Concept for protest, revolution or conflict. Silhouette crowd of people protesters. Flat vector illustrationIn November 1970, a chartered flight carrying 71 passengers from the Marshall University football team, its coaching staff, and boosters crashed, killing all aboard.

In 2006, Warner Brothers released the movie We Are Marshall starring Matt McConaughey (Coach Jack Lengyel). The movie depicts life for the small West Virginia town trying to recover from this crash. This tragic loss shocked the sports world, and devastated the small town surrounding the campus.

As I write this, we find ourselves in a different type of crisis – the coronavirus pandemic. The despair, fears, discouragement, and apprehension found in almost every town is palpable. Anger burst onto the scene of a simple grocery shopping excursion as people yelled at others to maintain social distance and to share in the purchase of toilet paper. Craziness and anxiety are redefined with each daily occurrence and news reports. Like the variety of personalities in the movie We Are Marshall, we see people demonstrate a range of emotions from great hope and assurance to sheer panic and desperate actions.

The early church was no stranger to plagues, epidemics, and mass hysteria. According to both Christian and non-Christian accounts, one of the main catalysts for the church’s explosive growth in its early years was how Christians responded to disease, suffering, and death. In A.D. 249 to 262, Western civilization was devastated by one of the deadliest pandemics in its history. Though the exact cause of the plague is uncertain, the city of Rome was said to have lost an estimated 5,000 people a day at the height of the outbreak. One eyewitness, Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, noted the difference between Christian and non-Christian responses to the plague. He observed that the non-Christians in Alexandria were dismayed and in panic. The non-Christian response to the plague was characterized by self-protection and avoiding the sick at all costs.

By contrast, the Christian response was to minister to the sick, not considering their own personal safety. The early church leaned into God’s promises and prayed for their communities. They showed compassion and love to others. They were comforted by the promise of Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:18); God’s words, “Fear not, for I am with you… I will uphold you with my right hand;” (Isaiah 41:10); and by God’s care for His people (1 Peter 5:7).

Fear paralyzes and seeks only one’s own wellbeing. Faith releases God’s grace, mercy, and love to those around us.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:34-40

Personal Application: Who do you know who needs encouragement or help today? Ask the Lord to show you how you can minister to them most effectively.