When a Pandemic Sparks Scripture Engagement
By Renée Griffith | Posted In Personal Stories
When Jeanita Morris started sending encouraging Scriptures to her isolated friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, she didn’t know God was preparing her to be a small group pastor.
Due to restrictions on in-person gatherings, Morris’s home church temporarily shut its doors early on in the pandemic, so she reached out to people virtually, much like countless others around the world—but her contacts were primarily widows, as is she. “Some are widowed, some are older, some are homebound; all of these women were isolated because of the pandemic. In speaking to them, I sensed an urgent need to stay connected.”
Morris set up a Zoom call and began studying the book of John with her friends. “Reading directly from John’s gospel seemed to me a perfect way to hear the Word and build relationships,” says Morris. “As we talked, I was surprised that many of these women from several denominations weren’t aware that the Bible could be studied in depth. They expressed that before our Zoom calls, they thought it was up to church leaders—not the churchgoers—to read and explain Scripture.”
The Zoom calls allowed her friends freedom to ask questions, discuss texts, and challenge one another. “I struggled with feelings of inadequacy since I wasn’t trained to study Scripture,” admits Morris, “but because church wasn’t meeting physically, I was forced to overcome these feelings.” She turned to small groups pastor Dylan King who would help answer questions and would point to other Scriptures for her to share with her seeking friends.
“Jeanita began speaking into a setting in which the listeners had only heard religious leaders interpret Scripture,” Pastor Dylan reflects, “and for the first time in their lives, they were reading, gathering context, and deriving meaning for themselves. It’s pretty powerful.”
Morris continues: “When we’d meet again, I shared what I’d learned from Pastor about the Word, and it always astounded us all that biblical truth prevailed through denominations and culture—elements that could have been barriers. Regardless of our different backgrounds, we have found that truth has brought us unity, not division. It came to the point where it wasn’t just me teaching; it was truly a group learning together and teaching each other.”
Unity prevailed and word spread. Soon Morris’s friends-of-friends asked to join the hour-long Zoom Bible study, and the numbers grew weekly. Whereas five women originally met weekly, now each week there are thirty to forty women on the Zoom call. Some have prayed on Zoom to receive salvation, making a decision for Christ. “These women are developing a personal relationship with Jesus—something they never knew was possible,” marvels Morris.
Even beyond the Zoom calls, the women have made themselves available to one another—offering true community. Morris continues, “Women began sharing physical needs, and we are more than willing to pick up groceries for one another and make safe drop-offs on the doorsteps of those who are ill.” They have created additional Zoom calls for coffee and socialization, and other calls to listen to worship music. “We really do have a sisterhood now,” says Morris, “where true sincerity and concern exists. And it all began when we started studying the Bible together.”
Lead Pastor Chris Frye is ecstatic with the development of this community: “What’s so amazing is that the passion of these elderly women has caught on to the younger generations, and now on and even off these calls, older women are mentoring younger ones. This group just keeps growing. They are supporting one another, ministering to single moms, and together walking through all that the pandemic throws at them. These small groups are not just something these women attend as an addendum to our service; this is their church.”
Before the pandemic, New Hope Eunice had small groups, “but they were not as strong as we wanted them to be,” says Pastor Chris. “Since being able to reopen our church doors at the beginning of the summer, we have been more focused on small groups and training small group leaders. What God has done through Mrs. Jeanita’s group is a model and glimpse of what we believe God has for the future of New Hope: we want it to be a church so strong that Sunday gatherings are just a celebration of all the ministry taking place throughout the week!” This has always been the hope, but the church is now seeing it come to pass. Mrs. Jeanita and Pastor Dylan have led the way.
Pastor Chris has plans for New Hope to continue an emphasis on small group ministry in the coming year, and he plans on using Bible Engagement Project (BEP) curriculum to do it. “We now have 40 small group leaders and 60 percent of our church’s participation in these small groups, and BEP’s age-aligned curriculum gives me the ability to directly equip all of these leaders, so matter what ages they lead. I know that if these leaders have questions like Mrs. Jeanita did, that in addition to support from church staff and other small group leaders, BEP has many resources—small group leader training, facilitator guides, and more—that can equip them to be the best leaders they can possibly be.”
“I hope that this experience will help others realize that they, too, can connect and build relationships,” says Morris. Sometimes the journey to ministry starts with a text message and an open heart to understand the Bible.