A year and one week ago I was sitting in my hotel room in Dubrovnik, Croatia, talking to a Lufthansa agent on the phone, trying to find a way to get home to Brazil on a flight several days earlier than I had planned. I had awakened that morning to the news that then–President Donald Trump had closed U.S. borders to most entries from Europe, and our planned MLC was falling apart. Guest speakers and volunteers had decided it would be unwise to participate given the uncertain travel conditions, and many IBC members who had registered for the MLC likewise thought better of traveling in a time of such unprecedented global upheaval.
A year ago…that thought still shocks me. I thought — we all thought — this would have been over in a matter of weeks, maybe months at most. And yet here we are. Brazil is facing the worst of the pandemic with death rates shooting up and infection rates higher than ever. As a church we had been meeting in person since 20 September 2020, and now due to new government restrictions we are once again reverting to streaming-only services. It certainly does not feel like progress, but like heavy regress to a less full, less joyful time. But even as I mourn the renewed physical separation between members of our church body, God consistently reminds me of two profound “COVID blessings” we have experienced during this pandemic – and these are cause for celebration!
As COVID-19 ramped up in March of 2020, I (along with many of you, I’m sure) was concerned about church finances — and not just about the budget, but about those in our body who would lose income or even jobs due to restrictions and cut-backs. And some of those losses did occur. But what overwhelmed me was the generosity that welled up in our community. In this time of tragedy and uncertainty, God moved in the hearts of many of our members to give generously to help meet the needs of others.
We did not ask for money – we did not need to. Our benevolence fund grew beyond what it had ever been before, and we were given the joy of meeting many financial needs of our people through the sacrificial giving of others. This whole year has felt to me like Acts 4:32-37, where Luke states that the fledgling church provided for her own people, so that “there were no needy persons among them.” Now I am certain that there are still unmet needs in our congregation of which I am unaware, but the generosity of Christians to their sisters and brothers has humbled me and challenged me and encouraged me beyond what I can express. Praise God for His Church!
The second blessing involves our Advent celebration. In December of 2019, the leader of our worship ministry introduced me to the work of recording artist Andrew Peterson. The album that was specifically brought to my attention was Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” — a work similar to a musical in that the songs begin in the Old Testament and work their way through redemption history up to the birth of Christ. Peterson has shared that he was inspired to write these songs more than 20 years ago when he attended a Christmas concert of a well-known, high-profile Christian artist. During the entire two-hour concert, the name of Jesus was not mentioned, either in word or song. In reaction and response, Peterson decided to write a musical history of the incarnation to which Santa Claus would not be invited and the focus would be on Jesus Christ himself.
In early 2020 Josh (our worship ministry leader) and I had brainstormed and dreamed about the possibility of our worship team preparing and then performing “Behold the Lamb of God.” Once the pandemic began to restrict us, however, I lost hope that we would be able to pull it off in a meaningful way. I am grateful until today that Josh thought differently. His perspective was that the church needed something special, specifically because of all the limitations and suffering caused by COVID. Beginning in October, our worship team began staying after each morning service to have lunch together, rehearse, and prepare “Behold the Lamb of God.” This was a challenge as we navigated masks, social distancing, and eating together while respecting and being zealous for each other’s health and protection. But the results continue to bring blessing.
Because we were limited in our seating capacity, we scheduled two performances — for a Saturday night and Sunday night. Both nights quickly “sold” out, with many people who do not attend our church signing up eagerly, just for a chance to celebrate Jesus in the middle of so much global gloom. And while our team is far from professional, God has blessed us with some gifted musicians who also understand worship…and the results were fantastic. Of course, there were some off-key notes (I myself contributed quite a number), some missed cues, and some forgotten lyrics, but overall the music was a blessing to those who came and those who performed. In fact, our worship team is more cohesive and loving toward each other now than they have ever been in the past, and this is due in large part to working together to put on this celebration. Shortly after the second performance, Nicolas, one of our drummers, asked, “So what are we doing for Easter?”
I don’t share any of this to brag…I am fully aware that neither of these blessings were due to me or my planning. They came about by the Spirit of God working in and through people who believe in Jesus and are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. I am also aware that many of you have had very different experiences of COVID and its toll on you and your church. But what still leaves me in awe is God’s freedom to bless His church in surprising ways, even when the world seems to conspire against Him and against us. I know I am not alone in this. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to share some “COVID blessings,” and I hope you will remember and share yours as well.
by Nathanael Fawcett
Pastor, Calvary International Church, Sao Paulo, Brazil