USA (MNN) — Coronavirus containment efforts continue in the U.S. The virus is present in nearly every state, and many experts forecast exponential growth in the number of new infections. Lawmakers are considering spending and stimulus packages to offset economic downfall, while a small group of volunteers helps test the first vaccine.
There’s a new meaning to the phrase “March Madness” as society adjusts to widespread school and business closures, event cancellations, and “social distancing.” But from fear and uncertainty rises a hopeful perspective.
“It’s obviously changed everything when your mission field empties out in front of you with very little notice,” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Greg Jao says, “but I’ve been delighted by the way students and staff are responding to say, ‘This is actually a mission opportunity, how do we take advantage of it?’”
Coronavirus closes campus doors
Hundreds of colleges across the nation began switching to “virtual classrooms” last week, cancelling in-person sessions and moving everything to a remote learning environment. Others reportedly closed “indefinitely” and have asked students to leave campus.
An unexpected shut-down like this leaves some international students with nowhere to go, Jao says. They “may be barred from returning to their home countries, or … cannot afford to go home quickly,” he explains.
It’s a need the Church can easily meet. “There [are] obvious responsibilities that you have for your family. But, if your family is healthy … this may be a wonderful way to engage the university,” Jao says.
“Inviting church families to say, ‘Would you take in a student who cannot get home right now?’ is a beautiful example of what hospitality means in an age of epidemic.”
InterVarsity is a college ministry with campus chapters throughout the U.S. Staff and student leaders are creating community spaces online. “We’re using various digital platforms to gather students… and we’re putting the text of Scripture up on the screen and having people engage,” Jao says. More about that here.
“Two students in New York City came to faith [this week] because they had an opportunity to study Scripture with a group of Christians online.”
How to help
Aside from preventative care and caution, there’s not much a person can do to minimize COVID-19’s impact on society. However, a unified community of believers can speak hope to the situation.
Ask the Lord to grant leaders wisdom and flexibility as InterVarsity adapts to this complex situation. Pray staff will be filled with trust in God’s provision and peace as they continue to meet students’ emotional and spiritual needs. Pray that God will use this time to draw all students and faculty, whether for the first time or in a new way, into His loving, saving grace.
Whether down the street or across the ocean, “home” may not be easily-accessible for some college students. If you can open your home to one of these students, call the college nearest you and offer to help.
“Even if the university says no… what a tremendous witness to the person on the phone that the Church of Jesus Christ is saying, ‘We will take in the immigrant, the alien, or the stranger in your midst’, which is a consistent biblical command,” Jao says.
It’s a discouraging time for senior students and their families, both at the high school and college level. Event cancellations mean student-athletes and artists lose opportunities to display their God-given talents. However, this also holds an opportunity for believers.
“Let’s find ways to honor and care for those graduating seniors whose expectations are being changed,” Jao suggests. “If the Church was creative around this, it would be an incredible blessing to those students as they make that transition out of college into an uncertain environment.”
Header image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. (Photo Credit: NIAID-RML)