The pandemic brought apprehensions, uncertainties, fears, and expectations to the ethnic church in the USA. The first shock was the need to “maintain” the church without the possibility of meeting in person. This brought the challenge of facing with seriousness and determination the need for technology use along with the necessary investment of time, resources, and training for an urgent immersion in the virtual avenues and their natural developments. This was necessary to create an online church available to those who could no longer attend in person. The first months were months of attempts, studies, frustrations, discoveries, and learning. Then, the church began to find its way and understand better how it should move through the turbulence of the pandemic crisis.
The Family Church (Igreja da Família) in Windermere is located in greater Orlando in central Florida. It is a 54-year-old church that merged with Brazilian Baptist Community of Orlando (CBBO) six years ago and launched a ministry with Hispanics three years ago. Today it is a church with 12 services on Sundays held at five campuses in three languages (8 services in English, 3 services in Portuguese, and 1 service in Spanish). Each community (American, Brazilian, and Hispanic) needed to seek alternative ways to reach people and minister God’s grace to them.
The Brazilian community of the church quickly realized they could better reach Portuguese-speaking people through the use of digital platforms. Brazilians did not react positively to the broadcasting of services or recorded services. We discovered the Cisco WebEx platform and used it both for interactive services and for the small group meetings that we needed to put in place in order to care for the people. During the pandemic, the church received new members, held baptisms, started new online small groups, the pastors and deacons made virtual visits, and even held a virtual youth conference. AWAKE 2020 was attended by over 7,000 young people from more than 22 countries!
We learned what Christians in various parts of the world already knew – the Church is not a building! We are the real church – spread around the city –living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During the year 2020, God allowed us to assimilate this truth into our church praxis until in-person meetings became possible with the proper restrictions and safety protocols. The church began, little by little, to meet in person again.
People from high-risk groups like elders, parents with newborn children, and those who were still concerned about exposing themselves to environments with large groups of people naturally delayed their in-person attendance. The services are broadcast in real time on the church’s social media channels and also on the website. There is no pressure for everyone to meet again in person, even though Florida is now living a much milder reality with a large part of the population already vaccinated and the curve of those infected by COVID-19 decreasing. Everything is going smoothly, and the church is very zealous in its constant observance of safety protocols – always putting everyone’s safety first. We thank God, however, in the last few months that the services have been happening regularly, both in-person and online, and we have seen more and more people coming to the in-person meetings.
In the beginning of the year, we held another interactive and virtual worship night. It was a great blessing. During the times of biblical reflection, God spoke greatly to my heart, showing me that the church could not resign itself to the role of working to protect itself from the virus, to stay in a protective position, reactive to the news, and alert to guidance from the authorities while trying to expand its reach through the internet, analyzing metrics, and creating ways to be more and more present online. This was too little.
The question that God shook my heart with was: How can we as a church help the Brazilians living in Greater Orlando during this pandemic? Answering this question meant radically changing our perspective on the crisis, moving from being merely victims to being agents of change. Just this awakening of the Holy Spirit has already blessed us greatly.
The Brazilians who were in quarantine immediately came to my heart. How could we help them? How could we show them love? How could we reach out with affection and solidarity? It was not necessarily the need of helping provide food and more because people in quarantine were not only those with material needs. Thus, Projeto Cuidar (Care Project) was born.
We set out to identify Brazilian families who were in quarantine because of COVID-19 in the greater Orlando area. The idea was to find these Brazilians and give them a ‘care basket’ which included cookies, cakes, breads, cheeses, juices, cream cheese, teas, masks, alcohol gel, and other treats. We also put in the basket a card showing the solidarity of the church and a copy of the Holy Bible as well.
We formed teams that included Logistics, Family Fundraising, Donations and Purchasing, Bag Organization, and Delivery. Shortly thereafter, several brothers volunteered! We launched the project. The teams started working, the donations began to come, the Brazilians in quarantine started being identified, and more. On the first Saturday morning, the bags were ready, and the delivery team was also ready for the first opportunity to care for those who were in quarantine!
Since then, every Saturday, a team leaves the church with the bags – sometimes only a few families, sometimes more. The Projeto Cuidar (Care Project) was a response from Family Church to the crisis, but now we are looking at it as an opportunity to serve and demonstrate Christ’s love long-term. Isn’t it amazing how this change of perspective blessed and edified the church?
Soon, testimonies started being shared. People were touched, receiving our gesture as a hug from God in their lives. People wrote to thank us. We witnessed big smiles from people who were surprised by the affection received. To open the door of your house and to see a beautiful basket with so much good stuff given just to say: “You are not alone!” It was a great experience for many Brazilians.
As I write this, Projeto Cuidar has already blessed more than 60 families! Isn’t it wonderful? We have already made a difference in the lives of more than 60 Brazilian families in Orlando while they were in quarantine! Praise God for this change of perspective in our church! Praise God for volunteers who have embraced the vision! Praise God for allowing us to reach these families to show the love of Christ!
In fact, we can all do something to help and serve during the crisis. But for that to happen, we need to change our perspective. We need to understand that we are not merely victims of a pandemic, rather we are called by God as the Church to be agents of change. The church is the greatest agency for transformation of lives and realities in the world!
Reality is not destiny. The Church with a healed vision and a transformational perspective of the crisis will change reality!
Lord, we ask for your mercy in all the places where the pandemic is causing the death of so many people. We ask for your comfort for the families who now suffer the pain of the loss of their loved ones. Finally, we ask that you wake up your Church to adopt a different, liberating, peacemaking, and transforming perspective. We pray that the world may believe that you have sent us at this time to activate a true and profound project of change in the world, beginning with ourselves. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
For Reflection and Discussion
- What has your church’s perspective been during the pandemic?
- Looking at the crisis as an environment that creates opportunities, what are the opportunities that God has placed before your church?
- How can the focus of your church’s leadership remain centered on the Great Commission?
- How does Projeto Cuidar encourage and challenge your church to make a difference in this time of loneliness and loss?