CHINA – Imagine a city with millions of people yet hardly anyone leaves their home. Normally bustling buses and metro trains run practically empty. Restaurants discourage dining in favor of food delivery, public parks remain closed, children attend school online, and everyone wears breathing masks in public. This seemingly bleak picture is the effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in China, which has unexpectedly provided ministry opportunities for pastor Matt Tyler.
Matt and Emily Tyler both graduated from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, while also serving as youth pastor for First Baptist Church, Buffalo. Upon graduating from seminary, Matt became the pastor of an international Baptist church in a major Chinese city.
When the outbreak of COVID-19 first occurred, the Tylers (along with their two toddler sons) were preparing to return to China from a conference in Thailand.
“When our time in Thailand came to an end, there really wasn’t any question…we would go home, and our home is in China.” Matt said. “In fact, we were excited to get back home because we wanted to minister to our church members during a unique time. We wanted to be present for our neighbors and friends and explain how we confess our fears to God who promises to care for us.”
In a profound way, God has used COVID-19 to help the Tylers encourage worried Christians and share the Gospel of hope with unbelievers. With local unbelievers seriously considering the reality of death, God has given the Tylers a unique opportunity to point to Jesus. “The virus has put some cracks in the idols of money and health, and we get to share the good news of a Savior who died for our sins and offers new, everlasting life to those who turn from their sins and trust in him, the Savior who calms all our anxieties and fears.”
Though many people remain indoors for health precaution, those who interact with the Tylers are fascinated that foreigners have chosen to remain in China instead of fleeing like so many others.
During a recent cab ride, Emily shared the gospel of eternal hope to a curious taxi driver. Though no one would have planned for COVID-19, the Tylers are seeing God’s providential hand in supplying opportunities for Gospel advancement in China.
When asked how the Lord is sustaining his family in the midst of this hardship, Matt points to Scripture. “The promises of Psalm 91 do not mean that we won’t get sick, but that God has our good in mind and nothing can ultimately take us out of his grip.”
Because of these rich, biblical truths, Matt says, “Christians should have an altogether different response to COVID-19 than non-Christians because we believe in a God who sustains us. Our hope is not long life. Our hope is that when God so wills, we will end, and until that day, he will sustain us and grant us life anew.”
To the Tylers, the current epidemic should remind pastors of their calling to encourage churches with Gospel truth. Because God’s control and kindness are certain for believers, every hardship is an opportunity to experience renewed trust in our eternal King. Out of his grace, God frequently uses hardships to remind Christians of life’s brevity and Scripture’s promise of future glory. Therefore, since neither tribulation, distress, famine, or disease can separate us from the love of Christ, pastors and lay people alike are called to minister faithfully to one another especially in the midst of great difficulty.
“The lack of control we feel today during COVID-19 is actually true everyday of our lives,” Matt concludes. “We should trust our sovereign God who alone is in control.” Whether in China or the USA, the Christian worldview compels Christians to faithfully follow God’s calling, wherever that might lead. Wherever Covid-19 might spread next, God’s call to the believer remains the same – proclaim faithfully the Gospel.