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COVID Era Church

Over the next weeks and months, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will be sharing reflections from our CBF field personnel serving around the world. These are stories of impact and outreach, Gospel-sharing and relationship building, long-term presence and abundant love.

The following is a reflection from CBF field personnel David Bass, who serves in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, alongside his wife, Lauren. You can learn more about their ministries and support their work at www.cbf.net/bass.

I was driving on a dirt road that got bumpier by the minute. I was concerned about the ominous storm clouds blowing in above me. It was the middle of Cambodia’s monsoon season, and if we experienced a heavy rain, the potholes would fill with water, the dirt would turn to mud, and I would be stuck. I prayed against rain and pressed on.

Our destination was a house that was the site of a house church planted two months prior. It was surrounded by rice fields and palm trees. The grandfather of this household had become quite ill; his family brought him to Pastor Kongyu, leader of the Cambodia Baptist Union (CBU) in Kampot Province. Kongyu prayed over the man, and he eventually recovered.

Kongyu invited this family to know the God who had healed him. She helped them start a house church and has been teaching them what it means to be a church. Twenty families are now part of the church.

Kongyu told me this story as we drove together to the house church, beaming as she called this a “COVID-era church.”

Her implication was clear: Many things have had to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But the Holy Spirit does not close. God is still at work.

Kongyu and I joined with other CBU leaders at the house in order to distribute rice and other food items to the families at this church. At this time of the year in Cambodia, many families run out of food reserves while waiting for the next rice harvest. The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. The CBU sponsors food distributions in hard-hit villages. Wherever they go, they share a gospel message, and new believers, non-believers and even local government leaders have learned about this Jesus who has compassion on us and is the true bread of life.

I was visiting one of these distributions so I could learn how to more effectively partner with this CBU ministry. But as I sat listening to the message, my eyes kept wandering to the skies. The dark storm clouds were rolling in, the wind was picking up, the temperature was dropping. Would I make it out of here before the rain came? I was getting increasingly nervous.

Suddenly, I heard a quiet whisper in my heart, a nudging from the Holy Spirit: “Stop worrying.” Since worry seemed like the only logical response, I tried reasoning with the quiet whisper: “If it rains, I’ll be stuck here!”

The reply was, “It may rain, it may not rain. There is something to learn either way.” It didn’t rain until later in the day, after I made it back to paved roads.

As I drove back with Kongyu, she shared her two prayer requests for this new church: that they would grow in faith and grow in love. They would have many challenges and problems in the coming months and years; but if they could grow in faith and love, they could face anything.

I reflected on my own experience that day when I had spent much of the time worrying about rain, worrying about myself. Obviously, I had much room to grow in faith and in love. How much worry I could have saved had I focused on faith and love instead.

I came away from my experience with this new “Covid-era church” praying that we would all learn how to be “Covid-era churches.” This means that we won’t see only the things that have been shut down. The Holy Spirit never shuts down. Instead, we will look for the new ways that God is working and ask how we can join in that work.

Being a “COVID-era church” means that, when we see the dark storm clouds rolling in—my experience with actual rain clouds reminded me of the small, large and life-or-death-sized problems that we all face—we will turn our worry into prayer. We will acknowledge that sometimes it rains, making some paths impassable; and sometimes it does not rain. Either way, we have an opportunity to trust God more.

Finally, being a COVID-era church means that we will pray to grow in our faith and in our love. Our tendency often is to grow in our worry, fear, selfishness and pride. That’s why the prayer to grow in faith and love is so simple, and yet so profound. Whether we face big challenges like the lack of basic daily needs, or smaller challenges like washed-out roads, we cannot sincerely pray for faith and love if we continue to grow in worry, fear, selfishness and pride.

Let’s all strive to become “COVID-era churches.” It will take work, prayer and faith and love. But when the storm clouds close in on us, we can continue to trust in and follow the Holy Spirit who never shuts down.

*The absence of community transmission of COVID-19 in Cambodia for many months now makes in-person church gatherings a limited possibility, whereas gathering and church planting as we think of it, might not be possible in some parts of the U.S. right now. Our job is still to ask how God is at work and how we can join in with that work.

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