Easter Sunday 2022 falls on April 17 this year.
For Christians living in Shanghai, this Easter Sunday meant the same as this March: continuity of lockdown, mass nucleic acid tests, food rush, and the wait for news about resumptions.
But what was different this Easter was the content posted on their WeChat Moments with beautiful pictures full of bright and hopeful celebrations of the resurrection. Many people celebrated Easter with other believers online or with their families at home - a day of great significance to them.
On March 1, a local COVID-19 positive patient was found in Shanghai. Then in mid-March, some communities in Shanghai were locked down and controlled as early as possible due to the pandemic. On March 27, taking Huangpu River as the boundary, Shanghai adopted the “half-city” mode of taking turns to seal and control for nucleic acid tests. From March 27 to April 1, Pudong and Puxi were locked down one after another. Up to now, some people have not been out of their residences for nearly 40 days at most, while some for nearly 20 days at least.
Life: I experienced God’s grace through food supplies.
A female believer surnamed Chen lives in Huinan Town, Pudong New Area. Hers was one of the first communities in Shanghai to be closed down in March. Since mid-March, she has been unable to get out of her community. Although it is only herself and her daughter, food has gradually become a concern for her.
Looking back on her life in the past month, Chen said, “I am very grateful as I think I have experienced God’s grace several times this month. I ate out noodles one day, but the next day supplies arrived.” Just before the lockdown, when she prayed for the Russian-Ukrainian war, she thought that Ukraine was a wheat exporter and their war might lead to a world food crisis, so she placed an order online to buy more than half a dozen kilos of rice. At that time, there happened to be a female Christian who sent her some sea fish from another location. “I planned to freeze it in the refrigerator for a few days and send it to my father in other places, but the community was sealed before I mailed it. Looking back like this, everything is by the grace of God.”
She works for a charity organization in which the people they serve are all adults in good condition. “There is mostly no influence on the charity.” However, she knew that her colleagues in Puxi were encountering difficulties. “Volunteers can’t get through now, so only one staff member is there.”
Faith: Online services to pray and encourage each other
Elder Zhou lives in Puxi District. Before the lockdown of Puxi and Pudong on April 1, he lived in a community that had been free for a short time, so he quickly went door-to-door to deliver food to some Christians who were short of food in Puxi.
Before this outbreak, believers seldom gathered in person on Sundays. After the outbreak, all communities were closed and controlled. Around April 1, Pudong and Puxi kept indoors, which made it difficult to meet even inside one community. This is a situation that most churches and Christians in Shanghai have to face now.
Unable to meet in person, Zhou met church members on the Internet, studying scriptures and encouraging each other with prayers. One female Christian that he nurtured said, “Instead of being affected, the church seems resurgent. Being sealed at home, believers can participate in various training courses, having time to study basic theology in the evening or pray together in the morning.”
“The Easter service was also held online,” Elder Zhou said.
But there were also some Christians whose confidence was affected by the status quo. He explained, “The pandemic has brought a lot of pressure on life, and it is inconvenient to buy food. Most believers who rent houses work in private companies, and there is no income if they don't work but stay at home.”
Pastoral care: the need for spiritual and psychological care has surged
Living in Songjiang District, Rev. Li helped deliver food and cared for some elderly people in the community during the occasional resumptions of the community before April 1. There are now 310,000 elderly people living alone in Shanghai, which is a large group that needs care the most.
He solved some problems in his WeChat account that many people would face during the period of isolation. For example, "What should I do if I get more and more anxious?", "What if the parent-child relationship is tense?", "What if the relationship between husband and wife is tense?", and "How can suffering be treated?"
Jiang, a male Christian engaged in a cultural ministry, shared on his own official WeChat account that many people ask him on how to avoid listlessness and collapse after a long period of home confinement. In particular, he suggested that believers, of course, first pray and read the scriptures. At this time, they could practice living in prayer completely and pray for all the needy. Then, if the family members did not live together, of course, they should try their best to solve the minimum living needs such as arranging their own food. Even though outings were banned, they could try their best to care for and help those in special need (some believers contacted each other to work voluntarily to help several needy people). Then be patient and read excellent literary works or listen to classical music, he added.
“Try to read classics and don’t get caught up in bad online junk, which will aggravate mental stress,” Jiang stressed.
Meditation: Seeking grace from adversity.
A female Christian with the surname of Luo, who lives in the urban area, suddenly had a fever on the evening of April 9. At that time, the antigen test was still coming out negative. She thought that it was just because she was too tired recently that she caught a common cold, then began to stay in bed. Unexpectedly, two days later, with abnormal nucleic acid test result, she started to experience a sore throat and chills when her fever just dropped.
Soon after, she received a call from the CDC that she needed to be transferred to the cubical hospital. This made her feel most worried about her sleep. She felt anxious about being unable to sleep well when she went to the hospital. That night, she could not sleep well because of anxiety, so she asked some familiar believers to pray for her together. She herself calmed down, feeling the comfort brought by her faith. “I read a verse: The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. She hoped God would go ahead of her, so she could go there to just sleep and read some books to have a relaxation.”
When she relaxed, at one o'clock in the morning on April 12, after the heavy rain ended, she was informed to leave for the cubical hospital immediately. “My biggest worry before was that too many people there might stop me from sleeping well. After I came here, I didn’t expect that there would be a room of four, so I would get more rest in the hospital. I have a positive attitude and eat well. I expect to turn negative in the tests as soon as possible in a week or so.”
In the hospital, she had room to walk around. After meditating much while walking, she neglected the desire for fame and fortune, fears, gains and losses that she valued before, having a deeper understanding of the essence of life.
On Easter, she shared with other believers virtually that she could not say that all she was experiencing was good but “a kind of suffering”. Yet “seeking God’s grace from suffering” was the lesson she learned from this experience.
Love: Be a good neighbor to the 310,000 elderly people living alone and migrant workers.
With the extension of the closure time, the elderly have become one of the most concerned groups in this city. The official WeChat account of Daily People posted an article on April 11, "For Shanghai, one of the earliest cities in China to enter an aging society, '317,400 elderly people living alone have become one of the most vulnerable groups in the current pandemic in Shanghai.'
On April 8, an article titled “Helping the Aging-Friendly Community” received the highest hits. The author is a lady who was born after the 1990s and lives in an aging community in Shanghai. Living by snapping up and hoarding supplies, she wrote down her own experiences. “The 93-year-old grandmother living alone next door cooks rice congee every day, and the vegetables have long since run out.” “Grandma downstairs has cooked a pot of vegetable rice which she has eaten six times this day.” There are a huge amount of requests for help written in this article because many elderly people don’t know how to use smartphones, let alone online shopping and group messaging. Since the closure, buying medicine is the most difficult practical problem. Therefore, many volunteers and young people have come forward to help these lonely neighbors around them.
At the same time, the situation of some migrant workers working in the suburbs of Shanghai is also worthy of attention. Around April 15, a lot of official WeChat account articles about this group caused a screen hit, saying that ordinary people in the pandemic helped each other and kept warm in various ways. But “there is a group of people who contribute a lot to the pandemic but have never been noticed. These are the migrant workers who build the hospital working hard during the day and lying on the sandy dusty floor at night.” Despite being the builders and supporters of the city, they are the most easily overlooked group.
“There is an old man who needs flour, vegetables, and milk. Can you help him?”
“Where is the neighborhood in Shanghai?”
“What is the name of the community?”
“OK, this will be arranged in the afternoon.”
It was mid-April when several Christians spontaneously launched a WeChat group to care and help each other, which is not affiliated with any organization. All believers in Shanghai can join the group by scanning the QR code. Some people might send out some information similar to the above kind of help, and some people might respond and give help. If there is no direct help, many people will forward it to the WeChat Moment to find someone who can provide indirect help.
Amid the COVID spike in Shanghai, some elderly people in many old communities can’t grab vegetables with their phones, lack food and materials, and some patients with chronic diseases lack ordinary life-saving medicines. Many Christians have taken action and are willing to help them with love. People can send help messages in this group, and those who have the ability can help others. The focus of the group is on migrant workers who can’t go home and have to live on streets.”
They will update the help information in real time. There is verified information including the name, time, address, and other basic information of the people in need, showing whether there is any assistance or not. And they will then turn each call into a specific task.
“Just do what you have to do”, said one of the members who urged others to help those around them in need, or just drop off food packages in the same community, or help buy medicines.
“Now anyone who sends an encouraging message and forwards a message asking for help is a lovely person,” a male Christian surnamed Li commented on these love actions.
"Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire," quoted by Luo Xiang, a jurist and professor, when he forwarded a message of “Urgent Need for Volunteers Delivering Medicine” on April 16.
- Translated by Charlie Li