Christians around the world are facing something new with COVID-19. We need each other — for ideas, for encouragement, for hope. Our “Ministry During COVID-19” series are conversations with a diverse array of leaders, all over the globe, about how they’re coping and how God is showing up to unite and strengthen the church during this time.
To view this conversation, visit https://youtu.be/V588afl0hX8
Fr. Martin Ritsi is Executive Director at Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) in St. Augustine, Florida, USA.
What is ministry like in your context now?
We are living in lockdown, relying on video conferencing and depending on technology. It feels like we are shoring up for the storm and mitigating damage that’s already been done most of the time. We feel the demands are growing while the capacity to meet them is shrinking.
We are aching from the stories of pain and struggle. Even still, we are rejoining in the victories and acts of love and faith that we have seen.
What relationships or partnerships are being formed across denominations or faith groups?
While we have not entered new relationships, in reflection on the response to the coronavirus pandemic, in my own capacity as the head of a mission agency, I can see how in the midst of a crisis our interfaith relationships have sustained the storm, provided comfort, encouragement and mutual guidance.
When news of the pandemic was first disseminating, the members of a network I’m part of (the Christian Churches Together heads of mission agencies) began asking one another questions and sharing strategic directions. As the virus was penetrated further we came together again, sharing responses, challenges and most importantly mutual encouragement to face and respond in the uncertainty that was unfolding.
In these instances, it wasn’t that new relationships were formed, but existing relationships were strengthened. From our interfaith connections, we are able to stand together and respond to the pandemic with a shared wisdom and greater strength.
What has COVID revealed about global realities?
The unfolding of this pandemic has revealed dimensions about global realities.
Today, information is available and shared almost on a real-time basis. When there is a will and interest, the smallest of details can spread in throughout the entire globe. It would have been unimaginable 100 years ago that a disease first noticed in China was tracked, as it spread in a short span of time, throughout every country in the world and that we would have daily reports on its impact. The response to this disease has shown how intimately and extensively information can be shared on a global basis – touching the farthest corners of the planet and societies.
I would ask, what does this say about the sharing of Christ’s love and gift of redemption. How is it that one quarter of the planet is still unevangelized in the sense of not knowing the basic tenants of the most dramatic life-changing historical event ever to occur in human history. What I learn from today’s rapid spread of information regarding the pandemic leads both to self-criticism and gives a beacon of hope. Criticism in asking myself why I haven’t been able to lead a more extensive proliferation of the Gospel message. Hope in seeing daily what is possible.
The rapid transmission of the coronavirus worldwide in such a short span of time reveals how connected the global human population is to one another today.
How is it that people in a small region of the world are infected with a disease, and in a matter of months or even weeks, that disease is transmitted to all corners of the globe? It didn’t travel by itself. It was carried and transmitted person to person. This rapid transmission of the coronavirus reveals how interconnected we all are. It no longer takes a year, or months, to reach opposite ends of the globe. Travel from country to country is no longer restricted to few and rare instances. The virus has penetrated humanity because humanity is interconnected more than ever before in the course of history.
This reality of the ability for a dreadful disease to be transmitted worldwide in such a short period of time also gives a spark of hope. If something so terrible can be transmitted person to person, can’t we also transmit love and hope and life in the same way? We can. Person to person, just as the virus has spread, the love of Christ CAN be transmitted.
How can we shape the post-pandemic future?
It is still time to shape the pandemic present, there is so much more we can and will be called to do today. We can transmit life, transmit hope and transmit love.
A wave of suffering is crashing over the planet. It is drowning people in disease, who lie gasping for life. It is bringing down businesses that were built over a lifetime, carrying away people’s livelihoods and in its wake intensifying the suffering from poverty. It is washing people away into isolation from one another and even flooding out the cycles of celebration and recreation. Fear, anxiety, alienation, distrust, increased divisions are following in the wake of the pandemic.
At the same time, there are glimmers of hope that are breaking thru this darkness and true heroes of love and faith shine forth.
My focus and even daily anxiety at this time is not towards a post pandemic response, but to inform how to respond within the pandemic that rages around me. As a deadly viral force is being transmitted around the world, my motto has become: transmit life, transmit hope, and transmit love. And at the same time my challenge and the challenge we face as the body of Christ is that this would not be merely a motto, but that this becomes a visible reality in our daily lives in the midst of the pandemic today.