Three Calvary Chapel nurses who work with COVID-19 patients share how God is helping them be a light in troubled times during the pandemic.
Story by Christmas Beeler
A Light in the Dark
Nicole Edwards-Hoff is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and an ICU nurse who works with COVID-19 patients. Her husband Joe pastors Revival Church, a small Calvary Chapel in Grandview, WA. “I’ve seen many tragedies in the ICU over the last several months,” Nicole recounted, “but I know that God has me here for a purpose—to bring light into this dark place, in this time of uncertainty.”
Patients who are in ICU with COVID-19 tend to be very ill, she explained, and usually their families cannot be with them. Nicole sees her role as an honor and a ministry: “Being able to give a hug, be a listening ear, bring a word of encouragement. Being the one that stands by someone’s side as they leave this world, holding a hand and looking in their eyes and saying that there is something far greater waiting for them.”
“I’ve seen many tragedies in the ICU over the last several months, but I know that God has me here for a purpose—to bring light into this dark place, in this time of uncertainty.”
As a rule, patients are not allowed visitors, Nicole explained; but when a patient is dying, sometimes one family member may be allowed wearing protective gear. Recently, a woman was in ICU with her critically ill husband. “He was dying,” recalled Nicole. “I had built a relationship with them through the day as they waited for his time to come.” Finally, Nicole came into the room to confirm that the man had passed. “That is the hardest point. … Sometimes the emotions are just let loose.” Both Nicole and the woman were wearing the required face mask, gloves, and gown; Nicole sensed the Lord prompting her to give the woman a hug. With tears in her eyes, she thanked Nicole and said, “I really needed that.”
Many times, the patients are intubated, sedated, or unresponsive, but Nicole still speaks to them. “I seek the Lord for what He wants me to say and how I can be used, even through little moments,” Nicole said. “If the family lives far away, I’ll hold the phone up to their loved one’s ear so that they can say their goodbyes.” Overall, Washington State has reported more than 18,000 cases of the virus and nearly 1,000 deaths.
Bearing Others’ Burdens
Nine years ago, Pastor Tom Rush planted Calvary Walla Walla in southeastern Washington State. He also works as a nurse to support his family. “As a bivocational pastor, the Lord has provided the opportunity to do tons of ministry at work,” he recounted. “In this pandemic, the majority of my ministry at work has been to coworkers.”
He elaborated, “My wife Elizabeth and I had been sharing the Gospel with one of my coworkers, Sunni Smart, every other week for the past two years,” he recounted. “Recently, she gave her heart to Christ, and I baptized her on Easter Sunday. That was pretty sweet.” Because his friend Sunni was concerned about the disease, “I spent time sharing with her that now she can have a different perspective because she knows where she is going when she dies. To look ahead with confidence instead of fear—knowing that God is in control, watching over her and caring for her.”
Pastor Tom Rush of Calvary Chapel Walla Walla, WA, also works as a nurse. Here he is with his son Daniel, daughter Bonnie, and his wife Liz (far right).
On Easter Sunday, Pastor Tom baptizes his coworker, Sunni Smart, in his backyard. He and his wife Liz led Sunni to Christ after sharing Scripture with her regularly for two years.
He reflected, “Whether as a pastor or a nurse, it’s my job to care for people where they are at. Some people are analytical; others are emotive.” Recently Pastor Tom taught on John 11, noting that Jesus took a different approach with Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus. “Jesus has a real practical conversation with Martha about the resurrection, about how it works, and explaining that everything is going to be all right. And Martha is helped by that. Yet with Mary, He just weeps with her. So you have to find out where people are at: if rationalization will help, or if they just need to be comforted.”
Daniel Rush, 10, (center) and friends from the neighborhood help distribute masks made by the Rush family. They have been giving masks away for several weeks.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
For his coworkers who fear the virus, Tom tries to share their load. “Some are really scared. It’s been a ministry to take some of the risks off of them. If I see a nurse hesitating outside a potential COVID patient’s room, I want to find ways to go in their place. When we needed a volunteer to do some COVID testing at a meat-packing plant in town, I went. Taking some of the higher risk jobs off others has given me an opportunity to be an example of what Christ has done for me because I’m not afraid of the outcome.”
Bonnie Rush, 13, holds a sign to give away masks that she, her mom Liz, and a friend made as a ministry to their community. So far they have made and distributed nearly 500 face masks in the Walla Walla area and the hospital where Pastor Tom works.
No Fear of Death
Carol Phillips works with acute dialysis patients at a hospital in Charlottesville, VA, and attends Calvary Chapel Louisa. “This virus has taught me to trust Him more,” Carol reflected. “In my life, I have typically been a high-strung, anxious person, and a worrier. But this is one of the first times in my life that I have had so much peace. God is just carrying me through this. I know that it’s Him. I have taken care of COVID patients, and it hasn’t worried me at all.”
As a nurse, she realizes that there is always a possibility of contracting or dying from the virus. “Even if I got sick and I died, I have no fear because I know where I am going. That assurance has given me so much peace in my heart,” she explained. “I know that I’m going to heaven. Even though I don’t know exactly what to expect, I’m still excited because I know who is on the other side—Jesus Christ. I believe every word He has ever said. So what do I have to be afraid of? Everything here is nothing compared to what is on the other side.”
For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:7-8
Faith from the Word
At first, Nicole was mentally exhausted, drained, and fearful. “Seeing firsthand what this virus can do had put me in a state of fear—not only for myself but also my children. All the scenarios of what could happen were constantly running through my mind, consuming my thoughts.” She turned to Scripture. “But then God spoke to me through Hebrews 4.”
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16
“I was worried that I had not done enough to protect myself or my family. He reminded me of His grace, that I can trust Him no matter the outcome, and He will get me through it. He has been tempted in all things; He understands what we are going through.” She added, “We can come boldly to His throne of grace—not coming in fear but coming with a boldness that God is with me, and that together He and I are going to get through this. He is going to take my hand. It’s not of my strength, but His. I only have to come, and He will provide in this time of need.”
Carol related her favorite verse during this season: Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a). She explained, “To be ‘still’ is to clear my mind from dark thoughts and focus on God. Give up any dark, confusing, chaotic thoughts and allow His peace to come in. Remembering I am not in control of this; God is. He understands it all. And no matter what happens, we win in the end.”
Prepared through Prayer
Prayer has been essential in caring for patients with this challenging and perplexing illness. Carol related, “One problem with this virus is that the respiratory aspect can present (appear) as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). But you don’t treat it the same way. The patients are not in ARDS because their lungs are stiff, but because they are throwing clots that are going into the lungs, and the lungs can’t oxygenate. We are learning as we go.”
During her shift, Carol covers her patients in prayer: “I pray for each of them: God, tell me what I need to do, and tell me what I need to say. I could not go to work at the hospital every day without being able to ask God for His help.” For herself, she said, “I pray, Help me to draw closer to You. Help me to stay in conscious contact with You. Before I open my mouth, help me to think about You.” She uses her hour-long commute as a time of prayer, asking that God would “make me a blessing to someone who needs a blessing, help me make prudent decisions, guide my practice.”
Those with a severe case of the virus, said Carol, “are not like a typical ICU patient. They are incredibly unstable. A lot of times when they get off the ventilator, they are very confused and have a lot of delirium. It takes them a long time to clear their heads and recover mentally.” She continued, “Sometimes they relapse and get worse again before getting better. It’s at this time especially that I must be compassionate and do the right thing: to advocate for them. For me, praying is advocating for my patients. When their loved ones can’t be there due to infection-control restrictions, I pray on their behalf. If I had a family member in the ICU that I couldn’t visit, I would want a praying nurse to be there for them.”
Nicole agreed that prayer is vital in keeping the right mindset in the face of this pandemic: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). Nicole added, “God gave me that verse, so anytime that I get fearful, I stop and pray. I say to myself, ‘I’m not going down that road of worry again.’ He has given me peace, to know that I don’t have to worry and wonder what will happen but simply pray.”
The Bigger Picture
All three believers feel that God is using this virus for spiritual ends. Carol related, “I’m proud to be an American, but I think we have been putting God in the back seat for a long time. Maybe this is His way of waking us up to turn to Him. This virus is not a coincidence. There is a purpose and a reason for this to be happening now. I am praying for a revival in this country.”
Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. Hosea 6:1
Tom noted that now more than ever, many of his coworkers seem to be interested in the things of God. “Lately, more people from work are watching our services online. They are coming to me at work, making comments, talking about the service.”
Nicole urges others not to be overcome by fear. “Some of what the media says is obviously true, but I do feel the [media coverage] can be a way to make people fearful and distracted. We don’t need to be constantly sitting on Facebook and looking to the media for answers, running to that rather than running to God. Yes, we need to be aware and informed, but we cannot live in constant fear and worry. … In my experience, most of the people who had the virus and passed away were already old and had many other health issues.”
In caring for their flock as a pastor’s wife, Nicole added, “I’m seeing how much people need someone to check on them, to reach out and encourage them. I’ve realized that some people are waiting for me to initiate rather than asking for help.” Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God (1 John 4:7a).
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