Pandemic Advice from South Korea: Pastors, Focus on Your Family

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus walks past a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Daegu, South Korea February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The statistics and stories about the lives shattered by COVID-19 keep piling up. Sadly, if the experts are correct, the worst days of the pandemic are still ahead. But the US is not the first country to deal with this scourge.

James Byun is the founding senior pastor of Lifespring Church inSouth Korea, which has been dealing with the pandemic since January. He was born in Seoul, Korea, but immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. After pastoring in Northern California, Dallas, and Washington, DC, God led him and his wife, Heather, to move across the world to plant an international church in South Korea. Although he hardly spoke any Korean, he, Heather, and their four children packed up and moved to South Korea. Today Lifespring Church is a diverse international church located in Songdo, with over 40 nations represented. Maina Mwaura spoke with Byun to learn what might be in store for pastors in America over the next month.

What has life been like in South Korea with the coronavirus?

Life as we know it has changed. People are staying at home and going out only when they need essentials. Schools have closed. Students are studying online. Sporting events have been suspended. Concerts have been canceled. Theatres have closed. Churches have stopped meeting physically. Practically everyone now wears a mask. The economy has been hit, and small businesses have greatly suffered. Life has changed. Perhaps one of the greatest changes is that life has slowed down and has been simplified.

How has your church been affected?

Lifespring made an early decision to go totally online, so we have not been meeting physically since the end of February. It was a heartbreaking decision, but one that we knew we had to make to serve our community and the nation. I have been in ministry for 23 years and have never experienced anything like this. It has made our pastoral staff rethink ministry, and our members have had to adjust as well. Many people in the community struggle with isolation and loneliness during this time, so more than ever, we need to be proactive in reaching and ministering to people.

I think this pandemic has been a wake-up call for all of us. We have seen our church become hungrier and more desperate for God. We have been more unified and God is raising up prayer warriors. There is great hope that God will bring about good through this and that revival is coming.

What are some ways you have experienced God at work during the quarantine?

One of the things that we are seeing is the restoration of families. The work culture in Korea is so demanding that families rarely spend time together. Families have been spending more time together in the past month than perhaps in an entire year. In addition, due to the nature of online worship, worship is now being brought into the home, and God is praised and worshiped in the home. All these factors are leading to families being restored.

The second thing we are seeing is a movement of prayer. People are praying and crying out to God. Desperation tends to make us cry out to God, and this virus has made people desperate. We started a 72-hour prayer chain, and within a few hours of asking, over 300 people signed up to join in prayer.

The third thing we are seeing is an attitude of thanksgiving. We have taken so many things for granted, and they have now been taken away from us, such as going to our favorite restaurants, going to the movies, or worshiping together at church. This experience has made us more thankful.

What advice would you give American pastors wrestling with the reality of the virus?

I would remind them to trust God. He is in control, and we know that he will bring about something good even through this. We live in an age when we can still be connected to people without physically meeting them. People need to hear from their pastors, and we need to pray for people and the world. We have started to contact every single person at our church to check on them. We have close to 2,000 people on our list that we are going through. We have decided to call all the children and students at our church as well. We are checking on them and asking how we can pray for them.

I have committed to pray for about two hours every day for all of these prayer requests that we get. I have a binder of prayer requests that I go through, and I pray for them all. As a pastor, the best way I can serve our people right now is to pray for them. We have also conducted online prayer services and we are currently in the midst of a 72-hour prayer chain to pray for the nation and the world.

I’d encourage pastors to stay active physically, mentally, and spiritually. Some of our staff are working out together using Zoom video conferencing. Some of our staff have been catching up on reading. I have gone through some of my old seminary class notes.

I would also recommend spending quality time with the family. So many pastors’ kids share how they feel neglected in the home. This is a unique time where we are spending large quantities of time with the family. We need to make sure that quantity time turns into quality time. In our home, we have had several “dream-sharing” times with our children. We have designated times for our kids to freely share their dreams with us. It has been so rewarding to hear the dreams on their hearts. I have also imitated Joe Montana, and sometimes Mike Singletary, and played indoor tackle football with my boys. I think this is time for families to be restored, and this family restoration should start in the pastors’ homes.

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Source: Christianity Today