About six years ago, I found myself immersed in the ebola epidemic that claimed about 4,000 Liberian lives. During the crisis, I would sign in to Facebook and become inundated with an avalanche of pictures of the diseased and dying. I also saw the spewing out of negative, angry comments.
Liberians were sliding down the treacherous slope of defeat and hopelessness. Fear was in ample supply. Confusion was everywhere. Entire families came down infected. Children became orphans, businesses laid off workers, not a single child or adult was sitting in a classroom, and the country was in a state of emergency.
It is 2020 and the coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading rapidly in North America, Europe and Asia. My focus is on the escalating level of fear, confusion, helplessness and panic among millions, especially in the United States of America.
I saw my congregation go through this in Liberia. Week after week, I stood at the pulpit and looked into terrified eyes and prayed that no one had become infected or had lost a family member to ebola. I was on the frontline of the fight; but a major part of our fight was striving to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of proof that conditions were worsening. That was the most difficult side of my pastoral work.
Let me share how I led my congregation into maintaining a positive, calm and result-oriented attitude during the ebola crisis in Liberia. These leadership tips may be useful for pastors during this coronavirus pandemic:
- Find daily antidotes for fear. I posted many positive messages on social media about ebola survivors. I looked for news that would stimulate hope and restoration. I asked my congregation to avoid overdosing on negative news and rumors.
- Keep awareness high. I stayed informed. When members called me with questions, I was able to give answers and point them to credible sources. I organized a team of health professionals with the task to assemble and share important updates to our members.
- Preach what I call "crisis sermons." My members needed to see me exhibit courage in the face of this situation. I searched the Bible for Scriptures on plagues, national disasters, hope and deliverance. I trusted the Holy Spirit to give me messages of hope.
- Preserve the church community. Coronavirus, like ebola, fosters anti-social behavior. People are asked to do social distancing. To minimize the negative impact of this behavior, I organized an ongoing prayer initiative with groups of 20. In the American context, conference prayer calls work. Check on the most vulnerable and most isolated. Home visits are permitted as long as there is no health risk. In Liberia, we remained connected to poor families and quarantined families. We provided food and other essentials for quarantined families. We organized activities for small groups of children out of school.
- Practice self-care. This is a very stressful situation. As a pastor, I had to deal with my personal fears, concerns for my family's safety, the fiscal and spiritual health of my church, as well as the emotional care of my members. This was psychologically draining. Because I was spending more time at home, I increased my prayer and devotion time. In addition, I carved out more recreational time with my family, caught up on my reading and just did some fun things I never previously had the time for.
Presently, there are no coronavirus cases in Liberia; but we are not waiting until the first case hits Liberia. At my church, information dissemination is ongoing. Preventative protocols are in place.
We are not feeding our fear; rather, we are talking to each other about following the protocols. We are praying for this pandemic to end and we have a testimony that this virus cannot survive in an environment of faith, hope, facts, healthy interventions and community care. Pastors, stay positive and help your congregation survive and thrive.
Dr. Katurah York Cooper is an educator, pastor and human rights advocate, and is the founder and director of Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church-Liberia / Helping Our People Excel (H.O.P.E. Inc). Dr. Katurah Cooper fled with her five daughters from the Liberian civil war to reside in the United States as a refugee for 11 years. Since returning to Liberia in 2001, she has served as an educator, human rights advocate, leadership coach, author and pastor. This article is reprinted by permission of Global Leadership Network.
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