Mississippi, Nebraska Churches Think Creatively to Strengthen Fellowship, Witness
By Jeff Hayes
States and cities continue wrestling with complex issues regarding reopening to daily routine. Likewise, local pastors and churches continue looking for creative ways to share Jesus. Pastors are utilizing creative methods for sharing Jesus in the neighborhoods they serve even though many churches and large community gatherings remain closed.
Pastors Willie and Queen Jefferson, who serve the Tomola Church of God in hard-hit Lauderdale, Mississippi, began using telephone conference calls for staying connected to their congregation. The prayer and Bible study conference calls provide wonderful opportunities for hearing people’s needs. This has been vital for a congregation that has not worshipped together in the “safety of the sanctuary” since mid-March. Their weekly phone-in conference calls are opportunities for hearing how Jesus is alive and working among these isolated church-goers.
In Omaha, Nebraska, Pastors Stan and Beverly Rone remain connected, utilizing Facebook and Zoom technologies. Worship attendance for the North 24th Street Worship Center where they serve has actually grown via Facebook. Financial giving to the ministries also remains faithful.
Rone, who has pastored the congregation for over thirty-one years, believes that he and the people of Omaha are growing and learning during this difficult time. On a personal level, Rone has been blessed by connecting deeply with his five-year-old grandchild during the stay-at-home quarantine. Yet, despite the isolation and real suffering being experienced, Pastor Rone states, “I believe there is a great awakening happening.”
Rone is witnessing a growing number of COVID-19 infections in and around Omaha. The virus’ advance makes him increasingly aware there is resource disparity across the wider community. Minority populations continue being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This is sadly a troubling trend across the country. In response, pastoral care zones were created for the North Omaha community. A coalition of sixty pastors and congregations have each taken responsibility for a specific zone. The Center’s congregation and Pastor Rone are working to meet the needs in one of these zones.
The goal of these pastoral care zones is connecting people with available community resources. It is also educating people on the best ways for remaining safe. Omaha neighborhoods are experiencing increased hunger and food needs with the closing of public schools. Long lines attest to families needing assistance. Sharing connections is helping remedy these realities.
Rone also notes that 54,000 laptops have been ordered for helping students connect to classrooms from home. The problem, however, remains access to the Internet. This technology life-line is still a problem for many North Omaha neighborhoods. Rone and those working within a particular zone are helping people identify and connect with available resources.
Churches and pastors across state and international boundaries are finding new and creative ways to share Jesus in the midst of COVID-19. These methods, among many, include collecting cards and letters for patients and nursing home residents, providing access to worship and devotional instruction online, and mobilizing phone support and counseling. They are additionally providing access to educational equipment, food, and much needed financial resources. Pastors Jefferson and Rone, listening and obeying Jesus, are learning ways to meet the needs of those facing hunger, despair, and isolation. People are looking for hope. These pastors are helping them experience Jesus in their realities.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Rev. Dr. Jeff Hayes has served on ministry leadership teams in Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. He recently completed eighteen years of service on the ministry faculty at Warner University and provides leadership to a new ministry, the Way of Compassion. He resides in Winter Haven, Florida, with his wife Karen.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.
*Feature (top) photo by Tina Floersch on Unsplash.