On Dec. 26th, 2004, an earthquake over 9 points on the Richter scale hit near the province of Aceh, Indonesia. This led to several tsunami waves that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 100’s of thousands of people. My wife and I were living right outside this province when this happened where we had been reaching out to the IDP (internally displaced people) from Aceh. We had actually lived in this province a few years earlier, and we had many friends that lived in this area when the earthquake and tsunami hit.
There was actually a civil war going on during this time and the government was not allowing any foreigners to go into the province, so we lived just outside. However, 4 days after the tsunami I was able to go to a government office and get special permission to enter the province to bring in food and supplies and locate our friends who survived.
The next 6 months were some of the most intense times.
At Echo church we are now completely re-orienting ourselves to respond to our new reality in the wake of COVID-19. We don’t know how long this will last, and we want to make sure we are found faithful to living out bold faith in these days.
Below are 8 lessons I learned; or more appropriately labeled, mistakes I made in responding to a disaster with a desire to serve.
Don’t neglect your most important relationship and source of power.
There are three key things here. Continue to feed on God’s word, don’t just read it. For those who didn’t grow up in the church I use the word feed because it creates the picture that the Scriptures are providing nourishment that I need much like food. Some of us who have been Christians for a while have learned the nourishing habit of reading Scripture daily, but what can happen at times is that it becomes something to “check off” your to-do list. Instead it should be read for spiritual growth, daily guidance and truth (many times helping us put circumstances in the right perspective). It is so important.
Another important practice during this time is worship. This includes listening to music with lyrics that bring out praise to our God. Sing it out in defiance to the many lies you may be hearing and believing. Also pray. Take time daily to bring all things in prayer. Maybe get a journal and begin to write out your prayers. Some of us need that help to stay focused in prayer. Remember to NOT neglect these regular practices that keep you connected to your most important relationship, your relationship with God.
Take care of your body.
I spent weeks after the tsunami running on adrenaline. It is not a pretty picture when you can no longer do that. Take care of your physical needs. You will be tempted to turn back to some eating or maybe drinking habits you may have already conquered. Eat right. Eat healthy, and don’t give in to the temptation to eat that handful of Fritos that will bring only temporary pleasure. Your body over the long run will thank you and you have the energy you need to keep focused on the ministry God gives you during this time.
Process your emotions in a healthy way.
Find a trusted friend you can process with. In ministry we sometimes try to put on a strong positive face, but we need to have time to process the emotions we are struggling with. It would make sense to feel anxiety, anger, maybe even despair. You may need someone to talk through them. Don’t fake it. That will eventually catch up with you.
Have NO Regrets!
This is a historic moment. All of us will look back and remember how this coronavirus time changed our lives. There will be a pre-coronavirus and a post-coronavirus time. Be courageous for the long haul. Don’t just get through this. Live in it now. Be present each and every day. You do not want to look back on this time and see missed opportunities. God is not asleep. He is expanding His kingdom, and we can join him in that. Let’s not look back on this time with any regrets.
Take care of your family.
Most of us are stuck in our homes in close proximity to our kids with very little means of escape. My advice is: don’t just survive this time. Make great moments! What will your kids remember when they look back on this time? Be intentional.
Laugh…. A lot!
Keep your sense of humor. If you find yourself losing it, talk to a friend you can laugh with or watch a comedy that makes you laugh. Choose joy. It can be a choice.
Equip the local church.
With everything you are doing in church and ministry, make sure you include others. This should always be a practice, but we have to be even more intentional during this time. Do NOTHING alone. Always ask the question, who can do this with me? Who can help me? Who is actually better at this than you are?
There is a long ministry story around this from my time serving after the tsunami. The short of it is we had hundreds of volunteers that were coming from the US. However, we also had local Indonesians coming to serve as well. We were so overwhelmed with the volunteer teams coming from the US that we lost the opportunity to partner with local Indonesians and Indonesian churches. It was a massive missed opportunity. God did bless us with a large Indonesian team, but we always regretted missing out on the Indonesian volunteers in that initial time. Don’t miss this opportunity to equip/activate those in our church that are ready to serve.
Take your Sabbath.
This may look differently for each of you. Determine what a sabbath day would look like for you that truly feeds your soul. Make it one that starts your week off filled with the Spirit and clarity for your week. Plan a day filled with practices that fill you with the power you need to serve for that week.
These are eight things I wish someone had sat me down and said to prioritize. I would not have burned out around month four. I would not have missed precious opportunities. I would not look back at that time with regret. Learn from my mistakes as you and your church respond to the covid-19 crisis.