In the north central California town of Columbia, the father of a former drug dealer—unsettled by constant news of the coronavirus threat and convinced by a radical change in his son—was driven to desperation on a Sunday morning in March. With his son beside him, he got down on his hands and knees, asking Jesus Christ to be his Lord and Savior after watching church services online. Father and son have had a rocky relationship, but with God all things are possible, and God is working in this family, as well as throughout this former mining village, says the young man’s pastor.
A few hours away, the multisite Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California moved its worship services exclusively to online streaming in mid-March. Within the first two weeks of doing so, online engagement rose by 400% to more than 600,000 screen views. By Easter, more than 1 million watched online services, and some 31,000 people indicated they had prayed to receive Christ in four weeks.
In Mexico City on March 18, just before that country began implementing widespread precautionary measures, a young man named Fernando heard the Gospel while serving food to a gathering of Christian pastors who had come to hear about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Christian Life and Witness training. Afterward, Fernando approached the speaker at the meeting—BGEA’s David Ruiz. “I need to know that hope,” he told Ruiz, who then helped lead Fernando to faith in Christ.
And in Punjab state in northern India, amid a national lockdown because of COVID-19, a Christian woman was so burdened for her Sikh neighbors that she shared the Gospel message with them. Moved by the Gospel, the members of the Sikh family prayed to receive Christ, and then walked a short distance to Pastor Bachitter Singh’s home.
Initially Singh was reluctant to invite them inside due to the lockdown, but he relented because of the nature of their visit, spending several hours explaining to them how Jesus Christ had transformed his own life.
Singh reported via email: “We have been locked inside our homes, but the Gospel cannot be locked.”
Greg Laurie, the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, told Decision that his sermon on March 22—the second week of online-only church services—was about God’s answer to fear and anxiety, which seemed to resonate not only with Christians being reminded of their hope but also with unbelievers who are desperately seeking it.
“I think, especially with the spread of COVID-19, you might read of yet another person dying. That’s really scary and it’s a wake-up call for all of us,” Laurie said. “But we want to show the Good News to people—that God can give them the meaning of life on earth and the hope of life beyond the grave.”
Laurie noted that shelter-in-place orders have provided a moment in time that God might use to reap a spiritual harvest.
“In addressing the church at Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation, the Lord tells them, ‘I’m the one who opens doors,’” Laurie said. “And so, I think that this moment is an open door. … If we’re smart, we’re going to seize the moment—carpe diem. We don’t know when it will come again.”
Retired Major Gen. Douglas Carver, former U.S. Army chief of chaplains and now director of chaplaincy for the Southern Baptist North America Mission Board, served in the Iraq War and has witnessed multiple ways in which spiritual opportunities arise in crisis situations.
“Normally we don’t plan a crisis for 12 p.m. tomorrow,” Carver said. “A crisis has a way of putting a person in a helpless situation where they look for some kind of relief in their time of need. Crises have a way of taking our props, removing all of those things that we have leaned on … and forcing us to see how finite we really are, that there is an eternity we can look forward to with hope through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Mike Redinger, pastor of Connecting Columbia Church in the north central California foothills, whom God used to reach the father of the former drug dealer, has been encouraging his flock to “be the church” in their community of 2,200 residents for months.
Redinger has been discipling Mathan, the former drug dealer. The dad’s conversion came after he invited Mathan over on a Sunday morning to “maybe have some Bible study”—a most unlikely request knowing the two men and their history, Redinger said.
The pastor fought back tears telling the story of his small town, ravaged by broken homes and broken lives.
“One of the things that I think this is telling me,” said Redinger, “is we’ve got to get our church going in that direction and ready for the harvest field that God’s preparing right now.”
From computer and TV screens in living rooms to neighbors talking to each other from a safe distance, followers of Jesus Christ have a moment—an open door—to point others to Him.
And in that moment, Laurie has a message for pastors: “Throw the net. No matter what you’re speaking on, make sure you think of nonbelievers who are watching you, who are looking for answers, and just tell them how to believe in Jesus.”
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