Building Bridges, Issue 14, March 16, 2020

April 08, 2020 by John Maurice

“Our faith and determination is in the sovereign Lord who upholds and sustains us by His power and love.” from Mid-Atlantic's response to COVID-19

Who would have thought we would be talking about college campuses closing; the cancellation of the ACC Tournament, the NCAA March Madness, and the annual MACU Rally; and a global pandemic this month? I certainly didn't, but here we are, facing a global crisis – and none of us is immune. At the very least, I hope you are taking care of yourself and washing your hands!

Last week was spring break for the students at Mid-Atlantic. They left campus and scattered to the four winds by planes, trains, and automobiles. In fact, students come from 20 states, and all of those states have an increasing number of positive test results for COVID-19, more commonly referred to as the Coronavirus.

As I scroll through Facebook posts, I see numerous posts that seem to make cancelling gatherings moral or spiritual issues, separating the sheep from the goats (or those that have faith or are moved by fear). I am not typically a fearful person. Perhaps that inclination is partly from a military background, which is inherently stressful and potentially lethal. At the end of the day, if no one dies, it is a good day.

As a college president, responsible to God for the care and safety of about two hundred students and over thirty full-time staff and faculty members, I have wrestled long and hard over what the best decision would be as a response to the Coronavirus for our students. My peers in the University of North Carolina system had their decision made for them by the UNC main office. I presume that the decision being made by someone else took a bit of stress off of their plate. I am also certain that the UNC system and the State of North Carolina will financially compensate them for any losses they incur. MACU does not have this luxury.

Do I bring students back from spring break and tell them that we have clean door knobs and computer keyboards and hand sanitizer? Do I migrate instruction to online and suspend the remainder of the year? If I make the right decision, good on me; if I make the wrong decision, I am an irresponsible goat. And help me should the Coronavirus actually spread throughout campus! Having served at sea on numerous combat ships, I have seen the flu spread throughout a crew of 2,900 sailors and Marines, and it is not a good thing.

Perhaps if we all make our decisions – decisions about church services, events, participation or non-participation – based upon showing care for one another, we will get it right. We really are all in this together. But I do hope the moralizing and judgement of decisions will go away, along with the Coronavirus! An old nautical phrase comes to mind for those of us in leadership positions who must contend with decisions: “Steady at the helm.” Don’t panic, don’t fear, don’t overreact and make things worse.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, when facing the Black Plague that was sweeping across Europe wrote: “Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God” (Luther’s Works, Volume 43, P. 132).

Whether you have worship services, Bible studies, or other meetings or events at your church building or whether you choose not to, I pray that God will honor your decision as you faithfully follow Him. The quote below is the one I made to the students and staff at MACU announcing our response to COVID-19: “Mid-Atlantic understands the seriousness and profound impact of this decision upon everyone. The primary consideration is the safety and health of our campus community, but we also have an obligation to support the ongoing global effort to stop the proliferation of the cononavirus. Our faith and determination is in the sovereign Lord who upholds and sustains us by His power and love. We also believe that this decision is responsible and shows concern for our neighbor and their well-being and health. Our commitment to student welfare and a superior learning experience is of utmost importance during these extraordinary circumstances. Please pray for God’s guidance and wisdom in our continued monitoring of this situation.” 

May God guide all of us as He protects and sustains us.

Build bridges of care,

President Maurice