Praise the Lord.
God is in control of all things. God remains on His throne of glory and has promised to be with His children every day until the end of the world. Amen.
The media, like politicians and the scientific world, are surprised at the speed with which the coronavirus has spread throughout so many countries in the world in such a short time creating this global epidemic.
We have heard President Trump in his presidential message addressing the nation, saying that drastic measures are being taken to control the spread of this virus such as: reducing the number of people in public places, cancelling flights to China and Europe, increasing care for personal hygiene and the places one frequents, etc. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
In the hope of keeping the world informed and to prevent the transmission of the virus, politicians and scientists, make all kinds of presentations showing statistics and photographs of what is happening in other countries, and are causing more panic and despair in people. The religious world is not left behind, and for their part, they are talking about divine punishment, others are talking about apocalyptic plagues, and other things.
Beloved brethren let us not be carried away by emotions or by what others say. Today more than ever we have to hear the voice of God and be fully convinced that the Word of God is the ultimate authority of the Church. This is where the Bible becomes unmatched in our lives and in the lives of those who hear us. Psalm 91 is becoming a balm for millions of people around the world. Today more than ever this Psalm is touring social networks around the world in all languages. We look at many people, who in their desperation do not know what to do, and the Word of God comforts them.
Psalm 91:3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. 5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
In the most difficult moments, we have to be attentive to the Word of God which is “secure and like a torch, which illuminates the way”. This is the time when the Church must understand that our rock is the Lord Jesus Christ, and that our faith is grounded in His Word. Everything He has promised He will fulfill, and this is where we must put our trust. The current situation must make the Church shine brighter than ever, for the Church to bring out the full arsenal of promises and blessings God has given Her.
When the Chinese write the word “crisis” they do so with two stripes, one that determines the problem, and the other, an opportunity. It is true that we are living in a very complicated worldwide situation, but it is also an opportunity to show the world and the people around us that we have a God who loves us and who died on the cross of Calvary for all sinners.
Many people are frightened by following the news and hearing of so many cases that are multiplying all over the world, and it is now where the Church has to be the Church. It is now that we must show the world that we serve a God who is real, and that everything will be ok in the name of Jesus Christ. This crisis is going to pass like so many that have already happened in the history of the Church and the country, and both emerge victorious.
The Church cannot despair and act as if having no direction and purpose. We must act very cautiously but moved by faith and not by fear. All members of the Apostolic Assembly should follow all the instructions given to us by the government authorities regarding personal hygiene, wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, do not touch their faces with their hands, be careful with people sneezing or coughing in the air, etc. We must carry a message of support for the government, and of faith and hope to people, and tell them that this is God’s message for this time. Tell them about the sin that separates them from God, and how God has already paid the price of that sin. This is the best time to share the gospel with someone. Let us be wise and understand the time God is allowing us to live in.
I am calling all the Pastors, ministers, sisters and brothers of the Apostolic Assembly throughout the world to join in fasting and prayer. Let us fast and pray until this wave of evil has calmed down. Let us fast and pray for the following reasons:
1. We will pray that God may care for and protect His people against this virus. That it would not enter into any of our churches and homes.
2. We will pray for all those who were already infected with the virus, and for the relatives of those who lost their loved ones in this plague.
3. We will pray for divine direction so that God will put a word of encouragement in His people so that they know how to respond to those who need it and who are troubled by events.
4. We will pray that God will make us creative in case we cannot gather more than 250 people in our temples. May pastors and their leaders establish various worship services a day and have more preachers preach that day.
5. And if the number is reduced more than 250, or if for a while we cannot gather in our temples; that God may help us open more small groups in our communities. Now is when we have to use everything we have learned about the Strategy of Jesus. Beloved brethren, this was the method used by the early Church of the first century in the midst of a world infected with the Roman Empire virus. Everything that happens in a Sunday service can happen in midweek small groups.
6. We will pray that the economy of our brothers and sisters will not be affected by this new virus.
7. Finally we are going to ask God to give intelligence to the doctors and scientists who are trying to find the antidote to this virus. May God enlighten their minds to find the right medicine.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PASTORS
I am asking all pastors to use prudence in decisions as to whether they have church services or not. Talk to your Elders and Bishops. Follow the news closely, and especially be informed of what is going on in your city and respect the decisions your authorities make.
In the unexpected event that a member of your Church or a visitor who is related to your Church acquires the virus and the test comes back positive, do not panic, it is not the end of the world. Immediately, call your family doctor and tell him about the situation. You also need to alert your city’s health department to be given the steps to follow, and what you need to do in your Church. Do not hide it, that can have legal consequences and it does not help anyone.
There are many ways and forms to be educated in case you have to close the temple, for a few weeks, because of an outbreak of contagion. Rest assured, use that time to improve yourself, and through social media you can send teachings and preachings. Biblical studies can be given and the needy continue to help. Experts say that 81% of those who are infected heal. The other 15% are hospitalized and 4% are critical sickness. I recommend you read this article by BBC World News where they talk about 10 good news about coronavirus http://theconversation.com/coronavirus-ten-reasons-why-you-ought-not-to-panic-132941
To prevent the spread and/or acquisition of this virus we have decided to cancel and postpone the national activities of the General Board and the Confederations during the months of March and April, and if necessary, we will extend it until May as we were going to have thousands of brothers attending these events. I therefore ask the Bishops to please review their district event programs and do the same. We must have faith in what we do, but we must also be wise.
Finally, it is important to understand that in all this that is happening there are legal implications. I have asked Attorney Jorge Montes to assist us on this subject, and to give us his recommendations.
Unfortunately, we live in times where we must always consider the legal implications of every issue that arises. While we are entering uncharted waters, my experience teaches me that every situation can become a legal problem, since we live in a litigious country.
While there does not appear to be a legal obligation to report coronavirus cases in a congregation to the authorities, it makes sense to do so to avoid further contamination. In addition, one can contemplate a situation in which a pastor knew of a case of coronavirus in his congregation, said nothing to the flock, and someone else becomes contaminated and dies, exposing the church to a lawsuit. In theory, the church would have been informed and the congregants could have had a medical examination and received treatment.
In reporting a case (sadly we already have our first case in the state of California, so we are not talking theoretically), you will have to make sure to protect the privacy rights of the person who is afflicted with the virus. Unless that person wants to reveal his or her identity, the congregation would be informed that they were exposed to the virus on a given date. We should work with public health authorities to protect and assist those who were exposed. Cleaning should also be done to sterilize the affected spaces. In addition, the cancellation of certain activities should be considered while the danger passes.
Although we have not yet seen cases, many labor law issues are expected to arise in the context of the epidemic. There are too many to list here, but we’ll be considering them on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, each state is propagating different rules about how many people are allowed to gather in one place. I suggest you be aware of what is ordered in your respective state or county and that those directives are followed.
The church has to lead the way in this crisis, adapting all the preventive measures that public health authorities are recommending. We don’t want to end up like a church in South Korea that has become the main villain in that country’s crisis. The leader of that church has even been charged with manslaughter for not reporting these cases and not cooperating with the authorities.
I would like to end with this verse for you to meditate upon and use in your fasts and prayers before God.
2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
We as children of God need to be alert and diligent to this call of attention from God for our lives. Christians tend to let their guard down when everything is well, they even enter into a spiritual lethargy that can be very dangerous. This wake-up call has awakened the desire to fast and pray throughout the world. This is very good, and as this wave passes, the Church remains standing praising her God, and preaching the gospel.
May God bless you and keep you. And may God bless the Apostolic Assembly.
Bishop President, J. Fortino