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Opinions of Friday, 29 May 2020

Columnist: Eyra Doe

Coronavirus, the lessons for the individual, family and the church

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Stores emptied of gloves, sanitizers, canned foods, toilet paper and water. Fights over the sale of limited supplies of face masks. Anger as attempts at getting provisions from the market or supermarket was met with inflated prices or dwindling stock. These pointed to the reality that indeed, my dear country Ghana, was going to experience a lockdown as other nations had already done.

This had become imminent because the COVID-19 virus had spread from Asia to Europe, North America and to Africa, and finally Ghana. The deadly virus reared its ugly head in Ghana on March 12, bringing with it a level of panic and angst to almost every part of our lives.

Somewhere in the month of March, the President of Ghana announced the first partial lockdown in two of the country’s most important regions after the cases of COVID-19 reached 137. The President’s directive was also for all public gatherings to cease. Hence, there was no school or church, and most people had to work from home.

Staying home meant families were home together and individuals had to find and adjust to new ways of spending their days either alone or with families. Also because of the ban on public gathering, there was no church or party, so in effect we all had to learn how to deal with COVID-19 because it was here to stay.

In this piece, I will share some lessons to glean from COVID-19 for the individual, families and the church.

Lessons for the Individual

During the first two weeks of lockdown, the value of relationships was brought to the fore. COVID-19 offered individuals the opportunity to rediscover friendships and express their feelings. It was a time for checking on people. Even friends and acquaintances who were in some sort of exile in our lives may have made a cameo. During this period, some individuals were privileged to have their long-standing needs finally met. This was either through calls from their church or the provision of relief items during the lockdown. The bottom line here was love was being radiated. Hopefully, the care and concern shown won’t end with our defeat of this pandemic.

The importance of family in this period cannot be overstated. In most cases, our families were the only physical contact we had. If anyone from this group decided to act thoughtlessly about health precautions on COVID-19, other lives would be at risk. Relationship challenges in the family were also brought to bear: a call to the prudent to bridge these gaps before they are farther widened. In some jurisdictions, there were reports of an increase in domestic violence during this period. This should open our eyes to the reality of how work and other concerns may have inadvertently caused us to gloss over serious issues in our critical relationships. When it’s all said and done, a good family could be a good support system. If you have the privilege or chance of belonging to one, albeit imperfect, treasure it and work at it.

During the lockdown, most people suddenly had a lot of time on their hands. A logical progression from this could be boredom, and a corresponding indulgence in unimportant things and vices. This same extra time could however be channelled towards self-improvement, and coming out more polished from the lockdown.

While writing this piece, I had talked to a few individuals on how they were spending their time. Some had picked up exercising, learning new recipes, learning how to bake, learning to drive, picking up reading, crocheting and other fun activities. It’s a good thing to venture out of your comfort zone every once in a while, and a practical way of doing this is to pick up a new skill. Every individual has a chance to come out of this a better person. In a sense, the world has sort of slowed down a bit for all of us. Let’s make hay while the proverbial sun of this pandemic shines.

I believe COVID-19 also challenged individuals to believe and trust in God more, and make time for the things of God. After all, these unusual times have made many people across the world turn to God. In the words of motivational speaker and author, Paul Blake, COVID-19 could be God’s way of calling us back to being the people He created us to be. I daresay this should teach us not to overly rely on pastors too. The pastoral ministry was surely ordained by God, but the individual is ultimately responsible and would face God’s standards alone. Everyone was locked up at home, including pastors.

There was no gathering for some people to erroneously blend in and acquire communal righteousness. Let the reality of that sink in. Your pastor, if need be, should be able to guide you in addition to what you study from the Bible. He cannot live your life for you. By all means, make time for an in-depth study of the Bible and apply yourself to its teachings, for the buck stops with you on this one.

A glaring deficiency in our society has been the low standards of hygiene we accommodate. In a way, thanks to COVID-19, we have a shot at correcting these. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a challenge in the society because most individuals don’t pay much attention to personal hygiene. Respiratory etiquette may be new to some of us, but handwashing has been with us a long time. No need to sound a horn, but we should all endeavour to improve in places we fall short. The empathy and consideration that should form a basis in our fight against this pandemic, should permeate our hygiene as well.

Above all, I think this pandemic should teach us to learn to be resilient. Some of us have had to adjust to working from home. That in itself could be challenging due to new and profound distractions at home. In addition, others may have had to take pay cuts, or probably been dealt a job loss. I believe this should remind us of the need to build up our survival skills. Surely, this is tough on a lot of people, but beyond resilience and a superior attitude, what do you really have when you’re cast down? No matter how hard it gets, let’s remember the only way to go is up. We should now see the importance of cultivating the habit of saving some money, no matter how little. The sky isn’t always blue, it gets cloudy sometimes. Better be prepared.

Lessons for the Family

For the family, the fundamental lesson is to stick together in the face of every adversity, even the COVID-19. It should be clear that no matter how independent we may be, our survival could still be interdependent in a whiff. In these unusual times, broken homes can be rebuilt, fences can be mended and conversations of healing can get underway.

The second lesson for families is to make time for each other. Parents especially need to carve out time from their busy schedules to bond with children. I think this is one good thing that most families gained from COVID-19. In my research during the lockdown, some few people who shared their experiences recounted how they watched movies with their families, interlaced with interesting conversations. There were those who played indoor games like Oware, Ludo and Scrabble, and bonded over other fun activities as a family.

Some parents also talked about how they read books to their children and ate together at the table. That, I must say was lovely. COVID-19 has also offered parents the opportunity to talk to children rather than talking at them, and for the children to learn to express themselves with beautiful words.

This pandemic also makes clear the role of parents in teaching their children. Before COVID-19, this was often delegated to teachers, nannies and other family members depending on the particular circumstances. Most parents surely would appreciate the efforts of these people some more, considering the profound impact of their absence in this period.

That said, parents should endeavour not to shirk this critical responsibility much as it could be inconvenient and challenging to keep up right now. Some schools offer online engagement to provide the children with educational materials, helping to ease the burden on parents somewhat. The schools may provide some help, but parents have to do well to ensure a balanced growth of their children emotionally, spiritually and in other important areas.

Lastly, in this era, spouses can wake up to the sweet sound of each other’s voices because there is nowhere to go in a hurry, and in these times, they can deal with the pressure of financial constraints amidst raising a family and losing one’s job or having a pay cut.

Lessons for the Church

To borrow the words of motivational speaker and author, Paul Blake, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc in the world, and the church is not exempt from its far-reaching effects. Hence, I share with you some lessons the church can learn and capitalise on from COVID-19 by exercising resilience and emerging even stronger and more powerful.

The first lesson is for the church to realise that God has always been in control, and we don’t have to stress about getting things done. In the eyes of God, it is all about making ourselves available and willing, leaving the ultimate results up to Him. Just take a cue from how businesses are operating and church doors are closed, but the message of the gospel is still being preached.

A second lesson to the church is to know that God is still at work even in the midst of the crisis. Perhaps to all (Christians and non-Christians), the period of this crisis is God giving humanity the ability to reset itself. By resetting ourselves, I mean the undertaking of an introspection and taking the time to make things right, or taking a break and correcting past errors in order to be on the right track. As Christians or believers, we also have a chance to see God’s blessings and mercies. For example, some believers may have been so involved in church ministry that they didn’t make time for family, but have the opportunity to right that wrong and take that break because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

For some of us, it’d be hard to remember the last time we ate or slept properly because we thought we were too busy. Surely, the piper would have to be paid, so it’s better to have COVID-19 slow us down now rather than waiting for the inevitable. As bad as it may be, let’s be grateful to God that we can get a bit of rest for the journey ahead.

Another ‘COVID-19 blessing’ is the opportunity for Christians/believers to minister and make a difference to lost souls. The suffering and lack created by job losses and other cutbacks have opened the door for the church to show the love of Christ through their welfare ministries and care.

Covid- 19 offers a fine opportunity for the church to invest in channels that make it easier to give a good experience online in the face of restrictions. There should be improvements in video recordings and live-streaming capabilities for worst-case restrictions.

In addition, the church needs to cultivate the habit of using every available digital platform to keep in touch with its members. It’s a good time for churches to build up their media departments, as these would still be beneficial beyond the pandemic.

Another lesson is for the church to up its prayer game. To quote the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, “This is Italy’s darkest hours”.

I daresay this is the world’s darkest hour as we battle this pandemic. COVID-19 is definitely a signal to believers that it is time to stop whatever we are doing for a moment of united prayer. For such a time as this, unity is the key and as believers tasked in Matthew 18:19 – 20 with the power of corporate prayer, we need every believer to arise and seek God together for the world. In effect, as the salt and light of the world, the church needs to stand strong in the Lord so that others can see the hope and faith we profess.

Yet again, the church should take cognizance of the possibility that the order of service might change should the ban on public gatherings be lifted. Most churches are likely not to follow their traditions because stringent measures will be put in place. Traditions like fellowship time, offertory, sitting arrangements and communion are likely to be altered, in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. There are likely to be some changes the church must adhere to.

Every church may need to keep an accurate record of people in church for every meeting, so it's easier to trace contacts in the event of a possible infection. In adhering to these altered traditions, there are likely to be divergent views from members and different leaders, hence there is the need for the pastors of the various churches to be resolute in altering these doctrinal church traditions. In the end what matters is for churches to convey safety to its members by way of implementing recommended health measures.

Churches should be aware of the effects of this pandemic on their finances. A good number of churches have transitioned to digital channels for offertory and other financial commitments, but some members would surely prefer to give in person. For churches that have not figured this out yet, they have some work to do, and there is the need for consistent communication to all church members that all offerings are to be given digitally. This is to serve as a preventive measure against the spread of the virus.

It is important that churches understand that budgets and calendars would have to be altered. This is mainly because there are bound to be extra purchases, should the ban on public gathering in Ghana be lifted. These extra purchases, I believe will be made towards observing the safety protocols in fighting the pandemic, hence the church budget might be scrapped and re-crafted. In the same vein, it is time for the church to learn to have a budget for contingencies such as the novel coronavirus. Many losses have been accumulated in various industries and the church has not been left out. Churches have to be strategic in order to accomplish this task.

Finally, I’d say churches would need their leaders to have charisma. This is because when the ban on public gathering is lifted, all members of the church will want guidance and expect great leadership from their leaders, just as how the shepherd leads its flock intently. Of course there will be backlash from decisions that the leaders might take, but members have to learn to trust their leaders. As we say, COVID-19 has ushered in a new normal, hence leaders need to learn and guide their members to stay safe while people strive for some semblance of normalcy.

Pastors should also be mindful that when the ban is lifted, not all members or congregants will make it to church for fear of their safety. This is understandable especially when there are digital channels by which these members can tune in to the service. I don’t think there should be any criticism of members not being loyal because they choose to stay at home. Surely, twisted application of scripture as some sort of blackmail should not be condoned. As always, members expect leaders to let their actions be inspired by faith and guided by sound theology as they continue to encourage the believer to trust in God, and not spread fear nor create panic.

In conclusion, COVID-19 is here with us and to stay. It will have lasting results for the individual, families and the church. Let us all learn to deal with the new normal till there is a vaccine. As individuals, heads of families and leaders of the church, we have the opportunity to create many of these results by the decisions we are making today. Our churches should be both different and better once COVID-19 is over.

As heads of churches or pastors, by this article I urge you all to think ahead and make strategic decisions today so you can lead your members with confidence should the ban on public gathering be lifted.

By this article, I also urge us all to utilise the opportunity that COVID-19 has given us to rediscover love and appreciation for one another because sometimes, pressing the reset button is necessary so we can recapture the things essential to life.