When Coronavirus Hits Close to Home

I had been hoping to give an update for a while.  I hope to share with you sometime soon how things have changed for us since I shared my Top ten things I’ve loved about the Coronavirus lockdown.

But not today.

The Coronavirus just got up close and personal.

Just over a week ago, one of our dearest friends, Pastor Bill Standridge passed away from the Coronavirus.

Jon and Bill Standridge

As a pastor, missionary and author, he was known throughout Italy for his dedication to teaching Biblical doctrine.  
The church in Rome that God used him to plant has been one of our greatest allies in the truth for many years.  
He took my parents under his wing when they arrived in Italy in 1973, and our families have been close ever since.  
When we were young, our family would even drive two hours down to Rome to celebrate Thanksgiving with them.  His son Steve has been one of my most important mentors.
When his wife Maria Teresa passed away a few years ago, people traveled from all over Italy to pay their respects and to celebrate her life for God.
Bill’s life and legacy should have been celebrated for God’s glory…  But Coronavirus took this away from us.  Even his family had to say their goodbyes by phone.
Yet, he is now joyfully in heaven, in the presence of the God he served so faithfully for so many years.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.  Death got closer and more tragic.
Two nights ago we heard commotion in the house next door.  We suspected that something was terribly wrong.  
Our neighbor had been suffering for years with kidney failure, including at least one  failed kidney transplant.
Before the virus kept us all apart, I had been to visit him and his wife.  I shared a few thoughts from the Gospel as he lay in his bed.
Few times had I seen someone more appreciative.
Now he is gone.  I received a text message from another neighbor telling me that he had passed away.
I can’t even go over to comfort the family.  Coronavirus has taken that way from us.

Yesterday morning I got a call.  My friend was weeping.
You may remember my friend, the butcher.  We became friend chatting about barbecure ribs. God brought their whole family to start attending our church.
My friend’s stepfather, who lived with them, contracted the virus on a skiing trip up north about a month ago.
We had shared the Gospel with him and his wife over dinner a couple times.
The whole family has been on quarantine since they found out.  He had been doing better.  They had taken him off the respirator.  Then he took a turn for the worse. God has been working on my friend through this and he has asked for help with his spiritual growth.
My friend called me weeping to tell me that his step-dad had passed away.  Last year he lost his father too.
We can’t even attend the funeral, or go comfort our friend, or pray with them in person.  Coronavirus took this away from us.

Last night I also found out that a member in our church is waiting on test reults.  If there was one person in our church that needs to NOT contract the virus, it is him.
Now all we can do is pray for a miracle.

One man dearly loved by Evangelicals in Italy, who is in heaven; 
Two men who had heard the Gospel but had not made a profession of faith;
One family waiting and praying for a miracle.


Where is God in all this?
God is still at work.
We don’t know how exactly this all fits into His picture.  But we trust him.
His name will be exalted, and His people are still in His care.
For us who believe in Christ this is just a hiccup in our life.  
For those without Christ times are dark, and hope is grim.
Pray that through this time many will give glory to God and repent, embracing Christ as Lord.

Psalm 46:1–3
    [1] God is our refuge and strength,
        a very present help in trouble.
    [2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
        though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
    [3] though its waters roar and foam,
        though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (ESV)


Please pray!

  1. Please pray for the Standridges and for Italian Evangelicals, as they cope with this great loss.
  2. Please pray for our neighbors.
  3. Please pray for my friend and his family.
  4. Please pray for the family in our church that is waiting on test results.
  5. Please pray for us as we live and minister in such a unique world.

Ministering in Lockdown

I remember when we first started hearing about Coronavirus back in January.  I was one of those who made fun of it…after all, we’ve had our fair share of SARS, Mad Cow Disease, Swine Flu, Bird Flu…you name it, we’ve heard it.

Yet when the numbers of people dying started incrementing rapidly we realized this was something more than the usual.
As of this writing more than 124,000 people in the world have contracted the virus, with more than 4,600 deaths and in Italy we’ve had over 12,400 cases and over 800 deaths.

I remember when we first started hearing about Coronavirus back in January.  I was one of those who made fun of it…after all, we’ve had our fair share of SARS, Mad Cow Disease, Swine Flu, Bird Flu…you name it, we’ve heard it.

Yet when the numbers of people dying started incrementing rapidly we realized this was something more than the usual.
As of this writing more than 124,000 people in the world have contracted the virus, with more than 4,600 deaths and in Italy we’ve had over 12,400 cases and over 800 deaths.

When Saturday we announced that there would be no church Sunday we were hoping the worst would have soon been over.  Unfortunately we were wrong.

Monday night the Italian government decided to shut down the country further and again today we heard that more restrictions have come about, so that Italians are not allowed to leave their homes if not for work or basic necessities, such as groceries and pharmacy.  Everything else is closed.
Schools will be closed at least until April 3rd.

We have attempted homeschooling this week (our hats are off to all you homeschooling parents!!!).
Pray for us!

So how do we minister under such circumstances?  After all, greater the need, greater the need for the Gospel!
I thank the Lord for very capable coworkers! Yesterday Daniel, Danilo and I met at church to figure out what to do.  (I mostly sat there pretending to understand the technological gibberish).
We decided after last week’s lack of a service to look into a way to stream services.

Streaming

Praise God we were able to stream via Facebook Live. Italian Christians were hungry for fellowship and worship!  The feedback we got was overwhelming and Daniel’s brief message from Psalm 46 was exactly what the people needed.
(You can follow us here. We will be streaming again Sunday at 10 AM Italian time and again Wendesday 8:30 pm our time.). 

We look forward to ministering to people.  We know that God uses everything for His glory.

We will be praying for you, as many of you soon may be facing what we have been going through.

What joy to know that our hope is not found in this world, and that our hope is eternal in Christ!

God is good!

Life in a Virtual Quarantine


I admit…I’m probably not the best person to write about this topic.

After all, I’ve never seen a zombie movie, nor do I plan to.

Yet the surreal atmosphere that the world, and especially Italy is facing right now with the Coronavirus reminds me  of every zombie movie I’ve never seen.

The needle that broke the proverbial camel’s back came when the prime minister of Italy decided to shut down all schools and public gatherings at least until the 15th of March, and possibly as lat as the beginning of April. Many families will be scrambling to figure out what to do with their children.  

It was a tough decision.
The official order is to keep at least 3.28 feet (one meter) distance from people.  Can you imagine enforcing that in Italy, where people greet with a kiss and personal space is socially unacceptable?
Imagine trying to enforce that with children’s ministries…

As I look out the window of our church office  I see business as usual…granted, probably less cars than a typical Thursday morning.  People still have to go to work.

We’re living in strange times.
Nothing can be taken for granted.
The economy seems on the verge of a collapse.
Even our church will not be able to meet this Sunday, as they try to curb this terrible virus that is taking the world by storm.

Umbria so far has not been as affected as northern Italy, where at least 80% of the cases have been, but the numbers are growing.
(For an interview to of missionary friends of ours from inside the “red zone” click here.)

Classroom

Schools are closed, social gatherings are discouraged when not forbidden, people walk around suspiciously (or at least I do!).  They are even considering playing soccer games in empty stadiums.
The hardest part is not knowing exactly when it will end.
In northern Italy, the infamous “red zone”, they have already been living this way for a while.

America may soon be facing similar decisions. All we can do at this point is pray. 

Please pray for us:

  1. Pray as we decide how to best minister to people in a country that is in virtual quarantine. 
  2. Pray that people will be open to spiritual conversations.
  3. Pray for the virus to end soon, so we can back to normal life.
  4. Pray for our planning for our visit to the United States in July for the 100 year anniversary of Baptist Mid-Missions.  In particular pray for:
    1. Good airline tickets
    2. Transportation and housing for our time there.
    3. Planning of the worship times for the conference
    4. Planning for my absence from the ministry
    5. Planning for the connections with ministry partners and family.

Thank you for praying!
The Whitmans