How do you deal with pandemic fatigue? Here are some suggestions.
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.
available at Kindle
Addressing some concerns about COVID-19 Vaccines
•Safety •Efficacy and Effectiveness •Side effects •Use of human cell lines •Long term immunity •SARS-CoV-2 mutation variants •Human mutation – grow extra arm? •Mark of the Beast
Some information about the different types of COVID-19 Vaccines
Some Christian considerations on the COVID-19 vaccine. Talk delivered 07 February 2021 to Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church (PJEFC), Malaysia
Guest post by Alan Tang.
The year 2020, as it turned out, was a year to reckon with. At the very beginning, I mused that the pandemic would shine a light on everyone as they navigate the unknown. Like standing in your undergarments in the middle of an auditorium with the spotlight on you. A frightening nightmare! No one, not even the most bold person would welcome that kind of transparency. Instead, we desire the kind of privacy and safety that shields us from vulnerability. Without a choice, the pandemic has exposed much of that vulnerability, showing what we did and didn’t do in response to all of the changes around us.
To manage a business, lead staff and counsel clients, I have spent too many long nights thinking about this. Especially when working with candidates for public office who stepped into a brighter spotlight than they might ever have imagined before signing on to a campaign. But this also applies to other ‘servant leaders’ who may have grown accustomed to leading from behind but now have to stand up front where the spotlight is the brightest. Everyone, myself included, have faltered to a degree in stepping up to the front in the face of the unprecedented. If there was ever a notion that with enough effort, we can be ‘perfect in every way’ or we can be ‘everything to everyone,’ the validity of that idea was certainly challenged this past year. But while none of us is perfect, I have seen some heroic, extraordinary efforts from people who stepped out of their comfort zones.
These include doctors and nurses who went above and beyond the call to help COVID-19 patients and ended up succumbing to the virus themselves. Or, leaders who continue to forge ahead into the unknown to create a safer community for everyone to live and work in. Some of these efforts may not work out, but they have sparked other ideas that may. In the last six months, I have been an eyewitness to the courage and bravery of these few. Certainly, performing in the bright spotlight is not for the faint of heart. The spotlight of an awards ceremony is one thing, but this type of spotlight requires a different kind of boldness.
There was an earnest call for leadership and resiliency in 2020. While it was resoundingly aimed at elected officials in the public arena, it was also compelling each of us as individuals to step up and do our part. There were no spectator seats in 2020; everyone was pushed onto the playing field under the spotlights. What you did and didn’t do were seen. But what is more important than what others may have seen of you, are the profound insights you discover in the mirror under those spotlights.
If we fast-forward, 10 or maybe 20 years from now, and we are asked by a five- or ten-year-old what we did to help others during the pandemic of 2020, what would we say?
Throughout history during times of great adversity, we see stories of courageous people who took great risks upon themselves to serve something greater than themselves. They chose not to be victims of circumstance and did not seek to be heroes. They just did what was right and did not let the possibility of failure or personal harm prevent them from going ahead with it.
One example is Sir Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker who did something truly incredible in 1939. He risked his life to save 669 mostly Jewish children in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust by ensuring their safe passage to Britain. And then, like a real hero, he never spoke of it again until fifty years later when his wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home that contained the names, pictures, and documents of the Holocaust victims that he saved. Why did he do it? He never really explained, though he offered a humble rationale in an interview with The New York Times in 2001: “One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that. Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”
How about Harriet Tubman? She was a slave and later prominent abolitionist who had escaped from a plantation and was partway through a near-90 mile journey from Maryland to Philadelphia, and freedom. She left Dorchester County, Maryland, in September and travelled by night, journeying through Delaware, guided by the North Star (Hōkūpa‘a, in Hawaiian is the same star used by Polyneisan navigators). In the years that followed, Tubman returned many times to Maryland to rescue others via the so-called “underground railroad,” a network of safe houses used to spirit slaves from the South to the free states in the North. She would help at least 70 people – family, friends, and strangers – escape slavery, taking enormous risks with her own hard-won freedom. She travelled in a variety of elaborate disguises and armed herself with a revolver.
We may not imagine ourselves stepping up to be heroes like Sir Winton or Harriet Tubman. Perhaps they didn’t imagine their heroism when they first stepped up, too. But perhaps they knew it was a truth that can’t be avoided.
There is an old Okinawan saying (probably with Chinese roots) that goes like this, “Ten shiru, chi shiru, onore shiru.” Translated, it means, “Heaven knows, Earth knows, I know.” My interpretation: there is no hiding from the truth: Heaven where we came from knows; the Earth where we will be buried knows; and yes, you know, too what needs to be done and whether you are doing it or not. That is the ultimate spotlight.
Previously posted in Linkedin
We are living in fear. One tiny RNA virus named SARS-CoV-2, averaging 0.125 micron in length, brought our civilization as we know it to its knees and caused great health and socio-economic disruptions. With the COVID-19 pandemic infecting 35 million people with more than a million deaths, all of us irrespective of our social status, ethnicity or country’s healthcare level of care are at risk. Especially vulnerable are those who are over 65 years of age with co-morbidities. Countries, states and cities are forced into lockdowns where everyone is confined to their homes to prevent the spread of the virus. The economic ramifications of the lockdowns with retrenchments, closing of companies and millions falling below the poverty line is a sad unfolding drama. For many of us, our fear is our constant companion in these times. We are fearful of our health, our safety, our future and of the future of our communities. After about seven months, this fear has permeated into our subconscious and is manifesting as irritability, anger, anxiety and depression. Often we do not know why we are feeling the way we do. Some people have cleverly named it “Covid-19 fugue” but it is actually a bondage of fear. This bondage of fear kept us blind to the very thing we need – hope.
Zephaniah, a minor prophet speaking at a time of great socio-economic disruptions caused by the Babylonian conquest (death, pestilence, famine), noted, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV). While we are in bondage, it is easy to lose sight of the Lord who offers hope. Instead, we are drawn into the downward spiral of fear, anger and anxiety to deep depression. This depression is different from the medical condition depression which needs expert psychiatric/psychological help and sometimes medications. This depression caused by the bondage of fear is caused by our present circumstances, the resilience of our spirits, and the power of principalities and power that hold sway in this fallen world.
Paul writing to the Corinthian Christians who lived in a world similar to ours with its natural and socio-political disruptions explained how to break the bondage of fear in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 (NIV)
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
With the spiritual weapons supplied by the Holy Spirit, we can take responsibility for our mental health by breaking the bondage of fear. There are three steps we can take to break this bondage of fear.
First, we name the fear. Naming, in the biblical sense, is knowing. We have many fears so it is helpful for us to ask the Holy Spirit to help us identify or name them. Then we subject each of these fears to the following rubric.
- A fear situation where we have control and can act – situation mastery
This is a situation where we have the ability to control and to take action. One example is washing hands, wearing masks, staying at home, social distancing and attending services online. Here we have situation mastery. There is no need to fear being infected by the virus.
2. A fear situation where we can’t control but can act – ceaseless striving
A situation where we can do something but are in a situation where we have no control over. One example is a person suffering from cancer. That person has no control over the cancer in his/her body. However, the person can do something about seeking treatment. Often, many people are not satisfied with sticking to the treatment of a medical oncologist. They will try alternative medical treatments, faith healings, herbs and even some obscure claims from the internet. This is ceaseless striving. Our fear drives us to keep striving, often in vain.
3. A fear situation where we can control but can’s act – accepting
Here is a situation where we have control but can’t act. This is often a very fearful situation as our natural instinct is to do something. Not being able to do anything is very stressful and anxiety provoking. One example is if we own a hotel, we have total control over the total operations of the hotel. Unfortunately, our hotel is in a country or city under pandemic lockdown. We cannot act to get guests because of the movement control order. We fear that we will lose the hotel to the bank. Millions of business owners, especially the smaller ones, live with this fear. It is also likely that many churches will be closing because of the pandemic.
4. A fear situation where we can’t control and can’t act –letting go
There are situations we find ourselves in that we have no control over and there is nothing we can do about it. Some of us live in fear for our loved ones who live in another country or city. We not only worry for their safety but we fear for them too. These are very fearful situations but if we are able to name them, we can break the bondage of these fears.
Second step after naming our fears is to befriend them. If our fear falls under the category of situation mastery, do something about it. We will find that the hold fear has on us, as we do something about the situation, lessening. In the ceaseless striving category, we should choose to be realistic and not just act to do something. In the last two category, it is about accepting and let the Lord do what He has purposed for our lives. This is where trust and hope come in.
The third and final step is to continue praying. Fear will always try to keep us in bondage and away from our trust and hope in God. We have to be vigilant in our thinking. Do not be distracted and let our thoughts be drawn to where our fears dwell, especially in ceaseless striving and areas where we must let go and let God. It is so easy to be drawn back into the bondage of fear. Paul has the antidote for us in Philippians 4:6–8 (NIV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
We are living in difficult and fearful times. Frederick Buechner in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith writes, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” It is easy to let our fears take control of our lives. We may be living in bondage to fear without knowing it. God has given us the means to break this bondage and the freedom to live with our fears. The key is trust and hope in the Lord. May we live in freedom from fear. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is a good guard against living in bondage of fear.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
The Connecting Church: Re-imagining the Church of the Present and Future in this COVID-19 Pandemic Era
The COVID-19 pandemic which is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a single strand of RNA cause a worldwide upheaval. It literally causes society to lockdown, confined billions to their homes. Churches worldwide are closed, with the cancellation of most church activities in church buildings. Overnight, it forced the church to move online utilizing numerous platforms and social media. Some churches are doing well in this, others not so. Now, as the pandemic begins to settle, there are indications that the authorities will be slowly easing restrictions for churches to meet physically. While restrictions are eased, there still are many requirements that are instituted for the prevention of COVID-19 infection and reinfection. In general, church gatherings are limited to 30 persons or less at one time, meetings not more than one and a half hours, and should have 2 hours between meetings to allowing cleaning. Congregants seated distancing at least 1-2 meters from each other and should wear face masks. Temperature monitoring and personal contact information will be taken on entering the hall. People traffic is directed to move in one direction so that there will be no mixing. People are to go leave church premises immediately after the services. Children under 15 years old and seniors more than 60 years old will not be allowed to attend the physical service. It is not known how long these restrictions will be implemented as there is no way of predicting how long the pandemic will last.
There has been a lot of literature on the Digital Church and the Distanced Church, implying that the digital mode is the next step in the evolution of the church. While the church may be connected digitally, there is still the need for human to human gathering. There are limits to human interactions through the electronic platforms. Deeper human relationships can only be built in the physical presence of each other. However, being forced online has opened the church’s eyes at the vast potential of digital and the connectivity that the internet offers. The COVID-19 church will be where human gathers together. What is new is how it has expanded beyond its bricks-and-mortar shells to cyberspace to become a Connecting Church.
First, the Connecting Church is connected to God. During the lockdown, some churches have direct streaming Sunday services, while others use pre-recorded sermons. Congregants are encouraged to log in and participate in the worship. Some churches shut down totally. The deliverance of services depends on the technical equipment and abilities of the church. It is heartening to note that some of the bigger and more techno-savvy churches are offering courses and apprenticeship to help the smaller churches to set up online worship services. Some churches allow Holy Communion online at home. What is encouraging is that suddenly congregants are exposed to a wide variety of services and sermons as the online services are open to all. This has developed a sense of unity and togetherness for the congregations in these times of social distancing. The Holy Spirit continues to work through the internet and there have been numerous reports of healing, deliverance, and divine encounters online.
Second, the timing of the development of communication software such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, social media such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Youtube, and streaming communication such as Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Live, and Microsoft Teams allow the socially distanced church to connect with one another. Many small groups in churches are meeting regularly, continuing their weekly meetings online. Individuals are reconnecting with each other through their telephones or online platform. Some are connecting long lost friends and reconnecting with others. Some churches hold regular prayer meetings online. Others continue their midweek devotional teachings. Attendance for these events is high because it is convenient to attend. Before, to attend a meeting one needs to dress, leave the house, and travel to attend a meeting. Now it is one step from the kitchen to the living room. These new emerging technologies enabled the members of the church to be connected to each other. As was quoted by a member of a church, “We are socially distanced but we are not spiritually distanced. We are actually closer now than ever before as a Body of Christ”. Yet, with all these technologies, we still need to be physically present to each other as we are embodied souls, and our interaction with the world is incarnational.
Third, small groups have always been where most interactions take place. It is the crucible of spiritual formation. It is the most connected part of the body of Christ. Relationships in small groups are the elements of spiritual formation. Small groups, also known as cell groups, are the level where human interaction interacts at its best, or its worst. The Acts 2 church is a small group and it has all the curricular forms of Godliness in its makeup. As the lockdown restrictions ease, probably the gathering of 10 or fewer people will be allowed. Hence the small groups will be the first part of the church to gather before the larger groups are allowed. In the meantime, the larger group will continue to stream and meet online with numerous restrictions to prevent large group gatherings.
Fourth, the large group which we commonly identify as the church. Prior to the pandemic, the decline of the Megachurch movement was observed by many church growth experts. The fall from grace of some of the megachurch leaders is sad reminders of the cracks in the movement. The megachurch movement is closely linked to the consumer culture from which it draws its inspiration. Around the time of the growth of the megachurch movement, there was also the cell church movement. Cell groups are small groups within a church, usually comprising of 10-20 members.
A church with cells is different from a cell church. A church with cells is a church that has cell groups as one of the activities of the church. The main focus is however on the main Sunday service, and the leaders are the pastors and church leaders overseeing the whole church. The main focus of the cell church is on the cells itself which the Sunday service is one of the functions of the cells. The leadership of the church lies with the cell leaders.
Most churches are churches with cells. The pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of this model. The lockdown closed the main church which is usually sited in buildings. The suddenness of the lockdown caught the leadership of many churches off guard. Many churches are led by top-down leadership. Many churches were adrift in limbo while their leaders recovered from their shock and formulate some sort of response. However, within the first few weeks, it was found that it was members of small groups which are connecting with one another to encourage and comfort. When the leaders recover from their shock and reassert control of the cell groups was the church considered to be functioning. It is my considered opinion that the cell churches did better in the lockdown as their leadership is not vertical but the horizontal. They just continued with their connections and being church.
Finally, which type of church will survive the aftermath of the pandemic? Economic and social disruption will follow pandemic. Churches with cells are often heavily invested in buildings and staff. Money will be scarce as tithing amounts will be reduced as members face the financial crunch. Churches may be forced to heavily mortgage if not sell off their buildings, and reduce their personnel. A cell church may not be so heavily invested in buildings and personnel. Cells usually meet in homes of members. They are likely to ride the storm better.
The situation is dire and there may be closure of churches and ‘retrenchment’ of pastors! A leader of a major denomination in Malaysia in a recent webinar estimated that one-third of the churches in his denomination may have to close down in the aftermath of the pandemic. These are mostly church with cells and heavily committed financially to the rental properties and staff.
There needs to be a paradigm shift in our thinking about the way we do and become church. I will suggest the COVID-19 Connecting Church be a Cell Church that is connected physically in homes and via technologies. Sunday services will be streamed into the cells. Perhaps it is no longer necessary for large auditoriums and offices. If needed, these churches can always rent a hall for their large group meetings. This makes more sense than owning large buildings which we utilize for a few hours every week. This will reduce the financial burden and allows more member to take up leadership roles and cell leaders. This is more in line with the Biblical and Reformers’ mandate of the priesthood of all believers. Understanding ecclesiology in terms of substance rather than the form allows us the liberty to choose.
In summary, what type of church will emerge from the dust once the lockdown is over and the authorities facilitate the opening of the churches? While many are hopeful that life will return to normal once the pandemic is over, the reality is that we have to live with the new normalcy. Unfortunately, there will be many Christian leaders who will want to return to the old normal, by force if necessary. What is this new normalcy and what will the church look like? Connectivity is the key here. We have discovered the genie of technology and there is no way to put the genie back into the jar. Social distancing is here to stay and in a way, we will remain a ‘distanced’ church. The organizational setup of a connecting cell church is a better option in times such as these.
11 June 2020