So much has changed in the last few months, both in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands where I am assigned and in the mainland United States, just as it has in the world as a whole. Before COVID-19, our island of Saipan, situated in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, was sprawling with tourists and businesses that now appear silent and nearly empty. In the mainland, popular restaurants that were thronged with patrons are now sparsely occupied or reduced to serving takeout only. Highways and major thoroughfares in urban centers that were snarled with traffic jams have far fewer vehicles. Airports that bustled with harried travelers are eerily calm and host only a smattering of travelers. Yes, much has changed very quickly, and such rapid change understandably makes us feel uncertain and insecure.
Despite this unprecedented situation, there are still things to fill our time and even reset our ministry.
1. Worship through Zoom. We learned a new way to communicate. I've never experienced anything like this. I was not taught this in school, nor ever thought it would happen in my entire ministerial life: a virtual worship through an online Zoom meeting. Beyond Zoom, there is the avenue of streaming church service over Facebook Live. Our church viewership on Facebook grew from less than 100 when we started to a now larger and wider audience of 800 and counting! Viewers from the small island of Saipan are able to worship with the neighboring islands of Rota and Tinian, plus reach as far as places like mainland USA, Saudi Arabia, London, Australia, and the Philippines. We have been receiving encouraging feedback that listeners were blessed by the nightly messages. We praise God that ministry can be alive through the use of media.
2. Organize a working team. Months before COVID-19, a group of men including myself engaged in prayer and fasting. We prayed that God would reveal how the church should be involved in ministry. Dr. Warren Creed, Director of Saipan SDA Dental Clinic, introduced the book “Steps to Personal Revival” by Helmut Haubeil. Some of my friends had read it twice. As I read it for the third time, a spark of enthusiasm filled me to lead the church into intentional prayer meetings when COVID-19 struck. This developed into a long-term prayer and devotional series, along with the "100 Days of Prayer" initiated by the General Conference. But doing this project through the internet must not be done alone; this provided us the opportunity to build our team.
3. Intercessory Ministry and Prayer Warriors. We adopted the manual written by Dennis Smith called “40 Days Prayers and Devotions." This is our third cycle. Many that are afflicted by this pandemic know the Saipan churches are engaged in intercessory prayers, bringing prayer requests in from throughout the GMM territory, as well as from many other parts of the world. Ripples of this prayer ministry have been widely spread.
4. Making face masks. A group of women organized themselves to do various projects, like sewing face masks. Raw materials arrived from Guam from the GMM Health Department. The masks that the women produced are being distributed to the members who do not have face masks and are also being sent to the members on the island of Rota.
5. Moringa Project. This is an indigenous project for every church member and the community to harness the health benefits of moringa leaves.
6. Community food supply distribution. Elders and members became motivated in reaching out to people by means of a survey questionnaire to identify the needs of households in the community. Praise God that Bible study interests have been identified!
In the midst of such swift change, which threatens to dominate our attention and overwhelm us with worry, we can take courage by remembering several things that haven’t changed. God called us to perform a ministry that will alleviate the ills of humanity in this pandemic crisis that the world has suffered. We can make a difference by being sensitive to the needs and serve the people of our communities. We can ask for the Holy Spirit to grant us the wisdom we need to reset our ministry.