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COVID-19: Sierra-Canadian pastor hosts worship by telephone

By  | 30 March 2020 at 23:00 | 1034 views

Christians normally sit, stand, or kneel, side-by-side, when they congregate to pray. None of this happened when some of their Sierra Leonean brethren prayed together in Canada recently. They did not hug each other or hold/shake hands either. Instead, they all interacted remotely, via a single (toll free) telephone line. The overwhelming conditions which led to this mode of worship also inspired the meeting. These conditions are the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing and other measures prescribed to fight it.

Amara Bangura is a Sierra Leonean-Canadian who lives and works in Red Deer, Alberta, with his family. The place is about 160 kilometres south of Edmonton. An experienced Registered Nurse (RN), Amara is also a pastor with Foundation of Life Ministries. He currently works with Alberta Health Services (AHS) as a home care case manager. The job deploys him in the frontline of the COVID-19 fight. Regarding the pandemic, the cleric contends that “We have a serious problem and so many questions which even Science cannot answer.” He believes that “Only God has the answer.”

So, Pastor Amara has opened one more battle front against the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, nicknamed Corona Virus and code-named COVID-19. He recently organized a teleconference prayer meeting and invited other members of his Sierra Leonean community to join him. The tele-meeting took place on Friday 27 March 2020. It began a few minutes after 6pm local time and lasted about an hour. Pastor Amara spoke to The Patriotic Vanguard a few hours ahead of the prayer meeting. He refers to Matthew 18: 19-20 in the Bible as he gave the rationale for organizing the teleconference. "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." To the pastor, supplications to God can be more effective when they come from a group.

The meeting started with a handful of worshippers, but more people joined in as the session continued. Taking one area of life at a time, Pastor Amara first asked his congregants to forgive anyone who they feel may have offended them. “Ask God to help you recall people who you believe have offended you, and then forgive them,” he urged. Next, he asked them to pray for God’s forgiveness, for themselves. Citing Bible verses, the cleric admonished his tele-worshippers to praise God aloud and give thanks. There were, also, prayers for families, the Sierra Leonean community here, Canada, and Sierra Leone. “God will eliminate this plague from our land,” the pastor prayed.

Accompanied by choruses of “Amen” and “Alleluia” coming from the other ends of the phone connection, the prayers also focused on diverse forms of leadership. “There were specific supplications for leaders of families (parents); leaders of Sierra Leonean communities everywhere; leaders of the congregants’ respective neighbourhoods (community leagues); leaders of cities and towns (mayors and councillors); and leaders of nations like Canada and Sierra Leone.” We try to pull our leaders down, instead of praying for them,” Pastor Amara stated. The host of the tele-worship session quoted Psalms 107:41, as he led prayers for those now afflicted with COVID-19 and other ailments. “But he lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks.”

Pastor Amara’s spiritual initiative was in direct response to the pandemic and all its snowball effects on people, businesses, and communities all over the world. He is no stranger to telephone conferencing. The cleric has been using this mode to minister to his Christian flock, three times a week, the past few years. “Having tele-conference experience and an existing telephone hotline has proved to be a blessing during this challenging time,” he mused. The pastor says he plans to repeat, even expand, this form of worship in the days ahead.

Alberta has been in public health emergency mode since Tuesday 17 March 2020. There is no official lockdown yet. However, many aspects of public life seem to be grinding to a halt. Schools, daycare centres, recreational facilities, libraries, bookstores, movie theatres, are all closed. The maximum number of people who can be in a group is 15, down from 50 about a week ago. Conferences, weddings and funerals are not exempt from the declaration and should be cancelled.

Also, many offices and commercial enterprises are either closed or are only allowed to take telephone/online orders. Some, like restaurants, may provide curbside pickup services. The frequency of Edmonton’s transit buses and trains have been reduced but rides are free.

Meantime, the pandemic thrusts doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers, along with first responders and providers of other select essential services, in the trenches of the COVID-19 battleground. The upside has been the various ways people show their appreciation of healthcare workers, especially nurses, doctors, first responders and support staff. The symbol of this spirit is Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. Dr. Hinshaw has been so good as the face – and voice - of the province’s healthcare corps. This, by giving regular public briefings. Gradually, she is becoming more of a hero - a celebrity. Fundraising souvenirs that feature the soft-spoken medic are quickly sold out. This and other displays of affection for Dr. Hinshaw underscore the gratitude of Albertans during this public health crisis.