The virus, when it came, came like a thief in the night. It was unexpected, and we were unprepared. Though there was some news about a viral outbreak in China in November 2019, nobody paid it much heed. After all, there were always sporadic outbreaks of chicken and swine flu. The last worrisome outbreaks were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, and Ebola in 2018. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained. Closer to home, SARS was limited to Singapore and, for some unknown reason, did not cross the causeway. With MERS, we in Malaysia were on alert because of the large number of people going to the Middle East. Fortunately, no cases were reported here. Ebola and Africa seemed far away.
In December 2019, when I was at Disneyland with my grandchildren, I came across a more “teenage” Mickey Mouse than I am used to. Disney as a company is well aware of the necessity to reinvent itself for each generation, hence the need for an updated and cool Mickey with his coffee. Again, I am reminded of the need for the Church to reinvent itself for each generation in order to remain relevant.
I am not talking about core doctrines here. These should not change. I refer more to how we do church and are the church for the present generation. I remember reading somewhere about how the church is only one generation away from extinction. Steve Rabey, in his book on Authentic Faith, said, “This generation is falling through the cracks of Christendom and the modern church is sleepwalking their way through oblivion.” There is an urgency to review and revise how we do and are to be the church in this interconnected, digital citizen generation with the Internet of Everything.
Little did I know how my thinking would be brought to the test in the subsequent months when the storm warnings were sounded in Wuhan China about a new coronavirus, initially named novel SARS-CoV-2, because of its close resemblance to the SARS virus. Alarming news started coming in rapidly. The infected and death tolls started rising. Different countries were reporting cases, and the global spread was impressive. Then countries started reacting by placing their populations under lockdown. We were told of the need to “flatten the curve,” meaning to contain the spread by lockdown while allowing time for our healthcare facilities to be expanded. We observed healthcare facilities being overwhelmed in Italy and Spain as the virus spread.
Since COVID-19 is caused by an RNA virus, I expected it to mutate. I expected that, like its cousin, the SARS virus, it would mutate and become non-lethal in a few months; in fact, I was optimistic that it would be over by July 2020. Little did I know that, by limiting its spread, we were also limiting its mutation. By the end of 2020 we have gone through a roller coaster ride revealing the brokenness of our society, removing the delusions we have been living with, and resetting the way we shall live in this future.
This book chronicles some of my reflections as I struggle to find love, faith, and hope in this fateful year. It started with apprehension as I watched nation after nation fall under the onslaught of this pandemic. What is worrisome is that these countries are developed countries, with superb healthcare infrastructures. At home, we were celebrating the auspicious Chinese New Year of the metal rat. Then came the lockdowns and the orders restricting movement. It was sobering, because this is the first time I have experienced travel restrictions. With the lockdowns and the closing of onsite church services, I am forced to rethink who we are as a church and how we do church. I had more opportunities to explore cyberspace as the churches went online. I also try to understand the digital church in its various manifestations and how it will work with the physical churches.
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