A Year in Review: COVID-19

A Year in Review: COVID-19
A Year in Review: COVID-19

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COVID-19—Looking Back on how Calvary Chapels Found Ways to Minister During the Global COVID-19 Crisis

Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Airman first class Mandy Foster, Angela Gleaves, Pamela Barahona-Carroll, Anthony Burns, Jeffrey Anderson, Sam Clark, Gary Apodaca, Jenny Dirks, Luke Frechette, Sean Muro, Justus Martin, Patrick Lima, and Ivan Amargo

This story first ran in Issue 84, Summer 2020, of Calvary Chapel Magazine.

“God stripped away the distractions for Christians as well as unbelievers. The Lord gave believers a chance to get back to Him and to what’s important,” said Al Fredrich, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Longview, WA.

During the global pandemic, believers responded with Jesus’ love and grace. Calvary Chapels and other churches embraced creative ministry opportunities as they followed government guidelines and orders designed to rein in the highly contagious and often deadly virus. Pastors reported an exponential increase in the spread of the Gospel through social media and practical ministry.

“We weren’t standing together in a church building, but we were collectively making up the church as we gathered in our own homes and small group settings,” said Lance Cook, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA. “Pestilence has come, thus we gather in His presence for His name—in His authority and by His power. As we cry out to God in our affliction, He will hear and save us.” He added that he recently felt the Lord affirm in his heart, You are going to see people in heaven that you have walked into My kingdom, who have never walked into your church.

Drive thru testing

 

A man receives a drive-through COVID-19 test.

Eventually Calvary Chapel La Habra placed a giant tent in the parking lot and moved all services there. “For those who remembered the “tent days” at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, it was like going back in time. For those younger, it brought an aura of excitement to do something new,” said Lance.

Jack Hibbs, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA, declared at the beginning of the pandemic, “Right now we are all isolated, and we can only reach people through social media. But that’s OK. The Gospel is going out more now than in any other time in human history.” He estimated that recently, through his large church’s social media platforms and His Channel Television combined, nearly a half a million viewers heard the Gospel.

Fellowships large and small used online technology and radio stations to share worship services, daily devotions, messages of encouragement, and prayer opportunities; Zoom and other conferencing methods are still being utilized for Bible studies, children’s church, prayer groups, and staff meetings.

Christians used social media—as well as old-fashioned telephone calls and acts of kindness—to actively, spiritually, and practically minister to their church families and communities. Calvary Chapel pastors around the U.S. shared their strategies for reaching out in a time of enforced isolation.

Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, held a community blood drive in late March. Assisting Pastor Jeffrey Anderson stated, “We provided the space and hospitality; they did the medical work. About 35 people registered to give blood. A lot of people walked off the street wanting to donate because they heard about it and saw the sign outside.” According to the Red Cross representative, the effort collected 36 units of blood. “You all have given 108 patients more time with their loved ones,” she told the church.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 4:20-21

Got hope mask hug

Two attendees relax at an outdoor service at Calvary Grace and Truth in Yonkers, NY.

Nurses pray on rooftop

Nurses at a Nashville, TN, hospital gather on the roof of the building to pray.

Several churches continued their ministries, changing practices to include social distancing. The Calvary Houston, TX, food pantry became drive-through-only for the crisis. “Normally they come in and pray. Now we’ll hand them the food they need and pray for them at a distance,” said Senior Pastor Ron Hindt. “We saw people we hadn’t seen before. This opens the opportunity to share Jesus as we tell them we’re doing this in the name of the Lord. And everybody accepts prayer.”

Those contacting the food pantry at Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City, OK, have had greater needs than normal, observed Assistant Pastor Christian Traina. One woman who called had lost her job, had three kids, and couldn’t get help from any other food pantries. “We just scrambled and went into our own kitchen and pulled out pots and pans and things she could use because she had so little,” he described.

Calvary Chapel South in Kent, WA, was able to help families of students attending the school across the street. “For the past three years, we’ve held an after-school Bible Club with a couple of dozen children attending. The principal just reached out to the church to see if we could help with some situations,” reported Executive Pastor Gerrit Hoeks. Needs ranged from providing basic groceries and supplies to assisting many: mothers who were either homeless or between homes, a grandmother working and trying to care for her grandchildren, and a family that needed a laptop or tablet to do homework.

Jerel Hagerman teaching at podium outdoors

Pastor Jerel Hagerman of Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel in Yucca Valley, CA, teaches the Word of God during a drive-in Sunday church service. The church received special permission from the San Bernardino Department of Public Health on the condition that participants remain in their vehicles at all times.

Kevin Edwards praying with police

Pastor Kevin Edwards, Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, prays over the police at a rally to unite the community where Jesus was the focus.

Jerel Hagerman teaching from podium outdoors

Congregants honk their car horns to symbolize an Amen during Pastor Jerel’s teaching.

A city official in La Habra, CA, approached Pastor Lance Cook after one of CC La Habra’s first online-only services with these words: “I think that’s something our city needs to hear. Our city needs prayer and help. It’s bad.” The official then asked him to set up a city-wide prayer meeting at the church. Shortly after, city officials and business representatives gathered to pray before a live, virtual church audience over all the social media and city cable platforms. Lance was asked to teach and provide worship. “In just one day, the Lord gave us a platform to speak to possibly anyone within the reach of our city. I gave God’s Word, which offered hope, and an invitation to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus,” Lance enthused. “It’s been amazing. And that’s just what the Lord did with a church that was forbidden to assemble.”

On Sunday mornings in Yucca Valley, CA, neighbors in the vicinity of Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel could hear the sounds of worship, biblical teaching, and the honking of car horns—the fellowship’s newly established “Car Church.” According to Senior Pastor Jerel Hagerman, 150 cars parked in orderly rows one Sunday, many of which carried whole families and sometimes even dogs. No one could leave their vehicles. “I shared about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, in the fiery furnace, a shorter message that would encourage every age, including younger kids. Ordinarily in a service I’ll say, ‘Can I hear an Amen?’ This time I asked them to honk their horns every time I said that,” Jerel explained. “We had so much fun. I told them, ‘You know what’s great about this? Nobody’s going to fall asleep during this service. Once we get back in the building, we may install some horns.’”

Pastor Tony Clark preaching

Pastor Tony Clark of Calvary Chapel Newport News, VA, shares the Gospel from a motorized lift. Photo courtesy of CC Newport News, VA

Sound travels in the desert when it’s quiet. Friends who lived less than a mile away texted Jerel to tell him they could hear the service perfectly. “They said it was so cool because the sound of praise and God’s Word was going clear across the valley.” In addition, there is a convalescent home next door to the church. “All of those people were quarantined. I’m sure they heard us,” Jerel reflected. Several people in one car accepted Jesus as Lord in one service. A woman celebrating her 90th birthday came from 50 miles away. “We saved her a special parking spot, sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her, prayed for her, and everybody honked their horns. It’s a birthday she’ll never forget,” he reminisced.

Calvary Chapel Lynchburg, VA, held a drive-in Easter Sunday service, an option permitted by the Virginia Department of Health. “We set up a stage with a live radio broadcast to cars and encouraged everyone to bring their own communion elements for the end of service,” relayed Pastor Troy Warner.

Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City, OK, wanted to encourage the nine nurses and one doctor who attend the fellowship. “We made them care baskets full of surprises—something that would be a little unexpected to show them that they’re deeply loved, appreciated, and missed—because they’re just so stressed right now, working so hard,” revealed Assistant Pastor Christian Traina. Baskets might include individual sanitizer packets, a bag of coffee, a brand-new T-shirt from the church, lotions, soap, Advil, chocolate, vitamin C and zinc lozenges, a gift card, succulents, a travel mug, lip balm, and tea. Believers sewed face masks for hospital personnel and doctors’ offices.

Miami Beach pastor surrounded by chairs with photos of faces

Pastor Robert Fountain’s staff at Calvary Chapel Miami Beach, FL, surprised him on Easter morning with a sanctuary full of faces.

Praying for man on doorstep

A team from Calvary Chapel La Habra ministers to a man on his front porch who is experiencing isolation during COVID-19 restrictions.

“While many churches are concerned about being able to connect with their people—as they should be—the Lord just put on my heart that what we really need to do is get the people to pray,” shared Dave Love, senior pastor of Calvary Castle Rock, CO. “God says in 2 Chronicles 7:14, ‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’ Isn’t that what we really want—to see God heal the world of this pandemic? I think it is.”

Early on, more than 330 people had signed up to pray, and all 24 hours were covered. “I have no idea where it’s going from here, I found out that somebody had sent this idea to another pastor; his church is going to implement it, and that pastor sent it to seven other pastors,” Dave admitted. “I can see that people are praying, some for the first time for more than 5 or 15 minutes. They are purposeful in what they are praying for and are seeing what a discipline this really is. Part of the prayer is asking the Lord to show us needs.”

Calvary Chapel St. George, UT, opened its parking lot for several hours a week to provide ministry in a drive-through prayer tent. Pastors and staff were available to pray from a safe distance with anyone who came through. “One of the frustrations that we’ve heard is that our people miss seeing each other and having that time of fellowship. We want people to drive up and have an opportunity to see a face, somebody in person,” offered Senior Pastor Jerry Camacho. “If we find out during that time of prayer there are any additional needs, then we would help with shopping, food, basic necessities.”

John Randall talking to family in car

Pastor John Randall of Calvary Chapel San Juan Capistrano, CA, encourages people who came for outdoor prayer.

Pastor JD Dirks teaching on TV

JD Dirks of Calvary Chapel Maryville, MO, teaches the Word online during quarantine.

Luke Frechette teaching from his living room

Pastor Luke Frechette of South Beach Church, OR, teaches his congregation online from his living room.

The crisis caused churches to “really up their game” regarding prayer, noted Ron Hindt, senior pastor of Calvary Houston, TX. Many began taking and responding immediately to prayer requests during online services. “Whenever we were on for a service, we had staff on phone lines. We took prayer requests during the whole service,” Ron conveyed. “People are giving their lives to Christ. A lot of people who have fallen away from the Lord are now watching online.”

Normally only a handful of people attended the Sunday night prayer meeting at Calvary Chapel Cheyenne, WY; since the fellowship has made it available through Facebook Live during the pandemic, attendance has quadrupled, said Communications Director Sheila Sells, who is also the wife of Pastor Shaun Sells. Church staffers answered the phone to field prayer requests coming in from the community.

Recently, because of a technology glitch, they inadvertently aired the service through Sheila’s personal Facebook page, creating a new ministry opportunity. “People who don’t attend our church or aren’t saved ended up being part of that audience,” she explained. Her husband’s relative, who wouldn’t normally watch the church service, was following online. He called Shaun the following day with questions about world happenings and what they mean. “It was a real-time ministry opportunity that would not have happened had we not been re-focusing on how we’re doing ministry in this time. The Lord opened doors—forcing us to think outside the box. He’s still sovereignly creating these opportunities to reach out to a world that’s in a place of uncertainty,” Sheila encouraged.

Waving with sign that says "Need prayer?"

Those who attended the Essentials Outreach at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, FL, were greeted by friendly volunteers.

Attendance at the new Zoom prayer meetings at Calvary Chapel of Delta, PA, has also boomed, stated Pastor Doug McClean. “We want people to be able to see each other as they pray together, things that you can normally do at a service. People are in isolation and longing for fellowship. We’re trying to find ways to make that happen.”

Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, has started two YouTube shows. In one, The Biblical Perspective, Pastor Kevin Edwards answers congregants’ questions and interviews guests. The first episode addressed what the Bible says about COVID-19. In the second show, Take Heart, various pastors and elders share encouraging devotions.

Christian Traina of Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City is using GroupMe to provide daily challenges to his youth group. “When it comes to kids and isolation, they really gravitate toward video games, Netflix, and YouTube. They get disconnected from God and the church body,” he advised. Each day he asks them to post a specific picture, starting with those that show what life looks like for them in quarantine. He is ramping up the challenge daily, now asking them to post photos of them doing “something productive, becoming more and more finely tuned toward servanthood and thinking of other people.”

Some youth pastors around the country are teaming up to teach each other’s youth groups via ZOOM and other media. “Every Friday night, the youth at Calvary Chapel Wichita, KS, join in on the link to hear a different youth minister each week,” related Senior Pastor Patrick Farrell.

Drone shot of cars in a line

A bird’s-eye view of the stream of cars coming to Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale’s Essentials Outreach this summer.

CC Wichita Youth Pastor Juan Juarez wanted to engage the youth but add some excitement. “The more I was thinking and praying about it, the more I realized what an incredible opportunity we have to capitalize on the weirdness of the season,” Juan described. “One of the things that excites me the most is getting to introduce our youth to new people and new friends and allow them to feel like they’re really gaining something from this time—to not feel so trapped.”

Staff members at Calvary Chapel Merritt Island, FL, have begun calling nearly 40 senior adults in the congregation to encourage them and check if they have any needs. “We’re calling them every week to pray with them and to see if their needs have changed or if there’s anything different we can do,” mentioned Linda Wolfe, a women’s ministry leader. Then volunteers in the church help to meet those needs. The surprise, she said, has been that few are requesting groceries or supplies—they want to talk. “You can tell how happy they are when they receive the calls. They need someone to talk to and love them. It makes a big difference in their walking through this virus issue,” Linda pointed out.

A pastor at Calvary Chapel Oklahoma City delivered five weeks of teaching packets to seniors at three nursing homes he serves in the city. The packet, which includes DVDs of his teachings, worship CDs, and song handouts, was originally made to cover the time he was supposed to be in Kenya planning a mission trip for the church. “It was a real labor of love. He was not able to go on that trip, but he was able to distribute those packets to the senior centers on lockdown,” noted Assistant Pastor Christian Traina. “He’s not a very emotional guy, but even he was getting a little choked up—these seniors, who feel they’ve been more or less forgotten—were blown away.”

Woman handing a rose to people in a car

To celebrate Mother’s Day, an Essentials Outreach volunteer hands a rose to an appreciative mom.

Most of the congregation at Calvary Chapel St. George, UT, is more than 60 years old. “We wanted to do more with some of these older saints who are not on social media,” declared Senior Pastor Jerry Camacho. The church recorded services on DVD and made audio available for free.

From offers of help, to staying connected, to a commitment to continue tithing, believers in churches are generously, intentionally, and proactively reaching out to their church body. Doug McClean, pastor at CC Delta, PA, admitted, “I think that we took for granted that we would always see one another face to face. When you no longer have that option, suddenly you’re thinking about maintaining and investing in relationships.” His wife Susan, sensing that people were feeling isolated and simply needed to hear a voice, started a women’s prayer chain, distinct from the church’s prayer email.

Christian Traina at CC Oklahoma City disclosed, “People in our congregation have lost their jobs, and others have come to the church with checks and said, ‘I don’t know who this is for, so please give it to the people who need it the most.’ Whether it’s a check or toilet paper or meal trains, we’re trying to be that connection, that hub. There are so many things taking place organically within our body, just naturally and not directly from us, and we’re extremely thankful people are thinking outside the box and staying connected.”

At CC St. George, UT, many people are still coming in to drop off their tithes during the week and call the office with offers of help. “We’re super blessed by that because I know that this is a time when many are struggling financially. As they reconnect in person, it’s been emotional for a lot of people because they miss seeing people,” conveyed Senior Pastor Jerry Camacho.

Men reading to people in a car

Jerry Camacho (right), senior pastor of CC St. George, UT, encourages a man in his car at a drive-through prayer tent.

Because hunting is popular in Wyoming, believers at CC Cheyenne are offering extra meat to those in need. “It’s been neat to see the Holy Spirit lead people to serve organically,” offered Sheila Sells, communications director.

CC Lynchburg, VA, has seen its audience grow globally as its services and meetings have gone online. Pastor Troy Warner reported that during the first Zoom meeting for its college ministry, people from North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, and the Philippines joined the conversation. “During a recent Sunday morning service, people from Israel, Nepal, and the Philippines joined us. The whole world is feeling this. I just got off the phone with a pastor at Calvary Chapel Vladimir, in Russia … everyone is looking online for services,” Troy related.

RightNow Media (RightNowMedia.org) is an online video streaming service for churches. It also has children’s and Christian movies, shows, and Bible studies. CC Cheyenne is offering the resources for free to its own members through its website. The church purchases a membership for each church member who registers.

For smaller churches that may have struggled getting their worship team together, YouTube has a good selection of worship music, according to Pastor Mike Voight of New Horizon Christian Fellowship in Klamath Falls, OR. Mike has placed some of his own CDs, DVDs, and books in the church foyer for use by his congregation.

CC Longview, WA, asked individuals from the fellowship to record short videos that shared how God was working during this time—a blessing, how God is dealing with them about something, and how He’s teaching them or answering prayer. Pastor Al Fredrich played them on YouTube on Wednesdays and Sundays.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

 

Thank you for reading one of our year-in-review articles! Calvary Chapel Magazine's mission is share real-world stories of God's redemptive work and loving provision to encourage fellow believers and reach lost souls for Jesus Christ.

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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