SOCIAL CONTACT AND FELLOWSHIP IN AN INFECTIOUS DISEASE ENVIRONMENT WITH AN ECONOMIC FREEZE?
This note is primarily meant for believers and groups of believers during the current months when the COVID-19 virus is in full swing and the economy is faltering.
Faylene and I are not doctors or experts, but both of us have endured infectious environments, although not as severe as this one, and emergency conditions. We would not write the note except we see the need, have contact with people that have not considered the practical applications of the Word about social/spiritual contact, and are aware of groups that have simply stopped most of their functions – bringing all their contact with each other to nearly zero to “wait it out.” The last one is a regrettable, because “love one another” emphatically applies under our current circumstances. Furthermore, a significant fraction of believers are in need or will be in need, which includes single moms, widows, single dads, kids out of school with no parental assistance, families and people with lost wages due to the economic down-turn or effects of the virus, and those with emotional or mental challenges whose isolation has deepened due to the circumstances. For these alone and those who do not know Jesus, the church (its people) CANNOT afford to simply disappear until an infectious disease is seemingly gone or the economy returns to normal. So, if you are willing to adjust and listen, here are some guidelines:
Take note that the verses are without qualification and are impartial with respect to health, economic status, or origin. If you doubt that, read the book of James concerning partiality. Or, look at Jesus’ deliberate contact with people without partiality—rich, poor, healthy, or sick. In Christ, we are empowered to make a difference.
Matthew 25:34-40; Luke 4:18; Luke 10:30-37; Luke 5:12, John 3 (Nicodemus)
What do these references say in general? People, who have called on Jesus Christ, are brothers and sisters alike. They are called to love each other in both word and deed because of Jesus within, but it includes reaching to those are in need help and those who don’t know Him. These basic fundamentals are not with respect to circumstances—whether good or bad.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE GUIDELINES
Infectious diseases and their common characteristics are part of the fallen world—a world affected by the consequences of sin. Prayer does make a difference, but wishing or praying or prophesying all the effects to go away is not happening. It did not happen in Acts either. Groups of believers cared for each other and believers in other locations through their challenges, and the Word is a record and an example for us.
As Christians with His commands at heart, we can pray and care for the sick or poor. But, we also exercise caution around those who are sick in an infectious environment. A contagious disease, like the COVID-19 virus, requires precautions. Please obey all local and jurisdiction guidelines in whatever you do. The precautions for infectious disease are well known but not often practiced until a situation this serious arises. It has arisen. So, pay attention to CDC guidelines, NIH guidelines, state or provincial guidelines. I have heard them or read them for countries and US locations. They almost always agree. If you don’t know them, READ THEM. If you have not remembered them, REVIEW them. The reading level is usually on the 5th to 6th so even children can understand. Their guidelines supercede our comments and suggestions if there is any apparent disagreement. God would have us obey and pray for authorities.
Some links to find them with details on subpages:
Outside your home: Watch what you touch. Keep a distance from those sneezing or coughing. That is where infectious disease passes. If you don’t have to touch something, don’t. If you do and it might be contaminated, wash with soap and water or apply a disinfectant. If children are around, watch what they touch, which is everything that is a button, something to push, something to turn, or something to taste. They must receive guidance from you, sometimes constantly. Even if they seem fine, they can be carriers of disease. Don’t let a cute compliant face of a child or an adult young person mislead you. You can get what they carry or you can give what you have to others.
In your home: The same guidelines with minor modification are for anyone is sick in the home. Furthermore, note areas where it is easy to pass the virus around your home: entrance doors, shoes, switches of all types, food preparation surfaces, bathroom commonly handled items. Be careful what things come in the door and go past the entrance area. Wash your hands properly or sanitize them when you have remember that something may have gotten contaminated.
In your travel: car or public transportation doors, windows, and seats where you sit are suspect in a highly infectious environment. Keys, plastic cards, carts, strollers, and clothing you lay down in public can have surfaces that get contaminated. When in doubt, sanitize properly.
Yourself: watch what you touch, especially your face and nose. Wash more often. Just do it, even when it is inconvenient, if you have just sneezed (covering your face—in your elbow or in a tissue, of course). In an infectious public environment, you stay 2 m or 6 feet away from folks if you possibly can. Make choices on when and where to be that will minimize close contact in public. Lots of contact means increased chances of problems.
You must learn to think differently during a contagious or infectious disease period. As quickly as you adjust, then immediately extend those observations over children and the elderly, who are at high risk to either pass or receive an infectious disease.
GUIDELINES FOR FELLOWSHIP
Don’t stop relating but change how you do it outside your private space at home…
–Online or cellphone solutions:
Consider being more deliberately active to use interactive chats, like a Facebook Messenger group, a WhatsApp call, or an interactive blog among friends. If you cannot do video (we often cannot), then do this with voice calls. These times can be wonderful for children and households who miss each other while families listen and talk together with another family, but you have to think ahead to make these things deliberate. Don’t just chat away. Rather, look or promote speaking of your love and concern for each other, your households, and the goodness of God.
Use the biblical guidelines in Philippians 4:8, whose guidelines for subjects worth thought and conversation. If you can communicate real needs and things that lead to action or solution, also talk about them, too, sometime during the conversation periods, which is also in keeping with biblical exhortations. Hold each other in heart during a conversation; cry with those who are having problems or hardship; rejoice with them who testify of the goodness of God. Deliberately avoid judgment and gossip. In short, make your calls important and meaningful fellowship, because it may be all you have available for weeks at a time.
We are not a big promoters of online streaming or meetings unless they are interactive and everyone has that ability to participate, which is not common without good connection and sometimes fees. Interaction among believers has ten-fold the positive effects compared to one-way communication, which can be argued as not being real communication. Some churches are heavily relying on one-way messages and teachings for members. That is not communication, nor does it effectively promote community by itself. Furthermore, over half the world is limited to cell phone communication with limited signal. Some have no signal at all. Those with the most in need cannot often effectively join in. Fundamentally, interaction is a basic tenet of fellowship. So, choose methods to accommodate the least able friend or neighbor.
SOCIAL GUIDELINES – HOW TO RELATE PERSON TO PERSON (NOT ONLINE) IN A DANGEROUS INFECTIOUS TIME
We believe you must relate to others, but it begins with your relationship with God. If you are not already in the practice of talking, praying, or singing to Him, this is a good place to change those omissions in your life. How do we know? We have spent time in the Word, time with Him, and time with others for more than 4 decades since we fully committed our lives to Christ. We have a practice and lifestyle of hospitality, and now we practice it together. The practices and lifestyle of believers is plainly addressed in John Matthew 25:35-40. You should be about those things with practical emphasis, but it will be difficult to do if you have not spent time with God yourself or taken time in the Word. You may not be doing these kinds of things, and we are not here to condemn you, but God is clear. If you know Him, you have received His love, you are born again by the Spirit, then you have the capacity as you lean upon Him to enrich your lifestyle. Whatever you have of Him in your life empowers your encouragement and source of hope for others.
That said, shutting down and separating from everyone for a long period is not wise, it will not help others, and it halts the life among believers or a church. So, you must start thinking outside the box, looking for ways to relate to believers and neighbors safely with infectious disease guidelines in mind. Here are some suggestions for personal contact, keeping in mind the current recommendations for social distancing during the expansion phase of an infectious virus:
- Coordinate time and place (not a crowded place, but perhaps a home yard, federal/city/county land, a church yard, or a path. Some metro areas have stay-at-home orders but many other places are not quite as stringent. If stay-at-home orders are in effect, windows adjacent to a neighbor’s windows, or a porch, or a corner of the yard works just fine as long as you keep the distance minimums.
- Do you have to get food? Then why not coordinate a time, keeping distance minimums in mind, to get food at the same location. Food is a primary requirement and considered a basic necessity with most of the rules in areas that have restrictions due to infectious disease. We can do some catch up, see a smiling face, and relay news in a walk from one side of a parking lot to another. Some of our grocery list might be the same as our neighbor’s list, too.
- Getting to know the neighbors (believers or nonbelievers) is always good. And, believers have a chance to get to know names and situations. So, interacting with adjacent neighbors, even if not part of your church group, is a wonderful way to make friends. You may still remain in your respective properties or boundaries, but you can talk, pray for your neighbor, or just check on them if some of them are sick.
- Written notes and messages. Some think it is old-fashioned, but tell that to a young person who likes someone…and gets or sends a note. It is still one of the best ways to communicate. While one must keep in mind infectious disease criteria and may have to be careful to keep the note free of contamination, a note speaks things that are usually thought out. Another option, if a person either sending or receiving the note is sick, is take a picture of it and send it via email or a cell phone. Or, have someone else take the picture for you. In the end, there is no excuse for not communicating with those you love, those your are concerned about, and those who are lonely. And, if you are lonely, it is a good way to let people know where you are. If children are involved, having them do pictures or little-person notes is a wonderful project and a noteworthy way to cheer someone’s heart. Again, be careful because hands must be clean, writing implements must be likewise. Then the cell phone and camera come in handy. One additional caution: don’t send physical notes to some seriously ill unless you know every precaution has been taken.
NEEDS TO LOOK FOR
The Bible and its ultimate Author, God, is very keen on certain groups of people. They get His attention, especially if they are mistreated, disdained, oppressed, or ignored. In this category are widows, orphans, and the poor. In an environment of catastrophe, pestilence, or corruption, these types of people are the first to suffer consequences. We are instructed, clearly instructed, to watch out for them. Believers must be on the lookout for circumstances around them (even in their church) where these believers or unbelievers are suffering. In a bad environment, such as one affected by a widespread infection that is dangerous, one can make a difference. Any of the previous suggestions for ways to communicate are possible with the additional possibility of providing an extra bag of food, a specialty item, a note, and a prayer on the spot (keeping cleanliness of an item that might be given). What if God speaks to you to pay for an item that the needy one already has in their cart? Think outside the box. Be ready to act. After all, God’s division of people, as compared to separating sheep from goats in Matthew 25:32-46 is a real judgement and separation that will come. And, it is dependent on treatment of “little ones” that are hungry, thirsty, alone/unknown (strangers), naked, sick, or in prison.
CHURCH GUIDANCE FOR LEADERSHIP AND PASTORS
Is your church “locked down?” If you look at the list of vision or function statements that your church claims and the key ones are no long working because of closing of services, then you are telling the world that believers no longer function when the circumstances are not right. That means the church has become irrelevant. If that is the case, even in a partial way, please relook at what you can do. If necessary, reorganize. Break your members down by regions of where they live. Reorganize into smaller groups that are not far apart. Encourage the contact methods that we have talked about – NOW (not when the crisis is over). If this crisis deepens, which has indicators that it shall when coupled with an economic slowdown, you want God’s people to already have practices in place to strengthen one another and their neighbor.
You will probably have to assign local coordinators. If it’s not a classic leader or teacher, what have you been teaching them all this time? You have the power to entrust God-fearing every-day people in charge of a local activities. Encourage calling and contact within the constraints of local rules. Give them guidance on contacting neighbors. As the results start becoming apparent, give them guidance or redirect them. After all, most have been taught all this Scripture and they have attended worship all this time. Set them loose to act, pray for them, encourage them, and watch what happens. If they stumble, pick them up and encourage them again.
Keep tabs of who is doing what and where it is happening. The church still wants donations, and those donations can help feed the process, because sometimes time and money are needed to help things. Monitor to encourage fruitfulness so people personally taste and see the God’s touch and love through is real.
Testimonies from people should begin to arise from what occurs as faith begins to have real feet around through people and in places where it may not have been so apparent before. In a prolonged time of need such as this, let us work together to be His servants.