest fear is death,” said Dr. Brian Vickers, professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Christians showed a different way to live. They believed to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
A NEW CHAPTER IN PANDEMICS
Throughout history, Christ followers have gone where no one else was willing to go. They opened hospitals, cared for orphans, and fed the hungry. Christians responded to plagues in a way that changed lives, churches, and life in villages and crowded cities.
More outbreaks followed: cholera, the Spanish flu, the Russian flu, yellow fever, HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, Ebola in 2014, and now COVID-19.
Challenges continue. There is plenty to do.
Jaime Saint, executive director of ITEC (a mission organization), said when his grandfather, Nate Saint, and four other missionaries died trying to reach the Waodani tribe (formerly known as the Aucas), the senior Saint did not know the next chapter God was writing. Nate Saint’s sacrifice brought the gospel to a violent tribe and inspired thousands to serve around the world.
There is a next chapter in pandemics, as well. Early Christians were in the middle of all of them. How they responded changed the world. What they did leads the way to how Christ followers are called to respond to COVID-19. It is still a threat in 2021. Fear and uncertainty still reign in a world on tilt.
Will Rogers, executive director of the Global Missions Health Conference (conducted each November), said the church has been on the front lines of solving the world’s greatest problems: hunger, orphan care, medical care, and more.
“Global crisis becomes the place to serve God and people,” Rogers said. “Crisis happens. It’s happening now and it will happen again. We do what God calls us to do. Deliver chicken soup. Care for those in distress. We can love our neighbors as ourselves. We can serve God and his people. Every Christian is called to serve in times of need. We can wear masks around the vulnerable and leverage gifts and skills for the kingdom.”
For more information, visit www.purposeinpandemics.com.