COVID-19 Challenges and Opportunities in Central Asia
We have seen much of how Covid-19 challenged but at the same time also opened opportunities for the advancement of the gospel through our churches here in Singapore. As countries went into lockdown mode in the last few months, we connected with our brothers-and-sisters in Christ in Central Asia to find out how they were doing:
“Greetings from the country which bridges Europe, Middle East, and Central Asia!
Our church went online much earlier in 2020, before the formal lockdown in December 2020. With church services and meetings going online, our ability to connect and care for our people has experienced both hindrances, but also empowerment.
As some were without advanced telecommunication devices, they were not able to participate in online church activities. We did our best to stay connected through daily exchanges of SMS and continued to entrust them to the Lord. Praise the Lord, for we saw that this obstacle did not impede the decision of one such believer, who did not own a smartphone, to be baptised! On the sunniest day of November 2020, just before the weekend lockdowns, we were able to witness the baptism of three of our congregation, held at a baptism tank near the burial site of the Apostle John!
Despite challenges since Covid-19, we have noticed an increase in the average weekly attendance of our prayer meetings and Sunday services. Before Covid-19, factors such as being the only Christian in the household and having to travel long distances were disincentives for some believers to attend church physically. This season, we are seeing many “Zoom regulars” and have even extended to having morning and afternoon services.
We also continue to see regular attendance from believers and inquirers from nearby towns. This helps our city centre members catch a vision for “outreach”.
A 20-year-old girl, who was previously forbidden by her parents from going to physical church, can now join our online Bible studies. Through these weekly online studies, we have also been able to meet with a lady whom we had otherwise only visited once a month as she lived 1.5 hours away.
Not knowing when the lockdowns would end, we look towards our online church service with enthusiasm as we continue to reach out to more with geographical constraints now removed.
In addition, we have started to nurture our members in church leadership: once a month we have a video “Guest Speaker Input”! Before the formal online service starts, we help to organise a pre-meeting gathering time! We have “chat rooms” as part of every online meeting: sometimes immediately after my sermon, to allow for small group praise/ thanksgiving/ prayer requests. This allows for the deepening of relationships even in an online environment. We facilitate “Breaking of Bread” at the main Sunday service. Our small pastoral team ensures that everyone is contacted at least once a week. Parents are given a range of practical online resources to help them develop Christian family worship during lockdown weekends.
Former church members who have moved to distant cities have connected back to our meetings. Using Instagram and Zoom, we can “fish” across a wider region. This represents a “new norm” and allows us to reach out to those who live more than an hour away from a known congregation.”
As we pray for the pandemic to end soonest possible, we also thank the Lord for the “new normal” that had evolved and where online activities become a way of life for many including those who would not otherwise have been able to attend physical church services.
Grace Methodist Church