GraceBuilt Church

GraceBuilt Church: Trusting in God

Bittersweet Beauty in the Age of COVID: Trusting in God in Uncertain Times

Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Christian Rodriguez

Claire Akin tucked her 9-year-old daughter into bed and prayed with her. Then she gently asked, “Chloe, do you know the best is yet to come?” Chloe confidently reassured her mother, “I know that, Mom.” In that tender moment, Claire realized that she was probably speaking more to herself than to her daughter. Claire is the wife of Josh Akin, pastor of GraceBuilt Church, a Calvary Chapel in Waynesboro, VA. A family physician, she’s very aware of the medical dangers of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. “I realize I can’t put my hope in anything but Jesus Christ. I often have to remind myself that the best is yet to come. It’s something that we as Christians need to [do] because sometimes the world can look very dark,” she observed.

Joah and Claire worship

Pastor Josh Akin, left, worships the Lord with his wife, Claire, during Sunday service.

Josh and Claire, and their small fellowship of 200 in the foothills of Central Virginia, haven’t escaped the hardships caused by COVID-19. Claire hasn’t worked for two months since low patient volume at her clinic led to staff cuts. She hopes to return to work in July. Several members of the church have also been laid off or furloughed. “There’s a lot of uncertainty—we really can’t make plans. I joked that I threw out my 2020 day planner because there was no need for it. You’re just living one day at a time, listening to the updates and latest information,” she stated.

worship team singing

The GraceBuilt Church worship team leads the congregation in praising the Lord.

A Bittersweet Time

Josh noted that COVID-19 has affected everyone—if they haven’t gotten the virus, they’ve experienced the limitations placed on them as states have acted to limit its spread. “We’re all going to look back at this and remember the hardships and the blessings. [We are] unified in our suffering, and that’s not always a bad thing,” he reflected. “[When] we face challenges, we grow. We’ll see that there was growth. God is going to use every aggravation that we’re facing to give us an opportunity to cry out to Him, to lean on Him more than we did before. We’ll always need this lesson, again and again.”

African man worships

Believers at GraceBuilt Church worship the Lord freely.

A bittersweet beauty has come from this challenging season, he asserted. “Yes, the virus hurts—and yes, we’re afraid. Yet people are loving each other more openly, leaning on each other; it’s OK to admit that we need God’s love [offered] through one another.”

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart. 1 Peter 1:22

Growing in the Challenges

As churches in Virginia were not allowed to meet in-person, some faced challenges in using technology to communicate the Gospel in different ways. “We’re a small church in a small town. We didn’t have the staff to run video cameras, handle computers, and figure out livestreaming. It required a lot of learning in a [short] time, and we made a lot of mistakes,” Josh admitted. “Our online ministries have been primarily just getting a Sunday morning service out, getting the Gospel out as coherently as we can to as many people as we can.”

African man worships

Pastor Josh teaches his fellowship verse-by-verse through God’s Word.

Josh added, though, that the Lord raised up volunteers from the fellowship to make the online services a reality. “In the end, there have been really good services, and it was a really good way to worship Jesus together. It was neat to see how the Lord could take a tiny church with no resources and no staff, and yet make it all work together,” he exclaimed. Citing their conviction of the importance of worshipping corporately and biblically in their church building, GraceBuilt reopened in May for in-person services a week before Virginia’s governor lifted restrictions. They followed, and continue to follow, careful social distancing and hygienic practices.

Ministry continued when the congregation couldn’t meet. Claire explained, “I have gotten on some video conferences with other pastors’ wives from Virginia for a time of encouragement. And I try to text our ladies and encourage them individually as best I can. Honestly, it’s been a challenge when you can’t really leave your house freely or drop things off because of concerns about [the virus].”

Learning Contentment in Isolation

The day after the Akin family moved into a small apartment after selling their house, Virginia’s governor locked down the state. “That was very difficult. We have a young family, ages 8 months to 11 years, and they like to be out in the yard. Here we don’t have a back yard,” Claire recounted. And their family homeschooling field trips, as well as other outings, became rare. She shared, “[The lockdown] upset some of our plans and affected us financially. But God is good, and where He guides, He provides. Here in America, we’re blessed with so many things that we have no reason to complain.”

women worship

Ladies lift their hands in worship.

Josh noted that although we are made to be in fellowship with other people, “We’re also made to find rest in times of solitude. When God puts us in [that] season, I would say, embrace it! Find the joy there. Maybe God is saying it’s OK for you to be alone in your apartment or house, [to learn] you’ve got nobody but Me.” He described life in his small apartment with his wife and three young children. “There’s not a lot of quiet, peace, and solitude. [But] that’s where God speaks to me. I would encourage everybody to find that spot where you give your ear completely to the Lord. Say Yes, Sir, I’m listening. Here I am. What do You have to say to me? He’s going to redeem this time if you give it to Him.”

I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11b-13

Medical Challenges and Perspectives

Claire can see the pandemic and its effects through both medical and spiritual eyes. Many of the patients she talked to, often through telemedicine technology, faced anxiety issues. “I take care of a lot of other health care workers, some of whom worked with people suspected of having COVID-19 or perhaps in the ICU. They were coming home after working several days straight with a lot of anxiety, asking for medications. It’s been a difficult time for that,” she emphasized.

She worries about elderly patients who were leading full and productive lives before COVID. “They like to go out and eat with their friends, see movies, and volunteer at their local churches or other organizations. They haven’t been able to do that.” Some will drive to a store parking lot where they do puzzles or talk on the phone with friends, she said. “They just want to be with others because they live on their own and are quite isolated.”

Josh being interviewed by local news

Josh is interviewed by a local television news station.

Another concern is for people who are scared to go to a doctor for minor—or major—health complaints. “I actually have nightmares thinking about patients who might be having signs and symptoms of heart attack or something equally severe and are not seeking medical attention because they’re worried about catching COVID-19,” she expressed.

In this troubling season, Claire has used her faith to encourage patients. “There’s been a lot of fear in our community about this virus, and a lot of misinformation. At the end of a patient visit or teleconference, I liked to tell the patient, bluntly, that God is in control of this situation. He is still on His throne,” she related. “I’ll say that 90 times out of 100 they’ll agree with me. Sometimes I’ll have an opportunity to pray with them or just encourage them in the Lord a little. Or they might encourage me in the Lord.”

Josh being interviewed by local news

A couple worships at GraceBuilt Church while wearing masks.

Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

She noted that people put their trust in different things—social media, medicine, and doctors or other care providers. “But the reality is that we do not have a cure or a vaccine. We’re working on treatments. It’s very important to know that one thing you can always count on is that Jesus Christ is Lord. We can lift our eyes up to [God] when we get scared about the world around us and know that Jesus is a fixed point. He never changes. We can focus on Him, and the fear dissipates a little.”

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