By Tony Rapu
COVID-19 has exacted a toll on people globally, but thankfully, Nigeria has not experienced the magnitude of casualties reported in other parts of the world. Still, many Nigerians have lost loved ones and this drives home the reality of the threat and danger inherent in the spread. As we grapple with prescribed protocols and debate on when it would be safe to gather again, we must remain circumspect. Our priority is the health and safety of the people and we must focus on minimizing transmission. Be assured that the pandemic will pass and we will gather again. We will one day look back and see that God was with us, working in our midst for good.
Coronavirus only triggered a deeper awareness of the digital world, as many churches were already streaming online; indeed, Zoom was already in use before the coronavirus. So, the lockdown pushed us to better use of existing technology to deliver our timeless message. We must always remember that our mission of preaching the message of the Kingdom is unchanging, but in every season, especially challenging seasons like now, our methods must be flexible. In the absence of the church building, we must find creative ways to press forward with our unchanging mission and in engaging our members.
Community and relationship are at the heart of Church. When it is time to return to the building, some may still prefer the online options. We may eventually create an integrated process with a hybrid church, keeping the online experience, while complementing it with the physical gathering. All in all, we must keep finding creative ways of building and maintaining strong communities.
GBN Community Programmes
Through the God Bless Nigeria church, we have extended our feeding and relief programs beyond our usual communities, to other areas in Lagos. We thank all our members and corporate donors for their generous support. As Christians, we must continue to equip ourselves and understand the need to make a difference in the larger society. House of Freedom must continue to drive change by creating systems and structures that bring development to individuals, the society and the world at large.
Lessons from COVID 19
The pandemic has caused us to wrestle with new questions. How do we run a fully digital church? How do we preach in front of a phone camera? How do we run our small groups online? What do we do about our children? What about weddings, baby dedications and even funerals, without physical meetings? Clearly, coronavirus has brought major changes, but it has been a great time of learning how to run a church in difficult times, and we are finding solutions to these questions. We are learning to separate what really matters from what is irrelevant and we thank all those who have stood by leadership as we have navigated this unusual terrain.
Changes and New Opportunities
In this season of global uncertainty laced with new opportunities, God is also reminding the Church that ministry extends beyond the walls of a physical location, even as there awaits a sick and broken world outside. Today’s world presents unusual opportunities for creative ministry. As Senior Pastor, I intend to pivot into different responsibilities and permit new, younger leaders to emerge, while I provide oversight over the House of Freedom.
God is calling me into an apostolic structure where I focus more on the work beyond the local church. My new responsibilities would include oversight of Freedom Foundation and deeper work with the House of Refuge and our addiction medicine programs. I will also be extending my leadership mandate as an apostle to build a global network of leaders. I also intend to devote more time to research and publication projects.
In line with this shift, Pastors Gbenga and Joy Olumurewa and their team will undertake an increased supervisory role as the Senior Pastors over the House of Freedom. This Present House, our flagship, will now be under the stewardship of Pastor Jude and Dr (Mrs) Fejiro Nwoko, also working with an emerging team of young leaders. The God Bless Nigeria church, which has undertaken a majority of our field work in indigent areas, will now be supervised by Pastor Solomon Akpo. As the House of Freedom expands, I will continue to provide oversight and mentoring to our very capable and extensive pastoral team.
Today, Church is navigating uncharted waters, but these are also exciting times. In the spirit of liberty that our faith espouses, the House of Freedom will continue to focus on spreading the gospel of the Kingdom in a variety of ways across the world.
May God’s grace and mercy be continually extended to us all.
*Dr Tony Rapu is Senior Pastor and Chairman Board of Trustees, Freedom Foundation