At 8 :00 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, 2020, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe gave a press conference. He announced that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all establishments not absolutely vital to the life of the country would be closed until further notice. Total lockdown was to begin three days later on Wednesday, March 18, at 12:00 p.m. “Until further notice” turned out to be until May 10, just short of two months of total lockdown!
Two weeks prior, on March 5, 2020, my wife flew to Madagascar to visit our son who works there for ADRA. Her stay was initially to last a month. We were informed that the last regular flight from Antananarivo (Madagascar) to Paris, just prior to total lockdown in France, should leave on Tuesday, March 17. Without delay, I asked my wife to book that last flight. The first miracle occured: she could have the seat without paying any extra cost for the change of date.
At 6:00 a.m. that Wednesday morning, March 18, I went to Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport to welcome her as the whole country went into lockdown at 12:00 a.m. By God’s grace, we reached our home in Rouen in the northwest of France before 12:00 a.m., 160 kilometers from the Parisian airport. This is the family side of the story.
QUESTIONS, PROMISE, AND RESPONSES
As a district pastor, I was asking myself a lot of questions concerning the operation and maintenance of my three churches during that two-month lockdown.
As we all know, it was the first time since World War II (1939-1945) that such a lockdown was imposed in France. This meant no more Sabbath School or divine services at churches, no more baptismal classes for those getting ready for baptism, no more Bible studies for people at their home, no more missionary work outside the churches. Our North France Conference had to cancel almost 50 of the Hope 2020 evangelistic meetings, including the one scheduled for Rouen church during the month of May 2020.
Many more questions came to my mind: how to visit church members in their homes, how to collect tithe and offerings, and more. In short, how to live as a church amid a total lockdown?
A biblical text came to my mind in response to all these questions: Genesis 22:7, 8 “But Isaac spoke to Abraham and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? ’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering. ’”
Even more questions flooded my mind: If the church members would not be able to bring their offerings to churches during this extended time, how would they be able to pay the local fixed expenses (water, electricity, etc.)? If the members would not be able to bring tithes to their local churches, what would happen to finances at the conferences, the unions, and the General Conference?
To all these questions and a lot more, the answer given to Isaac by his father Abraham comes unceasingly to my mind: “ God will provide for Himself . . . ”
By now you may have guessed—or aready know—what happened during the lockdown. We organized our church meetings (Sabbath Schools and divine services, prayer meetings, church boards, Bible studies for young people, etc.) via Zoom, as did thousands of churches worldwide.
Concerning tithes and offerings, we have continued to encourage our church members to be faithful despite the challenging and unique situation: job loss, financial difficulties for university students and others, and so on. The list of challenging situations is, unfortunately, too long.
So what concrete measures did we take to encourage our church members to be faithful amid this health crisis? The communication department of each church prepared appropriate slides during the announcements to systematically remind members of the procedures to send tithes and offerings through bank transfer. For the tithes, our conference put in place a digital platform, “Hello- Asso, ” through which all the churches in France can transfer funds directly to the conference treasury. Other methods include: (1) some church members living close to their treasurers directly brought their tithes and offerings to them; and (2) the pastor, along with some elders, would come to visit elderly members living far away from the church to collect those funds directly from them.
It should also be noted that during this total lockdown, it was a blessing for the members and myself to be connected to each other by telephone. Some days during the week I was able to talk and pray with more than 30 people and families. You could probably guess that some people felt particularly lonely during this health crisis, and a telephone call was a breath of fresh air. Telephone calls, messenger calls, Facetime, and Skype were all so helpful to keep contact with church members to encourage them.
Despite this catastrophic situation, one thing is sure: “God has provided for Himself. ” As a matter of fact, in all three churches under my responsibility, our church members remained faithful by God’s grace. When I asked one of the treasurers of our churches about church finances as a result of the pandemic and total lockdown, she answered, “Pastor, the situation was really difficult in April and May, not to say catastrophic! But since June, the situation has unexpectedly changed.” Most church members remained faithful. As far as church finance is concerned, it was very clear that God “provided for Himself . . . ” He was always faithful. And without going into detail, within our churches and also our conference, “God provided for Himself, ” when, like Abraham and Isaac, our members put their confidence in God amid this unprecedented crisis.
Here are some figures to show how much the Lord blessed us despite this pandemic and lockdown:
Total Tithe in 2019: 152,260 euros
Total Tithe in 2020: 135,060 euros
Tithes From January-June 2021 84,110 euros
Some church members sent their tithe for 2020 in January 2021. But even though we did see a decrease of the total amount of tithe in 2020, our church members remained faithful despite the many challenges they encountered during this year.
Even today, June 2021, a year after the first lockdown, COVID-19 is not yet behind us. Our church operation is still in semi-lockdown. Church members have to register early in the week to be able to go to church the next Sabbath. When the maximum number is reached, no more people may register. About one third of the total number of church members are authorized at this date each Sabbath. The other two-thirds follow the programs via Zoom. But I place my trust in these words of Abraham: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
How and when will this pandemic come to an end? Nobody is able to provide an answer! But we have this assurance: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life . . . nor things present nor things to come . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, 39). £