Pastor, Physician Welcome Public to Coronavirus Conversations
By Carl Stagner
They were roommates all four years at Anderson University. Senior year, the one was elected student body president and the other, vice president. The two are the best of friends but, after graduation, vocational callings took them in separate directions: Jes Smith is a doctor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while Josh Deeter serves as senior pastor for First Church of God in Tallmadge, Ohio. To this day, they talk at least weekly. Usually their conversations are between the two of them, as would be expected. But Pastor Josh recently saw in the pandemic an opportunity to let his church and the broader community in on their conversations as the topic turned to the coronavirus. Josh’s public dialogue with a doctor—published on Facebook—is just one of several ways the Tallmadge church is living out the Way of Jesus in the middle of crisis.
Before the coronavirus captured all the headlines in the United States, Jes was preparing to go on a medical trip to India. Privately Jes talked with Josh about a hunch that he’d had about the coronavirus and its potential impact on the United States. Jes had encouraged his wife to stock up on supplies at the grocery store before the shelves were empty; Josh asked his wife to do the same. At this point, Josh, who knew Jes rarely worried about anything, began to suspect that cavalier dismissal of the coronavirus was a bad idea.
“When he arrived back from India,” Josh recalls, “his group made him go into quarantine and Jes wasn’t allowed to work for two weeks. At that time, the President and several states started to issue warnings. I wanted to make our conversations public because, as with most things like this, there is a lot of misinformation out there. I thought people would enjoy hearing from a non-TV MD. We’ve tried to keep our conversations straightforward and answer questions people are asking about the virus.”
It’s one thing for a pastor to tell his congregation to be careful, to take the pandemic seriously, or to be good citizens and wash hands for at least twenty seconds. It’s another thing to hear it from a doctor. The different video chats published between Josh and Jes since the pandemic in the United States have covered a variety of vital topics—from symptoms and the spread, to hygiene and hysteria, and what people can and should do about it all. Serious topics have been balanced with the mood-lightening banter between friends, making these videos especially digestible.
“We’ve spoken about what to look for if you think you or someone you might care for has the virus,” Josh explains. “We’ve encouraged people who aren’t in drastic need of the ER or other hospital care to remain at home for their safety and the safety of others. We’ve talked about some things people should be doing for their own spiritual and mental health as they are experiencing isolation. We’ve reminded people to look for ways to help others financially during this time.”
Jes, a physician in the ER and a medical director, openly admits he’s not an epidemiologist or a virologist. But he says he’s kept a close eye on the developments, the studies, and the continuous stream of information and updates from the CDC and other health organizations. From the perspective of a doctor on the front lines, there is much the public needs to bear in mind about the nature of COVID-19.
“Initially, there was a lot of false information available, which was leading to misconceptions,” Jes explains. “People were all over the map. There were those who maybe were not taking it seriously enough, and there was also quite a bit of unnecessary fear. Josh had the idea of having conversation over the Internet. He would ask questions, and I would answer to the best of my ability. Our hope was to try to dispel rumors, give expectations for the coming weeks and months, and try to educate with some of the science surrounding the situation. Somehow, a lot of people watched our first installment. This motivated us to continue doing more videos.”
Pastor Josh, who also served as an intern for IYC2008 (San Antonio, Texas), has since conducted video interviews with other “experts” on topics relevant to the present situation, such as “homeschooling,” mental health, and managing finances in crisis. In addition to the coronavirus conversations, Josh Deeter, has led his Tallmadge congregation to be the hands and feet of Christ among their neighbors. First Church donated a trailer of food for the school lunch program. They’ve partnered with the local VA to ensure disabled veterans have enough food throughout the crisis. They’ve prepared and distributed food for seniors whose caregivers came down with the virus. Seeing the long-term nature of the need, First Church also established a “Coronavirus Response Fund” to fund current and future opportunities to serve.
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.