OMF Philippines Personnel Manager Ruth Page reflects on her church’s experience during community quarantine:
The week before the General Community Quarantine for Metro Manila was announced, our church was told that we could no longer meet in our usual venue on a university campus, as the campus was going to be restricting meetings. The Church Council met, and the decision was made to find a way to carry on. This extra week meant that when the General Quarantine started, and then changed to an Enhanced Community Quarantine the following day, we already had a plan of how the church would continue to meet.
Our church has three congregations – the early morning Tagalog congregation, made up of mostly urban poor people; the morning English congregation, made up of professors, graduates, and a wide range of others, and then the service I am a part of – the Afternoon Worship Service, or AWS, focusing mainly on students. Each congregation has a unique flavour, but we also enjoy times of all three services coming together for special events and times of the year.
Given the different makeup of each service, each congregation chose their own way forward. The Tagalog congregation watch their sermon via Facebook Live, as there is free access, the English congregation message is delivered via Zoom, but the AWS decided to keep as much of the service content as possible. By using Zoom, various members each lead worship, prayer, mission focus and other aspects of the service from their own homes. On our screens, whether a mobile phone, laptop or desktop computer, we can see who is there – it might be a picture, their name, initials, or for those without bandwidth issues, maybe even their video. We come early, and we stay on afterwards, to chat together – those who can turn on their cameras for this bit! Even our favourite part of the service, the small group discussion time after the message, has continued, and we enjoy this online ‘face-to-face’ time to reflect and pray together, before coming back as a whole congregation to continue the service. Even though most of the students have returned to their homes in other parts of the country, many of them continue to join us for the online service, so our congregation has not had a drop in numbers.
It is encouraging to see our students choosing to use their speakers when they join the online service, so that other family members who might not yet be believers can also hear the service. This gives those students opportunities to share their faith with their family too. Students are also sharing the link to the service with their friends, so that they too can ‘visit’ our services. Visiting an online service may well be less daunting for newcomers than physically turning up.
In addition to the actual Sunday online gatherings, we also have an AWS group chat that is very active. Through this, we share needs that we are aware of, and so those with quarantine passes, or living in the same area, have been able to do grocery trips for those who are sick or otherwise unable to get out. Seniors are told not to go out, so others have responded to the need to stand in hour-long lines to get into the pharmacy to get medical prescriptions fulfilled, and then delivered them to the door of those seniors. The group chat has also been used for theological discussion and encouraging messages to one another, and some fun, wholesome activities to beat boredom. And of course, we have prayed for the items shared on the group chat. The latest discussion is how we can continue our weekly cookie-and-cocoa fellowship and monthly ‘agape meal’ – and we decided we will all cook our own spaghetti and enjoy it together!
The church has provided financial support for many particularly in the Tagalog congregation who no longer have work, and others are cooking meals for them. We are also reaching out beyond our own church family to those in our community that we know to be in need. Members who are part of a lawyers’ organization have purchased medical equipment for doctors; another member is making masks for them. There is a member working with health organizations to craft appropriate policies for their COVID response; and they have also made educational videos so that people understand more about this disease. Students who are stuck in the dorms unable to return home have received food, and a 24 hour prayer chain has started.
Our joint services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday (a sunrise service) went ahead – those who were able sat out in their gardens so that we even got our ‘outdoor’ experience.
We don’t yet know what impact these activities will have on our community, but being able to continue to meet together online is a real encouragement to each one of us as we experience this quarantine period. We pray that God’s name will be glorified as we find new ways to serve our community.
OMF Philippines Personnel Manager
Will you pray for the Philippines?
1. Pray for wisdom for the leadership as they navigate the ‘new normal’ for the worship services, fellowships and ministries.
2. Pray that God would sustain our corporate worship and fellowship in the Spirit even through online communications (during and outside of worship services).
3. Pray that God would protect and sustain all church members and regular attendees and their families; may he protect the personal testimony of his children and give us opportunities to share the gospel with family members who do not know him yet.
4. May he allow our light to shine even brighter for him among our friends and in our circles of influence, whether online or despite social distancing (e.g. queuing at the supermarket); may he use us as his channels of blessing for his glory.