Huangshi City is located in the southeast of China's central Hubei Province. As one of the several cities near the coronavirus epicenter Wuhan, the current situation of the outbreak control in Huangshi City is also quite serious. On January 24, at 10 a.m., 24 hours after Wuhan's being "sealed off", Huangshi City was an officially "sealed city" too. As of 11:57 on February 13, Huangshi had 911 confirmed cases, 9 deaths and 113 cured.
Recently, Brother X, a non-ordained pastor in Huangshi, joined an interview by the Chinese Christian newspaper Gospel Times on the pastoral care adjustment of the church and the status of its followers in the face of the outbreak.
To facilitate morning prayers, Brother X has lived in the church since he began serving full-time in 2010, and after marriage he lived with his wife. A couple who are church elders also live there. Both families have been in the church since the outbreak.
Gospel Times: Hello Brother X. What is the reaction of the believers in your church after the outbreak?
Brother X: It's not a surprise because it's not the first time an epidemic outbreak has occurred. Everyone is OK. There was no great sentimental reaction. Evaluating from the posted prayers of believers in our WeChat group, the congregation can basically perceive the situation with the correct view.
Gospel Times: How does your church provide online services given that on-site gathering has stopped? What's the effect?
Brother X: We stopped on-site services after the Second Sunday worship on New Year's Day, and started online services. Now we use QQ group video broadcast and other live-streaming software. Given the situation these past few weeks, as long as there is Internet access, pastoral care can be accessed through network services. Some older brothers and sisters don't operate smartphones and don't attend online services. For them, we have the cell team leaders 'visit' them online by phone or other contact methods.
Unlike other types of service, Sunday worships have more programs and we can also operate through network live streaming; however, the shortcomings include being less interactive and choir sessions cannot yet be held. Now we have two groups of church clergies who take turns in serving: a reverend, a pastor who stays in his house and a fellow worker; the other group includes me (who lives in the church), an elder and a brother. Two groups of three who can do Sunday service hosting, praise, and sermons.
Because we can't meet face to face, it's hard for us to learn about the situation of believers in detail, so it is mainly the job of each team leader to watch activities of each believer. It can be said that our church is still functioning in an orderly manner and will then make some adjustments according to the changing circumstances.
Gospel Times: Are there any organizations to pray for the outbreak within your church or between yours and other churches? Any help provided for the affected areas?
Brother X: We had a three-day fasting prayer during February 3-5. We prayed online twice a day, morning and evening, with a theme. Every morning from 5:00-8:00 a.m., special prayers were added to the morning spiritual meditation, and for the epidemic every evening from 7:30-9:00 p.m. In addition to online prayers, our fellow workers who live in the church pray together every night. In addition, the believers will be given prayer guidelines so that they can pray at home.
In the group, we raised money for the outbreak and are now in contact with intermediaries to help reach those in need.
Gospel Times: Is anyone in your church or church members' families infected? How does your church serve them?
Brother X: There's a believer under quarantine observation. I just spoke to him on the phone and he's in good shape. He came into contact with relatives back from Wuhan more than 20 days ago and now has a cough. There are no confirmed cases.
Gospel Times: How should believers get through this extraordinary period? What advice does your church have for the faith-based life to believers?
Brother X: We have always had a daily bible reading program for believers, and we encourage people to report on the progress of reading in groups. The church fellow workers use excel tables to summarize people's reading outcome. Judging from the feedback from the tables, the reading has been better during this time than before the outbreak.
Gospel Times: During the period of isolation at home, believers have more time to spend with their families and chat with relatives and friends. How do believers live out their Christian testimonies?
Brother X: After the outbreak, many brothers and sisters reported that their relatives or families would make excuses when they shared the gospel with them. But of recent, they have been reporting that their families are not so opposed to the Christianity faith. They basically give their tacit consent to the preaching.
After the Spring Festival we started thinking about this problem. How do we preach the gospel despite being unable to go out? For those who have non-believer family members, we have compiled some gospel messages to help them better evangelize their families. In addition, we have been encouraging believers to get along with their families, and now since they have plenty of time to stay at home, they should spend time with them and make good testimonies.
There are a lot of people in my family who haven't believed. My wife and I will continue to communicate with them about the gospel through the Internet by sending them videos about the Bible or testimonies of faith. Members of my family have always been opposed to faith; but this time around, when we share with them, they respond positively. For example, whenever they post confirmed or suspected cases in our family WeChat group, we will seize the opportunity to say to them, "We can pray for the sick", they then respond more positively and agree that we pray together for those cases.
Gospel Times: The current outbreak situation makes it difficult to resume work, has any believer in your church reflected this anxiety? How does your church offer the help?
Brother X: At the moment, the anxiety about returning to work is not very serious. But we have also considered that if the resumption of work takes longer, we may become anxious. Some believers have jobs so they have basically no problem, but those who do temporary contract work tend to depend on daily wages, and this situation is a bit harsh for them. Work resumption will be a discussion among church clergies on how the church may give some help for those with practical needs.
- Translated by Charlie Li