With global resources stretched, this is the time to draw on our Baptist values of locally-led, activist communities. Asia Pacific Baptist Aid (APBAid) has developed a toolkit as a resource to support conventions, unions and churches seeking to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The possible practical actions provided in this toolkit can be replicated and adapted for local church responses to the outbreak of COVID-19 in their respective regions.
This toolkit aligns with the global Baptist COVID-19 response plan to “Strengthen, Lead, Respond, Defend, and Advance.”
These five dimensions clearly merge with the three United Nations (UN) strategies and activity outputs of Containment, Reducing Deterioration and Protecting, and Assisting and Advocating for the most vulnerable. It is designed with the understanding that churches, communities, and families are key in this response. In aligning ourselves with these global priorities, we also meet global standards and present ourselves as a good model of best practices in such a time as this. To conform to global humanitarian standards, the overarching framework of response is based upon the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan (Global HRP) 1 and articulates three strategic priorities:
Contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and decrease morbidity and mortality.
Decrease the deterioration of human assets and rights, social cohesion, and livelihoods.
Protect, assist, and advocate for refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), migrants, and host communities particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.
USING THE TOOLKIT
This resource toolkit (accessible at http://bit.ly/APBAidToolkit) is intended to provide churches and conventions with a pool of resources and ideas of responses and best practices drawn from around the region that may be replicated and utilized. The responses are presented as a “menu” that each implementing body can choose according to context, need, and capacity – serving as a guide to formulate their individual responses within their nations.
It then provides a segmentation of activity output phases for each priority according to Prevention, Emergency, and Recovery as pictured in the table below. It includes both psychosocial wellbeing tools, in addition to a section of resources for theological reflection and a guide for online worship as well as a wide variety of program resources. The toolkit is collated under three main sections of Church, Family, and Community responses and program ideas for each UN priority. All the above resources are uploaded on an accessible drive (see link below) in three folders named:
The matrix below captures how the above framework has been arranged as well as provides a few examples. This framework is an example of how you as a church or convention may align your activities with the global priorities. The activities are broadly categorized as Prevention, Emergency, and Recovery. An example is given under each section. It is also presented as a framework to design a plan of action that would include either one or more of the UN Global Humanitarian priorities, be focused on particular activity outputs or multiple outputs, and address needs by targeting church action, families, or community.
We suggest that as you look at your program of activities, ensure it is carried out by:
To make the most of this toolkit, we recommend that you look through it all and then return for specific resources as you develop your overall response. The toolkit brings together resources from around the world to provide ideas, guidelines, and reflections on the new reality we find ourselves in.
NOTE: The resources may be adapted to each local context as appropriate. Please give due credit and acknowledgment to sources when translating.
All of the resources, over 150 of them, are available online in a separate drive. To guide you to what is available, two indices are linked below and available for download:
For many of us during our early walk with Christ, the one thing of paramount importance was Scripture. Listening to God’s Word, prayer, and Bible study were the activities that perhaps most characterized our newfound faith. What would your answer have been if you were asked, “What is more important – the Great Commission or the Great Commandment?” Sharing the good news of Jesus or sharing a cup of cold water? Helping someone become a follower of Christ or helping someone gain a better quality of life?
However, sadly, confronted by these two apparently contrasting choices, pressed by time, priorities, and values, oftentimes the fellowship of believers has prioritized one over the other. We shift to one side of the Gospel or the other. This dualistic view of discipleship within church history has been the great divide, putting congregations and believers into one camp or the other. This unfortunately is an unbiblical and artificial fragmentation. It frequently appears within our churches between evangelism and social action, word and deed, our “mission” departments and our “development” work. In its most basic form, the challenge we face in Christian witness is fragmentation or integration. In the face of a broken and fragmented world, we become fragmented people in fragmented churches.
Very few would argue against acts of compassion or argue that the Gospel doesn’t need words. While we may agonize over the issue of trying to live both, we cannot allow indifference, apathy, or idleness to keep us from getting involved in either. We know the Great Omission is not an option. Like the child who throws stranded starfish back into the ocean, we know we can’t save them all, but we deeply believe that we’ll be able to make a difference for a few.
The reason this is important is that very often in our concentration on the final part of Jesus’s physical life here on earth, we can easily overlook all that he did up until that point. But Jesus’s life – both his teaching and his example – surely has just as much significance to the Gospel as does his death, burial, and resurrection. It is good to ask ourselves: “What was it that Jesus actually said?” When Jesus went from town to town and synagogue to synagogue, what Gospel did he preach?
It is also good to bear in mind and ponder that in the terminology of Jesus, he only referred to the great commandment and gave us a commission that we were meant to fulfil as we were going. The command “to go,” as scholars would tell us, in the aorist tense means that disciple-making is as we go about doing what we do. The description of this section as the “Great Commission” is not something Jesus said but has been rendered by the descriptor of his words. As a result, it has caused many believers to see this as the foremost activity that Jesus espoused, instead of the Great Commandment that he stated. This commission is founded upon his lordship and authority over BOTH heaven and earth. A question to ask ourselves is why would that be an important foundation for the commission? Could it not be because his lordship over the earth has also to be proclaimed in our Gospel? That we do not simply make ready disembodied souls for heaven but rather transform them to experience both fullness of life now and usher in the kingdom of God?
As we study the Scriptures and read the Gospel stories of the life of Christ, it is hard to observe this fragmentation. Integral/holistic mission is clearly demonstrated as the way of Jesus.
Even in the incarnation, God entered the human struggle in a certain time and specific place to speak and act in ways that modeled how God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus of Nazareth embodied the kingdom of God, translating and communicating God’s mission in ways that suited the needs of private and public life in first century Palestine. His self-introduction in Luke 4:18-20 is described as the “year of the Lord’s favour.” He taught that “God so loved the world that he sent his son.” These teachings declare the full spiritual and physical dimension of God’s mission and speak of a redeeming and restoring quality for all of life in the world.
There is no clearer way of summarizing Jesus’s own approach to mission than when his disciples asked him how to pray. In offering what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, we see the very vision of Jesus as integral, beginning with the words that unite all Christians: “Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We can group the mission of Jesus around several key, overlapping activities in his struggle against principalities and powers, his quest for transformation of all creation, and his walking with the disciples, the poor, and the outcasts:
Announcing the Good News: Jesus entered Galilee, and in his inaugural address in his hometown of Nazareth, he announced the good news that the kingdom of God had drawn near (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15), proclaiming that he was the fulfilment of the prophetic promise. His words and actions that day showed he had come to proclaim good news that was nothing short of “God’s year to act!” – generously and abundantly bringing transformation for the poor, release for the oppressed, and sight for the blind – spiritually, materially, and physically.
Teaching: The followers of Jesus called disciples (student/understudy) were taught to live the life of faith under God’s rule and direction, learning by example. They lived with him, ate with him, laughed with him, and learned from him. He shared about the mysteries and ways of the kingdom of God, primarily in parables that integrated spiritual truth with the everyday life of the farmer, housewife, landowner, and ruler. His approach was unique and challenging. It remains the model for training Christian leaders even today.
Healing and Caring for the Sick and Wounded: Through signs and wonders, Jesus demonstrated principles of the kingdom that were not simply supernatural and spiritual acts, but also had sociological, political, and even economic implications. He challenged the distorted and cruel “purity culture” of his day by healing the man born blind (John 9) and the woman who had the issue of blood (Mark 5). It is clearly seen in Jesus’s answer (Luke 7:22) when responding to the question of John the Baptist, “Are you the one who was to come?” Jesus’s ministry of healing gave evidence of God’s concern for every dimension of human wellbeing.
Eating and Drinking with Sinners: Jesus practiced inclusive table fellowship, a countercultural and controversial act in a Mediterranean world where hospitality was strictly determined by social class and religious credentials. He transcended religious, ethnic, and gender prejudices in his memorable conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4.
Confronting People Who Abused Power and Authority: Time and again, Jesus’s acts of love and compassion required him to also shelter and defend people from prejudice and danger. It was inevitable that he would come into conflict with those who were the powerbrokers and gatekeepers of institutions that benefited the most from injustice. Jesus impacted the unseen and seen structures and institutions of power in his world. Examples include his defense of the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and his scathing indictment of the religious leaders (Matthew 23). In doing this, his actions and words unmasked the powers and principalities of his day.
Sending Out His Disciples: Jesus instructed them to conduct this mission, bringing and proclaiming God’s kingdom of peace (shalom) to households and receiving whatever hospitality was offered. As part of the visit, they were to call people to repentance, offer healing and anointing with oil, and conduct exorcisms. Jesus was asking and authorizing his disciples to embody and fulfill the mission that he himself had been modeling for them. It illustrated an integration of purposes, giving witness to the dramatic arrival of the kingdom of God. If received, people would experience deep personal restoration.
The Crucifixion: Under Roman law, crucifixion was a penalty for treason. Jesus’s death was a result of the backlash from the structural forces of evil in his day. In his execution, the Gospel accounts depict in grim clarity the cooperation between the high priest (who had been appointed by the Roman Emperor) and the local political powers. This does not diminish the theological meaning or divine purpose of Jesus’s death as the final sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins and the decisive means through which the world is redeemed.
The brilliance of Jesus’s resurrection: By raising Jesus from the dead, God decisively accomplished an array of purposes. Through Christ, the penalty for sin has been paid, the world redeemed, and the kingdom of God irreversibly established. It is also an endorsement of God’s integrated purposes, linking word and action, mercy and justice, spirit and earth. It was a message of holistic transformation. God has put his stamp of approval on the way of Jesus, inaugurating the final chapter of history.
All these spheres of Jesus’s ministry are overlapping and mutually reinforcing. Together they represent how integral/holistic mission touches virtually every dimension of human and community life. Jesus showed us what God’s kingdom priorities look like at a ground level and provided a necessary model of a broad and comprehensive understanding of what it means to be “saved.”
Following Jesus’s resurrection and ascensionin John 17:18 and John 20:21, Jesus speaks these words to his disciples following his resurrection, ‘‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’’ We must rightly warn against an over-literalist interpretation of this verse for clearly we are not all meant to die on a Roman cross! Yet it would be wrong to deny that they point to Jesus’s model of mission as a paradigm for our own. The verse is immediately followed by the gift of the Spirit, and as Carson notes, the perfect tense of sent suggests that Jesus is in an ongoing state of “sentness.” Thus, Christ’s disciples do not take over Jesus’s mission; his mission continues and is effective in their ministry, birthed with the formation of the early church, and one which continues right now – today – in you and me, your church and mine.
The movement of integral/holistic mission is poised to enter a final crucial chapter. May we embrace this and in response together with Isaiah say, “Here am I Lord, send me.”
For Reflection and Discussion:
How do you balance the Great Commission and the Great Commandment in your own ministry?
Which of the spheres of Jesus’s ministry listed above are you most comfortable in and which one do you need to challenge yourself to strengthen?
These are indeed fearful and anxious times. The Psalmist, as he faced diverse dangers, seemed to mirror our sentiments at times such as this. Psalm 31 echoes many of the feelings and circumstances we are currently experiencing. The coronavirus pandemic has caused our world to hear “terror on every side” (Psalm 31:13, NIV). But the Psalmist placed these feelings of dread between two sureties both at the opening and end of the psalm as he concluded saying, “I trust in you, Lord … My times are in your hands … In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge.” With this in mind, Christians who draw their values and beliefs from God’s given revelation should respond in a distinctive way. And in that context of trust are several roots that form the basis for why we should respond.
When disasters are recorded in Scripture, sometimes we are given an explanation of why it happened and sometimes we are not. Jesus, on one occasion in Luke 13:1-5, used a recent tragedy to set aside suppositions and redirect people’s attention to the real issue. In most cases, whatever the cause, a disaster was a wake-up call for the population.
OUR BIBLICAL ROOTS
The Church’s concern for COVID-19 should also be rooted in its theological foundations. Biblically, every human being is made in the image of God, and thus is entitled to dignity and respect. This truth was established long before the United Nations’ (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that, as the body of Christ and as fellow believers, we have a responsibility and obligation to care for those in difficult circumstances. In as much as this foundation falls within our mandate of care, it also falls in line with the command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves.
OUR HISTORICAL ROOTS
Christians in ages past were no strangers to epidemics. It has been said that the way we respond to disasters (including epidemics) has to do with our values and views of life, death, and humanity. There have been outbreaks of plague and serious devastation approximately every decade.
In response to these outbreaks, Christians wrote many “flight theologies,” seeking to expound what steps a Christian could take with a clear conscience. Johann Hess asked Martin Luther, “Whether it is proper for a Christian to run away from a deadly plague?” An article that resurfaced recently in the light of COVID-19 and the church’s response to it was the response to this question. For Luther, our loving God though hidden, surely works for our good even in the places we do not expect, including amid the evil of deadly epidemics. The fear of bodily illness and death should drive us to pray and to care for our souls, remembering that this world is not our lasting home. Luther regarded the epidemic as a temptation that tests and proves our faith and love. Christians must think first how to contribute to the physical and spiritual care of those who are vulnerable, self-isolated, sick, or dying. Only then did Luther permit Christians to make private decisions about whether to flee. He quotes Psalm 41, “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble.”
What does this mean for us and COVID-19? Our attitude toward COVID-19 should be marked not by panicking and stockpiling so many masks that there are not enough for healthcare workers or so much pasta or grocery items that others cannot find any. Instead, we should be asking, “How can we as a church and I as an individual help those in need?”
OUR ECCLESIASTICAL ROOTS
By the fourth century, it is said that the churches in Rome were feeding an estimated 20,000 people each week. The church at that time presented to the world a visible alternative to the prevailing social order.Churches are, of course, integral parts of their communities and are often on the frontlines responding to disasters, both practically and pastorally. Experience from previous epidemics has shown that churches are particularly well-placed to build trust and hope, to counter fear, and to build community resilience as well as individual mental and spiritual resilience. Below are several comments of lessons learned in the response of faith-based agencies and churches during the recent Ebola crisis in East Africa.
Dr. Janice Proud, Anglican Alliance Relief and Programme Manager, commenting on the Ebola outbreak report and the response of the churches, said, “Once faith leaders were involved, the report found that they were transformational due to their trusted, respected long-term presence in communities and their ability to contextualize the response to take into account local beliefs and traditions.” The World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation, held September 29, 2014, in Geneva, Switzerland, affirmed a greater role for the churches and faith-based organizations in helping to stop the epidemic. Dr. David Nabarro, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for COVID-19, said churches and faith-based organizations have a massive role to play in dealing with emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of people’s lives, engaging them on questions of life and death.
OUR FAITH ROOTS
Disasters of this nature only highlight to us our fallibility and limitations. This pandemic has made us aware how vulnerable we are. It has altered what we thought was valuable in life. We realize the value of the very air we breathe as we spend thousands of euro for one day on a ventilator.
Anxiety and stress are common factors of society today, and as believers we are not an exception to experiencing such emotions. Fear has become a constant companion. As the Church, this presents another opportunity to minister hope and encouragement to people. “Do not fear, for I am with you” are words of Scripture often echoed, and they are a strong affirmation of God’s presence as we face this crisis. Above all, the church is the community of hope. And hope comes from what we do and who we are.
As Christian leaders in uncertain times, our first response must be to love our neighbors. In this moment, this includes taking early, active measures to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus while being a source of peace, clarity, and hope in a time of confusion. It is time for us to understand and practice the fact the Church is not the building but its people out serving in society. In my local church, we sent out a photograph of the empty church with the words, “The church has left the building.”
We are also called to lament at this time. Dr. Ajith Fernando in a reflection on Romans 8 writes, “…The whole creation is subjected to frustration (8:20). There is sickness, disappointment, pain, and death. That frustration includes us … who have a taste of what heaven is like here and now. But we groan (8:23) with the rest of creation (8:22). Through that groaning with the rest of creation, like Jesus, we develop deep ties with the world and have a deep impact on it.”
There are also questions that many churches are asking around the current coronavirus pandemic:
Is our Christian testimony damaged when we cancel our worship services and gatherings?
Is the integrity of our gatherings compromised when we cancel them?
Is it a reflection of our lack of faith when we cancel?
Is it a lack of our commitment when we fail to gather and avoid gatherings?
A few guidelines were suggested by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka regarding these concerns:
God is concerned with humanity’s holistic wellbeing (Leviticus 17-26). These reveal that the physical, social, economic, and religious are closely intertwined and that hygienic laws have spiritual bearings and social laws have spiritual impact.
Christians need to consider the wider community in decision-making (1 Corinthians 6:12). Acting upon our individual preferences may cause us to fail to act in love (Romans 14:15).
Zeal and knowledge must go hand in hand (Proverbs 19:2). One cannot make decisions using “faith” as the sole criteria in the face of overwhelming other information. Facts are God’s signposts in making faith-based decisions. The two – faith and facts – are not contradictory but complementary.
We must maintain the balance between divine order and human responsibility.
OUR MISSION ROOTS
Times of disaster, as we have seen right from biblical times, were a means for the church to engage in mission – a mission of compassion and demonstration of the love of Christ. We also see in the book of Acts that with every crisis the early church grew. Every crisis that scattered and sent the church underground caused its growth. We also see an example of compassionate ministry in looking after the widows as well as the famine aid collection for Jerusalem. As mentioned earlier, the two epidemics in the second and third centuries that overtook the Roman empire were the reason for the growth of the Church. It is said the Church grew from an estimated 45,000 believers at the time of the epidemic to over 1.1 million believers by the time the second epidemic struck in 251 AD.
As we consider the coronavirus pandemic, let us realize that while it is virulent and pervasive – causing almost the entire world to come to a grinding halt – God is still at work. Whatever the reasons and causes for this, in his sovereignty the Lord has not been caught unaware. He is not in a panic or a fright. Just as Scripture promises us, he is able to make a way in the desert and God turns everything we experience into good (Romans 8:28), making us more than conquerors in all things (Romans 8:37). Therefore, this is an opportunity for us as the Church to survive and serve in this crisis. This is a time when we are reminded more than ever how much we need each other – to be a channel of blessing to the nations and to minister his word to a troubled and anxious population. Let us pray for one another as we together seek to be light and hope in this hurting and fearful world. We are called for such a time as this for together we are stronger.
 “’It’s the Patient’s Fault’: Simone Simoni and the Plague of Leipzig, 1575,” Taylor & Francis, n.d., https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17496970701819319?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=rihr20&.
 Grayson Gilbert, “Martin Luther and His Incredible Response to the Black Plague,” The Chorus In The Chaos (Patheos Explore the world’s faith through different perspectives on religion and spirituality! Patheos has the views of the prevalent religions and spiritualities of the world., March 5, 2020), https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/.
 “The Church her Nature and Task”, The Universal church in God’s Design,Vol I, SCM Press,1948. quotes from Georges. FLOROVSKY, Antinomies of Christian History: Empire and Desert,” Christianity and Culture. Vol. II of The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Nordland Publishing Company: Belmont 1974, 67-100.
 “Churches Key Responders in Battle against Latest Ebola Outbreak,” Churches key responders in battle against latest Ebola outbreak, n.d., https://www.anglicannews.org/news/2019/07/churches-key-responders-in-battle-against-latest-ebola-outbreak.aspx.
 “Churches and Agencies Formulate Responses to Ebola Outbreak,” World Council of Churches, October 1, 2014, https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/churches-and-agencies-formulate-responses-to-ebola-outbreak.
 “Corona Virus and Psalm 91 Lk,” Our Daily Bread Ministries, March 31, 2020, https://ourdailybread.org/corona-virus-and-psalm-91-lk/.
 Stark, Rodney. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion. New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2012. https://tuhosakti.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/the-triumph-of-christianity.pdf
For Reflection and Discussion:
In what ways have you lived out the concept that “the church has left the building”?
Has the pandemic opened doors for you to engage with people on questions of life and death? If so, how did you respond?
How do you think the pandemic has been a catalyst for growth within the global Church?