7 reflections from Chinese pastors on coronavirus isolation

March 20, 2020 by Christopher Summers in Stories of Persecution

It’s obvious, but worth mentioning: Being quarantined in your own home because of the coronavirus isn’t the same as being imprisoned for your faith. Yet, it’s still a form of isolation and for many of us, it’s a drastic change in our daily lives.

So what can we learn from those who experienced a far more severe form for a much longer period? At Open Doors, we frequently work with believers who have come out of brutal isolation in places like China. We asked nine Chinese pastors for their advice for people who find themselves suddenly isolated and afraid. Here’s what they told us:

1. Accept that we will “have trouble” in this world

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

All nine pastors believed that suffering and following Christ go hand in hand. One shared, “We felt that was normal—we already knew that it was going to happen, we weren’t shocked. If you want to follow God, you have to accept this kind of consequence.”

Though the coronavirus pandemic is of course not a consequence of following Jesus—no one is being targeted by the virus for their faith!—the lesson is important. We must accept that trouble will come to us in our lives—and for those of us who follow Jesus, even moreso. But we do not have to despair; Jesus has already told us we can “take heart” because He has overcome!

2. Let go of our lives and surrender to God’s will

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

When the Chinese pastors chose to stand firm in their faith, they risked losing everything dear to them. Their decisions came at great cost: The faced the loss of health, family, future, education and even their lives. They described pivotal moments in their suffering where they had to make the choice to let go of control over their lives and surrender to God.

In our case, we need to understand that God is sovereign. If we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?” the answer is simple: “He is on His throne.” Something like the coronavirus forces us to reckon with reality: We are not in control, but God is. He can bring hope, grace, peace and love to any circumstance—and work through trouble to bring Himself glory. We simply have to choose to follow and trust Him to do so.

Help persecuted Christians in the coronavirus crisis!

For many Christians already persecuted for their faith, the global pandemic is making live even more difficult. They have less access to healthcare, medicines and community services. Open Doors is committed to standing with the least of these—to ensure that the vulnerable have what they need too. God’s people need our help urgently—will you give today?

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3. Worship and recite Scripture for spiritual strength

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)

The pastors continued to worship God and recited Scriptures to receive spiritual strength during their imprisonment and isolation. That encouraged them to confess their sins, perform merciful acts for others and reflect on God’s love. Some even sang hymns, such as: “When we pray, grace of heaven comes. When we pray, the gate of heaven opens. When we pray, power comes. When we pray, victory comes.”

Worshiping, singing, praying, meditating, reading or reciting scripture all do the same thing: They focus your mind and heart on Jesus. The avalanche of news and social media posts about coronavirus can easily lead us to despair and anxiety. We need to hold on to what is eternal and true, our Lord God.

4. Find a secret (or online!) fellowship

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

The pastors described the support of other believers as instrumental in their ability to survive their imprisonment. Believers found ways to support each other and to pray together in prison and labor camps, despite the risks. One pastor got married shortly before his arrested and the support of his wife meant a lot to him.

Knowing that others care makes a massive difference—even if you can’t see them. Isolation creates misunderstanding, causes division and makes us vulnerable. The first thing Satan does to stop the faith of a believer is to isolate him or her. But when Christians are unified, Jesus is glorified. During this time of “social distancing” and staying home, don’t become isolated. Stay connected to the Body of Christ. Worship Him with your household and connect with other Christians by phone or digitally.

Pastor Samuel Lamb, a Chinese church leader who spent more than 20 years in prisons and labor camps.

Pastor Samuel Lamb, a Chinese church leader who spent more than 20 years in prisons and labor camps.

5. Experience God’s presence

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
He delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
He protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

(Psalm 34:17-20)

Several of the pastors described their experience of God’s presence during times of doubt and despair. One leader recalled seeing an image of Jesus that reminded him of God’s love. Another pastor described a moment of despair where he considered jumping out a window to end his life, only to be stopped by God’s presence. The believers interviewed experienced God in a very real way during their experiences of suffering.

God does special things in special circumstances. We should not waste this crisis by entertaining ourselves until this is over. We can experience God in unprecedented ways. As one persecuted believer said this week: “The love of Jesus cannot be quarantined.” We can experience and share His love during this unique time in modern history.

6. Identify with the suffering of Jesus and of His disciples

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

All the pastors we spoke with were encouraged by remembering and identifying with the suffering of Jesus and the sacrifices of the early Church. Recalling God’s acts in history, reflecting on Christ’s experience preceding and during His crucifixion, and reflecting on the experiences of Paul in the early church were examples of ways in which the pastors identified with the suffering of Christ and His followers.

One thing the current situation does is make it slightly easier to identify with those who suffer for their faith. We are not imprisoned, but we are restricted in what we can do. The coronavirus can bring us closer to those who suffer—and to the example of Christ, who followed God even in the midst of deep uncertain and pain.

7. Believe in a greater purpose

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

Most of the pastors were convinced that God had used the suffering of His people to bring others to Christ in China. When they saw the growth of faith of believers, the pastors gained more peace in the process of suffering.

This echoes the writings of the Apostle Paul. He always maintains a heavenly perspective, looking at what God might be doing regardless of the circumstances. He constantly asks the questions: What might God be doing here? Is what is happening to you and to the world around you serving the advance of the Gospel? Can you be a part of it?

These are questions we can ask ourselves during this global pandemic. What might God be doing in the world during this time? How can we advance the gospel, love our neighbors and grow the Church during this time? And how can we be a part of God’s mission in the world?

These questions remind us that there is something greater at work, even if we can’t always see it. We are God’s ambassadors to the world, and He can work through us in the midst of any crisis. The coronavirus may have brought the world to a standstill, but the love of Christ can never be stopped—and we can carry that love, no matter what.

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