Fu Ming Tse—Taichung, Taiwan
At the end of 2019, as the world prepared to welcome and celebrate the new year, we were unaware of what 2020 would bring. The facts emerged gradually: an infectious and deadly disease caused by a novel coronavirus was spreading rapidly. The World Health Organization (WHO) later designated the disease COVID-19, and the virus that caused it, SARS-CoV-2. This outbreak would go on to become a global threat as it proliferated throughout the world.
Experts began to warn of the incoming crisis, and, one by one, governments put their healthcare systems on high alert. Some countries were quick to mobilize and roll out preventive measures, such as quarantines and isolations for those traveling from affected areas. Members of the public were reminded to wash their hands diligently and to stay at home if they showed any symptoms at all, to prevent further transmission and to contain any clusters of infection. As the virus spread with gathering momentum, more stringent restrictions were introduced: limits on the number of people allowed to gather, enforced social distancing both indoors and outdoors, more rigorous disinfecting of public spaces, and mandatory temperature taking and mask wearing. These measures were introduced in a bid to contain, control, prevent the spread of the virus, and save lives.
During this global pandemic, many governments had to impose various forms of lockdown in their cities, provinces, and even their entire countries. International flights were canceled, and tourism came to a standstill. Schools, offices, shops, and leisure venues had to close their doors, and the movement of individuals was restricted. These factors have naturally slowed down the global economy, pre-empting recession in some countries, reshaping society, and affecting the careers and daily lives of millions.
The effects of COVID-19 on human life have proved to be far more severe than those of SARS in 2003. Both viruses are genetically similar and attack the respiratory system, causing horrific symptoms. SARS may have a higher death rate but, crucially, COVID-19 has a longer incubation period and a delayed onset of symptoms, meaning an infected individual could spread the virus widely before he realizes he is ill and quarantines. In this way, COVID-19 spreads much faster and much further, reaching more vulnerable people than SARS ever could, and becoming far more lethal. Tragically, by August 11, 2020, nearly twenty million confirmed cases and over 700,000 deaths worldwide had been reported to the WHO.
Currently, there is no vaccine or cure, and there is a fear that, even after the infection rate has died down, there may be another wave in the autumn-winter period. For the foreseeable future, this pandemic will continue to be a threat to human life, as well as causing social unrest and international political tension. Although the scope of this pandemic is unlike anything we have experienced before, it is not without precedent.
Pestilences in the Bible
Throughout history, countless plagues and pandemics have decimated human populations. The Bible records many references to plagues:
1. During Moses' time, pestilence among Egyptian livestock was one of the ten plagues (Ex 9:3–7, 15).
2. When the Israelites complained to Moses and Aaron because of the bad report by the men who spied out Canaan, God struck them with pestilence (Num 14:1–3, 11– 12, 37).
3. After the rebellion and punishment of Korah and his companions, the entire congregation of Israel complained to Moses and Aaron. In His wrath, God sent a plague, killing 14,700 (Num 16:41–50).
4. When the Israelites committed harlotry at Acacia Grove, God became angry and sent a plague, killing 24,000 (Num 25:1–9).
5. After David had taken a census of the people, he was struck to the heart when he realized he had sinned against God with this foolish act. In retribution, God sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men died (2 Sam 24:10–17).
6. When the Lord Jesus was preaching on earth, He warned that the last days would be marked by wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, terrors and great signs from heaven (Lk 21:10–11).
7. In Revelation, the apostle John records what will happen when the fourth seal is opened:
And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (Rev 6:8, ESV)
Pestilences in History
The most severe pandemic ever recorded in human history is the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Over many years, the bubonic plague spread throughout Asia, North Africa, and Europe, killing over seventy-five million people worldwide, impacting society on every level. It was estimated that about half of the population of Europe perished during this plague.
Increased global interconnectivity and globalization have enabled COVID-19 to spread across the world much faster than the plague did in the middle ages. It has also proved to be more of a threat to human life than SARS or the flu. The world is in uncharted territory.
PESTILENCE AND FAITH
Though the current global crisis has interrupted our way of life, it has also allowed us to pause and reflect without the usual distractions of social commitments and other pastimes. In times of trouble, everything is put into stark perspective, and we realize what truly matters in our lives.
Here are some thoughts on how this pestilence should help us to reassess and realign our heart and relationship with God.
Emotions: Peace in Christ
The spread of COVID-19 has not only posed a threat to public health, it has also stirred up anxiety and social unrest. The people of the world are reminded of the fragility of life: they are like a bird perched on a wire, startled at any tiny vibration. Nevertheless, as Christians, we can hold fast to the promise of the Lord: though in the world we may experience tribulation, we have peace because the Lord Jesus has overcome the world (Jn 16:33).
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you. (Ps 91:1–7)
Kinship: Set Up the Family Altar
During any pandemic, a major line of defense is for the public to self-isolate at home, going out only when absolutely necessary. This self-isolation impedes our freedom of movement and affects our mental health, but one area that could benefit is our family life. Before the pandemic hit, we led such busy lives that our family relationships may have suffered. But now, those under lockdown and movement control orders can spend more time with their loved ones. More importantly, this extra time allows us to focus on our faith and build up our family altars—to worship God at home.
Whilst we cannot attend services in physical church buildings, many of us are fortunate enough to be able to tune into livestream services hosted by the True Jesus Church across the globe and continue to worship in the Spirit collectively. These services connect our family virtually to the broader church, strengthening family bonds by strengthening faith. We also have the time to hold additional family services—Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. This allows us to pursue spiritual growth together, to encourage and pray for one another, which foster love and warmth within the family. The home is not only a fortress of protection against the pandemic but, more importantly, a fortress of faith.
Friendship: Show Respect and Concern
Living in a pandemic has changed our social interactions drastically. We maintain physical distance, wear masks, and avoid shaking hands with others when we are out in public. However, we should not grow distant from our friends and allow these social distancing measures to affect our relationships. We should minimize the risk of transmission, but not at the expense of showing care and respect towards others. Many will be experiencing difficulties with their finances, their health, and their mental well-being, so we should be ready to offer support.
In terms of fellowship with church members, we can stay in contact through social media, chat groups, and video calls. If we use these tools effectively, we can strengthen the various fellowships, as well as pastor and care for one another, ensuring that we continue to grow together in faith even when we are physically far apart.
Sin: A Silent Killer
Birth, old age, sickness and death, joy and sorrow, partings and reunions: all these are part of man’s lot. However, within the pandemic, these human experiences have been magnified, touching us with an intensity we have not felt before. From the start, it was evident that COVID-19 was a flu-like infection that primarily targeted the lungs. Later, temporary loss of taste and smell were added to the list of symptoms. At this moment, we are still discovering more about this virus and what it can do to an infected person. The most worrying fact is that COVID-19 can be fatal, and yet we may not be aware that we have contracted it. It is a silent and stealthy killer, striking fear in people’s hearts.
Many people wonder about the origins of COVID-19 and the identity of patient zero. However, the virus that we should fear most is the virus of sin. As the Bible tells us, “[W]hen desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas 1:15).
Just as sin and death entered the world through one man, so we must be cleansed of sin and receive salvation through Christ Jesus (Rom 5:12; 6:23). While we try to combat the physical virus that is COVID-19, we must all the more guard against the virus that may be in our hearts. The Bible offers us guidance in this endeavor: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31).
“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55–57)
THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE CHURCH
United in Standing Guard, Praying for Preservation
During this pandemic, the True Jesus Church in Taiwan is promoting the theme "United in standing guard, praying for preservation from the virus." Since many of us are spending more time at home, we can pray, petition, and intercede for others, asking for God's grace and mercy. With faith and love, we should pray for our family members and for the peace and well-being of the people in the world. As it is written:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Tim 2:1–2)
Online Pastoral Care and Training
In the past, attending regional, national, and international church meetings would often mean traveling, sometimes across borders, spending much time, money, and energy in the process. Since the onset of the pandemic, online meetings have replaced in-person meetings by necessity. Not only does this save time and money, but it has also made our work more efficient. With technological advances at our disposal, the church can use this moment to rethink and restructure our processes of conducting the pastoral, evangelistic, and training work. Using online platforms and social media, we can train more church workers, as well as expand and strengthen our pastoral work.
Evangelizing Like the Flying Angel
Today, the church needs to diversify its methods of evangelism. The lockdown caused by the pandemic has led to increased use of the internet and social media by people worldwide. Moreover, the trend seems to be a preference for accessing information online over traditional forms of communication. Therefore, we should not procrastinate in upgrading our internet ministry and online evangelism. This includes making sure our literary ministry reflects the times in which we live, and using up-to-date methods to strengthen our social media presence and evangelism strategies.
Just as the Bible records:
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (Rev 14:6–7)
The church is this flying angel, charged with the commission to preach the gospel. We must do all we can so that we may, by all means, partake in the gospel and save more souls (1 Cor 9:16–23).
COVID-19 has affected millions of people and claimed many lives. We have to earnestly repent of our sins and pray for God's mercy, for ourselves and others. We must be the fragrance of Christ to God, diffusing the aroma of life in our prayers, so that we can be as Moses and Aaron, standing between the dead and the living to stop the plague (Num 16:46–48; 2 Cor 2:14–16).
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning. (Ps 30:5)
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by. (Ps 57:1)
 “WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard,” World Health Organization, accessed August 11, 2020, https://covid19.who.int.
 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.