While we are practicing social distancing here in the USA, I’ve had many friends ask how our pastors are doing during this spread of Coronavirus. I have been in frequent contact with all our Field Directors, and we are thankful that there are no reports of any infections by the virus of our pastors or church members at this time.
In every country, the pastors are leading their church members to practice safe hygiene and follow the guidelines delivered by their government departments of health. The spread is different in every country that we serve, and each government has developed its own regulations.
I have canceled my scheduled trips to Myanmar and Japan, and we are currently on hold for rescheduling international travel until the spread of the virus is under control. Even before Coronavirus, every country that I visit requires me to give an account of my health and declare what countries I have recently visited. These countries have long been alert to the spread of infectious diseases. During this time, we are focusing on more virtual connections for communication, although the internet speed in the fields does not often permit video chat. The email, Messenger, and WhatsApp inboxes are full on my computer.
We are thankful for all our partners that have continued making donations. We know that businesses are hurting, many people are currently unemployed, and the stock market. . . well, the Lord knows our futures, and ultimately, He is the one that provides for all ministry.
Our Pastors Continue Ministry
The spread of the virus has been slower in Japan than in Italy or Korea. Speculation has been offered by many experts as to why this is the case. Perhaps it is from the Japanese cultural practices. For one, they bow rather than handshake upon greeting. They regularly wear facemasks, and it is culturally taboo to travel about when you are sick. They have many healthy hygiene practices because they are accustomed to being in population density. We are thankful that the virus is not spreading as rapidly in Japan.
Japan also closed schools in March and has shifted work start times to minimize the typical crowding on the transit systems. The Olympics have been postponed until next year. Their businesses and restaurants remain open at this time.
Our pastors have followed the social distancing guidelines and especially have avoided visiting the elderly. Japan has a high elderly population, protecting them has been the number one priority of our pastors. Most of the churches are small gatherings, so they have been able to continue meeting.
[Update March 28]
Losing the Olympics is a big psychological blow here. Most churches are still having Sunday services but have canceled all other meetings. Some churches have decided to close and stream online only. A lot of churches have started streaming for the sake of folks who don’t want to come to a public gathering. All events — evangelistic meetings, concerts, etc. — are being canceled. The shutdown is already putting financial pressure on churches and ministries. We have heard of one well-known Ministry in Japan that is ending because of financial shortage. We’ll see better by next month how the overall church ministries are affected.
We dare not shut our eyes to the evils that surround us, but we are able to see the Divine power above us, and to feel it with us, working out its purposes of grace.C. H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry
In Myanmar, all schools have closed, and gathering for worship services are required to stop until the end of April. Our pastors are seeking to minister to the needs of their flocks by home visits when appropriate and are making sure their families are staying healthy. Often the pastors and their wives are the caretakers of the sick and help families through difficult times. Villages in the Chin State are not allowed to travel from village to village. The problematic result has been that the rice and food prices are increasing rapidly. Please keep praying.
In the Philippines, all churches have been forbidden to gather. They have been shut down for two weeks already. Some of our pastors have been sharing videos of Bible studies and messages to their Facebook pages. There is a more significant technological opportunity in the Philippines than in some of our other countries. The pastors can take advantage of the phones and the internet to communicate. Even small gatherings are not allowed, so our pastors have not been able to gather at the White Fields office for their prayer and Bible study time together. Pastor Cris is waiting to see if the small group ban is lifted at the end of this week—then I will have my regular video chat with our pastors next Monday.
[Update March 29]
This evening I hosted a group of our Pastors in the Philippines to join a video chat. We spent an hour sharing about the ministry when you cannot meet with your congregation. The churches are all limited to only small gatherings. Most ministry is taking place in private gatherings. Normally our pastors would gather to share about their weekend church services and pray together, but they are not allowed to gather at our offices with a group over four people. A few of the pastors are using the FaceBook live feature, but the audience is limited to those people that have access to viewing. More ministry is just taking place in personal visits.
We shared the tremendous promises Jesus gave his disciples in the Great Commission.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.Matthew 28:19-20
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
In the Middle East, our Field Director and his family have been quarantined to their home. A strict policy that does not allow anyone to leave their home except for essential purchases of food. Please pray for them as they endure the lockdown. The pastors at this time are not able to gather with any of their church members. They are communicating only by text and phone.
In Uganda, the first case of the Coronavirus arrived this past weekend. A man traveling back from Dubai was tested positive. All the passengers on his flight were placed in quarantine and their passports held by the government. All this took place in Kampala, the capital city. The government has closed all schools and churches are not allowed to have large gatherings. Out in the rural areas of Rukungiri, home fellowship groups are allowed to gather in small groups. Pastor Onesimus still has his daily radio broadcast, and that allows for connection and the Word of God to always be proclaimed.
[Update April 1]
The radio ministry is the only connection in public for the churches (White Fields provides for a half-hour radio show on the local station in Rukungiri for Pastor Onesimus M-F). The church members are still praying in groups of fours with our pastors traveling to join them on our motorbikes and on an emergency visiting with the saints. Gatherings of more than 5 people are prohibited by the Ugandan government. Public transport is shut down and private vehicles are not allowed to move except motorbikes for food deliveries, no passengers are allowed on the roads up to 7 pm. So we are using our motorbikes to travel to attend to emergencies when called upon within the church. The motorbikes have been a blessing. Thank you for providing us with transportation. Motorbikes were provided by donations through our gift catalog.
Our pastors continue to visit homes as appropriate to make sure their congregation is well and being cared for properly. We are thankful to the generous donors who gave designated gifts so the pastors have motorbikes to make the visits. The construction team is currently still allowed to continue work on the new classroom building for Graceland Elementary School.
The Healing Grace Medical Center is an exceptional part of the ministry in Uganda. The medical team of doctors and nurses are ready to treat schoolchildren and any other members of the community that are sick.
- In all of this we labor, not losing hope, but aware that God uses these circumstances to advance his Kingdom.
- We continue to support our churches. We pray that God gives each pastor wisdom as he shepherds his flock.
- In His time, God will restore the fellowship to gather.
- Our prayers are also with all of you. Each time I communicate with our pastors, they let me know they are praying for all of you–their precious partners in the gospel.
The full context of the C. H. Spurgeon quote above:
There are persons who always believe in the imminent peril of the universe in general and of the Church of God in particular, and a sort of popularity is sure to be gained by always crying “Woe! Woe!” Prophets who will spiritually imitate Solomon Eagle, who went about the streets of London in the time of the plague, naked, with a pan of coals on his head, crying “Woe! Woe!” are thought to be faithful, though they are probably dyspeptic. We are not of that order: we dare not shut our eyes to the evils that surround us, but we are able to see the Divine power above us, and to feel it with us, working out its purposes of grace.
C. H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry—How to Meet the Evils of the Age, pg. 72