The sociologist and historian Rodney Stark has written extensively on the early Christian church’s response to epidemics and plagues in the Roman Empire. In a culture where pity was viewed as a character defect, Christians spoke and acted differently. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, devastating plagues swept through the empire. Two responses were common: people either fled or they hid. Dionysius, a pastor in Alexandria, wrote, “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” Toward the end of the plague, Dionysius spoke warmly of his congregation: “Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.” Apparently, some of the men and women even gave their lives for the sake of the infected. They “transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.” The result was that many Christian lives were saved as Christians cared for their own; and many people became Christian as they bore witness to the gospel in word and deed.
We are now on the other side of Christendom. Hospitals, social services, and cultural responses have been deeply influenced by the Christian ethos of charity, individual dignity, and self-sacrificial service. We should be thankful for that! But then we might ask “What should we do?” None of us can opt out from asking this question. Though some of us may be prohibited from actively doing much due to context or age, we can all do something. Like our Savior, we are called to be merciful (Matthew 5:7).
The coming weeks are forecasted to be very difficult. The tears will increase, the supplies will likely decrease. As most of us shelter in place, and heed our government’s guidelines, there’s still good we can do. Here are some suggestions to help us be faithful responders during this time.
Check in on your neighbors (especially the elderly and disabled)
Do you know your neighbors? If not, there is no better time than now. See how they’re doing. Do they need anything? Can you share any of your resources with them? As they carry their burdens pertaining to work and loved ones, offer to pray for them. If they’re comfortable, offer to pray with them. Through the Spirit’s work through us, we can offer them the presence of God through prayer!
Consider volunteering (especially if you’re younger and healthy)
Older folks are highly vulnerable and many parents of families are trying to care for their own homes, balancing work and schooling. If you’re a 20 or 30 something, you are a prime candidate for doing lots of good in your community. Whether it’s grocery shopping, delivering food, or running errands – check in with your town to see what the needs are and how you can volunteer to serve. Bristol has a volunteer form available here.
Donate Daily Necessities (especially if you are in abundance)
In the panic of this pandemic many have overbought to a point that many people are going without. Those who have difficulty getting to the store because of time or money, are often not able to find basic necessities like toilet paper or meat. Our church has been able to give out all the donations that we’ve received! But as we anticipate challenging weeks ahead, we are starting a second round of collections. Email us at MHCBristol@gmail.com or text one of the pastors if you’d like to give.
Give Financially (especially if you’re still able to work)
Though many are experiencing loss of work at the moment, many are privileged to still be able to work from home through means of technology. You likely know someone who is feeling financial strain right now. God has blessed you in order to help them. Consider sending a financial gift in the mail. You can send a personal note of encouragement or let it be anonymous. Also you might consider giving directly to our COVID-19 Benevolence Fund. Through this fund we will seek to help both church members and those outside our church. You can give here.
Speak Gospel Truth (to everyone)
In a time when we are hearing a lot of bad news, and many aren’t sure what’s true, Christians have opportunity to declare good news that is true! Jesus Christ is the savior of the world who saves sinners, gives eternal life to all who will believe, and gives rest to the weary. There is no one like Him, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. In our interactions with others, “let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. [And] Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices” (Hebrews 13:15-16).