“Our vision is to see HOPE spread faster than COVID-19.” This is how a pastor in New Jersey explains “Boxes of Hope,” a national movement to help those suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.
It began when a member of Evangel Church in Scotch Plains tested positive for coronavirus. Pastor Chris Morante explains his church’s response: “We’ve always been committed to reaching our neighbors. We always say our mission field is across the street and around the world, so we began to mobilize our efforts as soon as we saw this crisis beginning.”
Seeing the hopelessness his church member felt, he adds, “We wanted to do something tangible to show God’s love, so we just delivered some groceries in a box to their front door.”
When the church saw the hope their gift brought one family, they started doing the same en masse, shipping out 600 boxes in the New Jersey area. They are partnering with Convoy of Hope and World Help, two disaster relief organizations.
Now their local ministry has become a national movement. Pastor Morante: “For you to know that you’re not forgotten, there’s a God that sees you and loves you and there’s someone in a church that cares about you. It really means the world to people.”
Bible sales increase 62 percent
Operators of New York State’s power grid have been camped out since March 23 in parking lots adjacent to plants and control rooms that must be staffed 24/7 to keep the state’s lights on. They work in specialized, confined spaces. If one of them became sick with coronavirus, they could quickly infect others, resulting in a personnel shortage that could disrupt operations. As a result, they are living in trailers apart from their families during this crisis.
The buildings they are powering include hospitals and homes, structures vital to life in these days of pandemic crisis and stay-at-home orders. By contrast, churches across the country are observing Holy Week online and through other technological means.
But this doesn’t mean that the church cannot be the church. As Evangel Church shows, the church is not a building. Christians can make a difference in this crisis in ways that transcend their physical locations.
LifeWay Christian Resources saw a 62 percent increase in Bible sales last week compared to the previous year. “We believe this is no accident,” said Ben Mandrell, LifeWay CEO. “People draw hope from Scripture because in it they see a God who is with us during our suffering.” Our own ministry has seen our website traffic double in recent weeks.
There are so many ways we can be the church together even as we are apart physically. One of the most significant, of course, is through prayer. When we pray, we address the same God. The closer we come to him, the closer we come to each other. And the more passionately we pray, the more powerfully his Spirit works in the world in response.
Three prayers that will change the world
As we noted in this morning’s Daily Article, Jesus spent Holy Wednesday in communion with his Father. We can do the same today and every day. In fact, we are taught to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), a present-tense imperative that allows for no extenuating circumstances.
The more we are socially distanced from others, the more we have time to draw closer to our Lord. Consider three practical ways to pray today:
Pray for ways to help people in need.
In Matthew 9:37, Jesus taught his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The next verse tells us one way God answered their prayer: “He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and affliction.” (Matthew 10:1). Then, “these twelve Jesus sent out” (v. 5).
When we pray for those who are suffering, God often empowers and calls us to be the answer to our prayers.
Pray for God to use this crisis for his glory and our good.
Acts 1:8 is Jesus’ well-known mandate for the first Christians to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the “end of the earth.” However, for the next seven chapters, their movement remained centered in Jerusalem.
Then, after the martyrdom of Stephen, “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).
Pray for ways to know God more intimately than ever before.
The psalmist called us to “sing to the LORD a new song” (Psalm 98:1). Whatever our present circumstances, we are to “make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (v. 4).
When all seems well, it is easy to become comfortable and complacent in our faith. When crisis comes, we recognize our need for strength beyond our own.
The psalmist testified, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19).
Will your soul be cheered today?
This piece was first published at the Denison Forum