Despite the limitations that online communication places on fellowship, some have chosen to look for ways to be intentional about staying in touch despite the physical separation, and in some cases, the quarantine has afforded chances to connect that might not have been so easily available before COVID-19.
At Travis AFB, TSgt Ryan Padgett, USAF, said virtual meetings have become a way of life for many, but it has also opened up a unique capability to meet up with old connections. “We have rarely stayed in close touch with many of the folks that have come through our ministry and PCSed, but now, via Zoom, we’ve been able to connect back with them! Maybe when we’re all able to meet traditionally again, we might have someone put their phone up and activate Zoom for anyone that’s TDY, deployed, or has since left, but still wants to stay connected.”
LTC Jim Harbridge, USA (Ret.), and his wife, Christina, are the OCF Field Staff reps at Leavenworth. For Harbridge and his team of volunteers, learning how to maximize technology to connect people and provide resources has been essential during the pandemic. Harbridge has hosted Discipleship Training Breakfasts and Neighborhood Bible Studies on Zoom, collaborated with other ministry leaders (Youth for Christ, Men of the Chapel, Awana) to learn and understand the technology for use with their ministries, and developed Leavenworth OCF’s social media to encourage and connect people.
“We have been more deliberate in connecting with people. Reaching out via email and phone to people in our book of ministry to whom we had not had the chance to reach out yet. We have taken blessing bags of candy and encouraging Scripture and delivered it to our regular partners and supporters.”
Harbridge says this is just a way to show them that “in the midst of uncertainty, we love them and are praying for them.”
“We have tried to point people in our own neighborhood to God by leveraging neighborhood driveway chalk events to share Scripture. This developed into ‘Driveway Devotionals’ on social media after we had overwhelming positive feedback from neighbors.”
He’s quick to point out another item of praise, too: “Also, my daughter accepted Christ this week.”
Harbridge’s deliberation to connect with people and stay in touch with them is something others have underscored as well.
“The importance of more frequent interaction becomes apparent. More texts, calls, emails, and snail mail help fill the void along with online video calls,” said Arnold of OCF Pensacola.
PK Carlton, Associate Field Staff at USAFA OCF, highlighted the “passion of our ministry team to invest in the cadets, check on them, invest in them, love on them, and work with them to disciple them. It has been neat to watch and see their hearts for their cadets.”
Maj Rob Crespo, USAF, leads an OCF group in the Hampton Roads Region that is a mix of military, former military, officer and enlisted, and civilians. He says the greatest challenge has been keeping tabs on people to see how they are “really” doing.
“There are so many non-verbal cues that are easily missed. I believe we must ask tough, pointed, and challenging questions with our Christian brothers and sisters. This will help expose hidden sins, depression, and anxieties. Then we can begin godly accountability, encouragement, and support.”
Capt Kaitlyn Sprague, USAF, says not only has she been blessed to have a job and job security during a time when many people are in a much more precarious situation, but she also has been blessed with all the time at home to spend with her husband, Matt, also an Air Force captain.
“We both just got back from a deployment right before everything locked down, so this has been a great time to reconnect and enjoy spending a lot of time together. It’s also provided a lot of time to call friends and family and check up on people that I don’t get to talk to on a regular basis.”
That’s not to say this season hasn’t been fraught with challenges for Sprague, especially during the stay-home restrictions.
“There is so much uncertainty; it feels like a state of in-between. I should be working, but I can’t. I want to enjoy the rest, but sometimes I feel bored. I feel pulled by a lot of different emotions and no one knows how long it’s going to go on,” she said. “I think when life is rolling along smoothly it can be easy to forget our utter dependency on God, but disaster, hardship, struggle, suffering, and lockdown are a break from the routine and wake us up to the reality that in hardship and in blessing, we deeply need Him. And the beauty is that He’s here in the hardship, and therefore, there are little bits of good and gratitude when things are hard, if we’re willing to look for them.”