FILLED WITH HOPE AMID SEASONS OF GRIEF
O Saviour, thou hast wept, and thou hast loved;
And love and sorrow still to thee may come,
And find a hiding-place, a rest, a home.
Charles Wesley, from “Thou Knowest, Lord, the Weariness and Sorrow”
It would be true for many that there has never been a season in our lifetimes rife with confusion, fear, grief, displacement, loss, and unanswered questions like the one we are currently navigating. The impact is present and discernable worldwide. Not since the pandemic of 1918-1920 or the World Wars have so many shared in a dizzying corporate experience. Although the loss of human life is less, thus far, communication is infinitely swifter, and the personal and economic ramifications are sometimes greater and experienced more widely.
Because The Wesleyan Church—via churches, schools, missions, hospitals, and outreach projects—is present in nearly 100 countries around the globe, The Amplifier asked Global Partners area leaders to reflect on how they see the degree of impact from COVID in their specific area. Further, we asked them how they see God and his people responding during this unprecedented challenge. We can read the numbers, but our leaders paint a picture of human suffering and response and both tested and unwavering faith that is more detailed. Their observations and calls for prayer can enlighten our own experience, both intercession and thanksgiving, and fuel faith.
This time of colossal loss has also been a time of inestimable gains. Kerensa McFrederick who speaks of the woeful and unexpected toll in England, at the same time has encouraging news as she relates: “The challenges in several of our countries of figuring out online ministry and presence has reaped rewards (even new believers) and signaled that it must be a priority in future ministry.” Another leader in a security area reports that although “some of our fellowships are no longer meeting and some ministry connections have been lost, we are now seeing some new groups form and new opportunities for ministry.” They add that responses to the gospel have maintained a level like “before the pandemic.”
And in Ibero-America, the same loss and gain, retreat and advance are played out. Jim Rice relates, “Virtually everyone has been touched personally or in their extended family. Pastors have died. In some cases, there is a ‘fear of congregating,’ and in others there is ‘No fear’ and congregating without wisdom has also been a bad witness.” On the incarnational side, “Loving and serving community has been a fantastic testimony. And there has been great interest in family-life-centered Zoom and other virtual events.” Though there has been the loss of loosely affiliated members, and reports are that divorce and abuse are up, yet so is the good news of churches having their core strengthened and growing closer together.
There have been “huge hits in the relational, emotional, and financial spheres, never-the-less a number of our leaders see the spiritual flourishing,” relays Jim Rice. “The Church in general has continued to practice generosity. Many of the leaders are leading by example in this area. It has been a tough year, and they are coming near to a breaking point in some areas. Hunger and starvation are very real and prevalent problems in many Ibero-America countries. Hunger in some areas is far more feared than COVID.” The same ironic pairing of joblessness and generosity has been seen time and time again in the churches of Asia-Pacific who have excelled at giving. Ben Ward comments, “Churches all around the world have stepped up to provide for those in need. In particular, the underground church in one creative access country has contributed over $114,000 to the needs that their fellow believers in other countries are facing.”
The example of living generously can catalyze a “general openness in those who don’t know the Lord,” reflects Jim Rice, “especially when they see the church being generous and caring for the communities and not just attenders and members.”
When asked about the degree to which COVID has been met with prayer and hope or fear and despair in the face of such relentless needs, Rice replies, “I’d say both in most places…but prayer and hope have also won the day in most of those places. …God continues to work and use the church.”
Africa mirrors the opportunities and trials seen in other locations. Randal Cheney points to pastors and church leaders facing “tremendous logistical challenges from the economic pressure, both to feed their families and to continue ministering to those around them. Most pastors must find some type of work outside the church to support themselves, and these means have been diminished from the effects of COVID restrictions.” Underscoring the possibilities and limitations of technology, he adds, “Social media platforms have served to some effect in ministry but often the lack of finances limits the potential. While these new ministry methods prove useful in outreach and evangelism, I suspect the work of discipleship and spiritual growth are being negatively affected without personal/relational engagement.
“The numbers of people in churches are way down (mainly due to government restrictions). It remains to be seen if they will come back up when COVID effects subside,” Cheney continues. “I believe this is a refining period for the Church. Pastors and members are having to dig deep to determine the foundation of their faith and what it is God is calling them to do. God is calling the Church in Africa to greater faith and greater world impact.” And a call to great faith always requires and is led by great hope…and prayer.
As we are formed into the image of our Savior, we remember that he was filled with hope, life-giving, creation energizing, healing hope…and he was also acquainted with grief. We hold faith, hope, expectation in tension with grief, lament, and passionate, patient endurance. With Charles Wesley, we accede “Thou Knowest, Lord, the Weariness and Sorrow,” and with John Wesley, we proclaim “Away with Our Sorrow and Fear.” In Christ we aspire to sing both—though we are not always able to do so at the same time—and be filled with hope amid seasons of grief.