our response to covid-19
Below is a letter from our head pastor calling on churches to rise up and be a city on a hill during this COVID-19 pandemic. To read this letter in Korean, please click the button below. To read it in English, continue scrolling.
A Call for Churches to Rise Up During COVID-19
Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., I had been following the news of the virus in South Korea. I saw the devastating effects of the virus on the region of the Korean orphanage our church sponsors. Little did I know how soon and how quickly it would take over our own country. When it entered the U.S., the dramatic increase of infections and deaths was staggering. As a pastor, I was worried about our local church. Just before the pandemic hit, one of our church sites had finally hit its stride almost reaching 200 members, we had successfully launched a church plant in NYC, and we were about to launch another church plant in Australia. But when COVID-19 came, everything that was going according to our plans suddenly felt lost, and I experienced a deep sense of helplessness and frustration.
I knelt down with our leaders to pray and I was reminded that we are not the first church to experience a pandemic. There had been churches in history that faced similar situations, and I began researching what those churches had done in response. I read about Charles Spurgeon’s church during the Cholera Outbreak of 1854. I saw how his pastoring ministry became more urgent and necessary in the heightened sensitivity of those suffering and grieving death. I also read about the ancient Roman underground churches during the Plague of Cyprian in 250-270 CE. The church played an active role in caring for the ill, burying the dead, and staying behind while everyone escaped. Stories of their courage and compassion in the face of death not only strengthened the church but also helped to spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.
After reading these stories, I realized that God was calling us to surrender our current plans to Him and focus on all of the suffering sheep around us. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, was already busy tending to the lost and God wanted our church to join Him in rescuing them. His sheep were no longer resting in Psalm 23’s green pastures but forced to the valley of the shadow of death—wandering in isolation, exposed to the pandemic, financial hardships, job loss, loneliness, depression, emptiness, addictions, and family sins.
“This pandemic is an opportunity for the Church to rise up and reach out to suffering people around us.”
I firmly believe that this pandemic is not a time for us to stop or shut down but an opportunity for the Church to rise up and reach out to the suffering people around us with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although there is certainly a time for taking sabbaticals from ministry, this is certainly not the time. Seeing where our sheep are, how can we rest? What would our Good Shepherd be doing right now?
This is a time for more urgency and more ministry. The church must act now when people are in their greatest need. Yes, COVID-19 is a real threat and there are restrictions, but even within these limitations there is so much we can do in the name of Jesus Christ.
A Call to Pray
We must start with prayer and fasting. Prayer is not passive. It is the most active thing we can do as children of God. The world thinks of military prowess and muscular superheroes when they think of action, but Christian action is persisting in prayer and submitting to God in all circumstances and against all odds.
Remember the persistent widow from Luke 18. She pleads with an evil judge for justice over and over again until he finally relents to her demands. The evil judge says, “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (v5). In Greek, the word “bother” has the connotation of “harassing,” punching even to the point of bruising. In a sense, this widow’s pleas were beating down this judge to the point of giving him a black eye. Like this widow, when we pray, we are also beating down the walls of the enemy. We are breaking their strongholds. And, we are inviting God’s power to reign in that place. This is the power of prayer.
“When we pray, we are beating down the walls of the enemy. We are breaking their strongholds.”
During WWII, 300,000 soldiers from the British Army were stuck in an impossible situation. They had their backs to the sea, hemmed in by German soldiers, and they were perilously close to annihilation. Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill prepared an announcement about the death of 300,000 soldiers. But it did not happen. The following Sunday, King George VI requested a National Day of Prayer and the whole nation devoted themselves to prayer in an incredibly unprecedented way. Congregations overflowed out of sanctuaries across the country. Men, women and children all desperately cried out to the Lord in one voice.
Miraculously on that same day, 800 boats crossed the English Channel to rescue the besieged army. Hitler ordered his army to a halt, and unforeseen bad weather grounded all German planes, allowing Allied soldiers to march unhindered to the beaches. Then, as the British soldiers started evacuating, the sea became extraordinarily calm. By the time the Germans were ready to attack, half of the soldiers had already been rescued. You could argue that this was all a coincidence, but I think not. That day was declared a National Day of Thanksgiving, and encouraged by Churchill himself. It became known as “the Miracle of Dunkirk.”
As Christians, we need to follow this example and pray for God’s mercy and his powerful presence in our country (2 Cor. 6:4, Rom. 5:3-4).
Church, let’s be on our knees beseeching the Lord and His wisdom before we devise strategies and plans to cope with this new situation. He will lead us to the right actions. I ask you to join me and all the churches across the nation in more prayer and fasting for the suffering world to hear God’s saving voice and for the church of Jesus Christ to rise.
A Call to Multiply
Second, this is an opportunity for the church to multiply.
I have been reflecting on the parable of Matthew 25:14-30 where Jesus teaches his followers about the faithful servant. He is considered faithful because he pleases his master by doubling his talents instead of fearfully and disobediently burying them underground. Although it may seem natural and even expected for churches to stop during this pandemic, I believe that God is calling us to reach out to more people. In that process, by God’s grace, our church’s talents may multiply.
When the State of New Jersey decided to suspend all in-person schools, public schools scrambled to get their classes running online but many preschools remained fully closed. My wife, the director of Grace Treehouse, was heartbroken to imagine students losing momentum in their learning and spiritual development. After much prayer, she decided to offer a live online program for her students. To her surprise, registration doubled, and they even reached students outside of our church in non-Christian families. Through some innovation and creativity, Grace Treehouse has also been providing online worship services and education for the orphanages we partner with in South Korea and Thailand.
Last Saturday evening, as I watched my wife lead worship for these orphans halfway across the globe, it dawned on me that God had multiplied her single talent of Grace Treehouse to two in a matter of weeks. I was reminded again of the Parable of the Talents and saw God’s faithful hand multiplying the children of this preschool right before my eyes.
For our church’s pastoral staff, multiplying our talents meant that we had to learn how to do everything online and brainstorm creative ways to reach our members. We have started a YouTube series called “Kingdom Come” to broadcast testimonies in the midst of the pandemic. We have weekly cooking shows to bring wholesome entertainment that encourages interaction amongst our members. And we also started a Bible writing initiative with 190 members committed to write portions of the Bible so that we can have a handwritten Bible by the end of the quarantine. Although we were new to filming, YouTubing, and producing, God has doubled our capacity and He is bringing viewers from new places to show them His Gospel truth.
God also convicted our church to give financially. Out of faith, we announced that we would dedicate all of April’s offerings to support those adversely affected by COVID-19. Church members were eager and found creative ways to give. Some made masks and jewelry to sell for donations to the Mercy Fund, and some even gave out of their own deficit and sickness. Even though we were not sure how much we would be able to give, God showed us that He is far richer, far greater, and far more powerful than anyone we know. Our April offering came out to be the second highest month of giving in our 15 years of existence. We were shocked and amazed. Through God’s provision and His movement in the hearts of our church members, the donations were given to 10 different missionary and non-profit organizations that were struggling, along with financially stricken church members and families.
“He is looking for faithful servants who will give up their comforts and fears to obey and adapt to whatever He is doing.”
God is moving powerfully during this pandemic, and He is looking for faithful servants to do His work. It does not matter how big or how small your church may be, or how much or how little you have. He is looking for faithful servants who will give up their comforts and fears to obey and adapt to whatever He is doing.
One older pastor I know from Maryland with a congregation of 40 senior members had no idea about virtual services or how to use YouTube, but he stepped out of his comfort zone and asked his son to teach him. He learned how to use YouTube and taught his senior aged members, and now he is providing virtual Sunday services and shows about how to roast coffee beans. Through this pastor’s faithfulness and his multiplied talents, God is moving in the members of this congregation and bringing the Gospel truth to their homes at a time when they need it most.
The Christian apologist, Christian Hofreiter, writes: “When, if not now is the church called to rise and shine?” Will your church rise and shine or grow dim and disappear? We are at a crossroads and we will see a great divide at the end of this pandemic. While some churches are awake, others will be asleep. There will be some who have talents taken away as many churches will close their doors. My greatest hope is that when this is over, churches globally will have a great testimony of how God used us to multiply for His kingdom.
A Call to Act
I want to end with this challenge to pastors and church leaders: Press on!
In Philippians 3:14, Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” We must press on. We must not stop. We must not stay still.
One of my greatest NBA heroes, Michael Jordan, was so focused on winning that he would not notice his cuts or injuries until after the game was over. Of course, being an adored MVP, Jordan received immediate medical attention afterward to keep his body in top physical shape.
When the pandemic hit our country and my town of Teaneck became ground zero for COVID-19 in New Jersey, a lot of people asked me how I was doing personally. I was so busy reaching out to suffering members that I could not stop and answer that question. I thought something was wrong with me for not being able to answer but I realized this was natural and expected at a crucial time like this. I had to toughen up and focus on feeding our sheep. Like Michael Jordan, we need to be focused on our goal of the “upward call” that God has given to us as leaders.
This is a time for us to press on and be so utterly focused on our upward call—to love God and to love our neighbors—that we are not even aware of our scratches. Sitting at home and worrying about whether you are infected, getting eaten up by insecurities and fears, or numbing yourself with entertainment and creaturely comforts is not what we need to be doing right now.
“I pray that we, as children of God, will brave through our self-pity and fear and experience the courageous joy of sharing God’s love.”
In his recent book, Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper writes, “The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self-pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God.” I pray that we will all overcome this trial. I pray that we, as children of God, will brave through our self-pity and fear and experience the courageous joy of sharing God’s love through word and deed to glorify God.
Reverend Jae Park