An Outpouring of Love – Christian Lessons from 5 Global Pandemics

Few things have propelled the church into new unreached areas like deadly diseases.

If we look back in history we can see that God can use us in lock-down or not.  Whether you are staying at home or out ministering to others, now is the time to share the name of Jesus like never before.  A world in panic needs believers!

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “At first sight, nothing seems more obvious than that religious persons should care for the sick; no Christian building, except perhaps a church, is more self-explanatory than a Christian hospital. Yet on further consideration the thing is really connected with the undying paradox, the blessedly two-edged character, of Christianity. And if any of us were now encountering Christianity for the first time he would be vividly aware of this paradox.”

The cross – perched high atop the hospital – is a light of hope for those who are sick, but is that hope relying on God or man for healing? That is the paradox, right? If we believe in God to heal us, then why do we need hospitals and if we need hospitals for healing, then why the cross?

A simple look at Christianity answers this question. ALL HEALING COMES FROM GOD.

God has the power to heal supernaturally in every situation, but for reasons that are deeper than this article, God also chooses to move through man to reveal His power, love, and mercy.

I have personally seen it so many times on the field while working with Back to Jerusalem Chinese missionaries.

I can remember in 2004, when a deadly tsunami slammed into Indonesia killing thousands of people. When I arrived, there were still dead bodies decaying in the tropical sun. The overwhelming number of aid workers were from Christian agencies setting up medical tents to help the survivors.  They worked.  They served.  They preached.

When I labored in the leper colonies of North Sumatra, I saw that it was the Christians that risked their lives to provide medicine and aid.  They worked.  They served.  They preached.

When China was rocked by the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, again it was Christian aid agencies that provided the most help, by sending medical personnel from around the world.  They worked.  They….eh – you get the idea.

Yes, of course there were government, Buddhist, and Muslim agencies as well, but honestly the percentages of these aid groups were only a small fraction of the Christian aid response. And should I even mention the lack of atheist aid agencies represented during times of disasters?

Christians have always been a source of hope during times of disease and plague. Churches and hospitals have both, together, been a beacon of healing that Christians have used to further the name of Christ. When most people are trying to keep themselves safe from disease and disaster, Christians risk their lives to save others. The Christian ethic is based on our Founder who had compassion on the crippled, made the leper clean, and healed the sick.

When dealing with the coronavirus, we would do well to remember that this is not the first disease to threaten the populations around the world.  If you are serving the sick or praying for the sick – you are a light in the darkness.

The bedrock of Christian growth around the world has been coupled with plague and disaster. God uses the hardest times to reach the hardest areas.  Today is no different.

Here are 5 times in history when God moved through Christians during global disease outbreaks.

165 AD – Antonine Plague – killed 10 million people throughout the Roman Empire and led to the wide spread of Christianity. Christians cared for the sick and offered a spiritual model of sacrifice and mercy from a loving God rather than the anger and silence of the pagan gods. Irenaeus, for example, was a Christian from Turkey who traveled to preach the Gospel in Lyon, France. When he first moved to Lyon before the plague, there were only a few Christians, however during the plague, Irenaeus preached the Gospel and saw many people come to Christ. By the time the plague was over, there were more than 200,000 new believers in Lyon!

Christians prayed for the sick, served in hospitals, and gave hope during the deadly plague and it led to one of the largest growth periods for Christianity in European history.

541 – Plague of Justinian – one of the deadliest pandemics in history with as many as 100 million people dead. This plague persisted in one form or another for about 200 years. If the Justinian Plague didn’t kill you, it made you wish you were dead. Those that survived had to live with painful tumors on the groin; some on one side, others on both sides. The groin swelled, swelled again, filled with water and creating deep puss filled ulcers, which leaked blood, pus, and water, night and day. Anyone with this plague had to be immediately removed from society.

No one wanted to leave their home – not even to bury their dead loved ones. Dead bodies were left to rot in the streets with no one brave enough to touch them.

One believer known as John of Ephesus was known to pray for the sick and see them healed. He bravely went into the most infected regions preaching the message of repentance and saw thousands saved.

1357 – Black Death – was the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of up to 200 million people. It is estimated that Black Death killed more than half of Europe’s population.

Black death was brutal. It started with a high fever, head aches, muscle pains, nausea, and vomiting. A painful rash would break out all over the body. Open wounds the size of apples would begin to appear on the groins, neck, and armpits which oozed with pus and blood. Fingers and toes would turn black with dead skin. This would follow by the vomiting of blood as if everything on the inside was coming out.

80 percent would die within eight days.

Christians wrote to Martin Luther and told him to run away from the disease, but Martin Luther did not. He replied that he would indeed take necessary precautions, but “Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry and pastors must remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from Christ, ‘A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.’”

Luther continued, “Likewise, paid public servants such as city physicians, city clerks, and constables, or whatever their titles, should not flee unless they provide capable substitutes who are acceptable to their employer.”

“What would Jesus do?” Luther asked simply. “If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on Him, very well, you have your sick neighbour close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him…”

1820 – Cholera Pandemic – Hundreds of thousands died from the Asian Cholera Pandemic of the early 1800s. As cities began to grow, the water sanitation grew worse and worse. The disease started of with rapid heart rate and loss of skin elasticity. Acute diarhea would follow along with dry mucous membranes and low blood pressure. Dehydration quickly set in and if not treated, would lead to shock and death in a matter of hours.

This is when Robert Morrison and Dr. John Livingston moved to southern China and started a hospital to treat the sick. This hospital effort helped sick Chinese from all over the country and aided in sharing the Gospel. It also provided Robert Morrison with a platform in China as he worked on translating the entire Bible into the Chinese language.

1904 – Bubonic Plague – In the early 1900s, South Africa was plagued by a deadly disease that rarely left survivors. The disease started off with a high fever and chills and then turned into muscle cramps and violent seizures. Boils about the size of large eggs formed in the armpits or neck and seeped with puss and blood. The toes, fingers, lips, and tip of the nose would turn black as the skin would begin to decompose even as the person was sill alive. Eventually the patient would cough up blood, go into coma and eventually die.

One evangelist known as John G. Lake felt God call him to leave his home and travel to South Africa during this dangerous time to share the Gospel message. Lake preached the Good News and prayed for the sick. Locals were confused as to why he did not catch the disease even though he did not use any protection while he ministered. “It is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” he replied.

He is known to take the germs from the mouth of a foaming patient dying of the plague and then look at the germs in a microscope. The germs were dead! John explained that the disease could not live on him because the power of Christ is stronger in him than the disease in his hand. In another amazing testimony, John G. Lake asked doctors to bring him a man with inflammation in the bone. He asked them to take their instruments and attach it to his leg while he prayed for healing. Then he asked them what they saw taking place on their instruments. They replied that every cell was responding positively! John G. Lake replied, “That is God’s divine science!”

The Word of God has spread rapidly around the world because of the work that Christians have done during pandemics and plagues. Nelson Bell, the father-in-law to the great evangelist Billy Graham was a missionary doctor in China for many years. Ruth Bell, Billy Graham’s wife, was born and raised at a mission clinic in China as her father provided medical services to the Chinese during some of the worst disease outbreaks.

Perhaps he summed up the need for Christians best when he said, “Only those who are prepared to die are really prepared to live.”