Mon, 06 Jul 2020

US Korean Churches Fight Anxiety in Times of Coronavirus

Voice of America
28 Feb 2020, 11:05 GMT+10

Some 200 people gathered at the Shining Star Community Church in Fairfax, Virginia, for a Wednesday evening worship.

As they begin to observe Lent, a 40-day time of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter, church members were reminded of those affected by the coronavirus around the world.

"Let us pray for Korea, China, and the world suffering from the coronavirus. Let's open our hearts and eyes towards the Lord in this difficult time," said Sangeun Oh, who led the prayer that day.

Many members of the church are heavy-hearted with the news of a rampant spread of the new coronavirus in South Korea, which is experiencing the world's second-worst outbreak.

Life in the epicenter

Some members of the church have family in Daegu, South Korea, where hundreds of new coronavirus cases are confirmed every day.

Hyunjoo Sung, who frequently speaks with her sister in Daegu, said streets are empty and shops and restaurants are shuttered. People are forced to shop online for daily necessities, but deliveries are backed up for a week.

"It's only been a week since the situation aggravated, but if the crisis persists then it will become a big problem. ... There were also talks of locking down the city, but the residents resisted strongly. A lockdown will definitely lead to a collective resistance. It will not be an easy decision," said Sung.

With the elderly particularly susceptible to the coronavirus, Unkyung Seh is worried about her 72-year-old father in Daegu. But she's somewhat relieved that her father had already stocked up on food and other supplies.

"From rice and snacks to instant noodles and bottled water, my father has stocked up a two-month supply of food. He is always meticulous. ... But he can't meet with his friends and is confined to his home all the time. That's what hurts me the most," said Seh.

Others in the church had to change their travel plans at the last minute with the sudden spread of the virus in Korea.

Sonkap Seo had surgery at the Eunpyeong St. Mary's Hospital in Seoul last November. Her scheduled checkup is delayed indefinitely, as the hospital closed after becoming the biggest source of coronavirus spread in Seoul.

"I had to get a checkup three months after the surgery but the hospital is now completely shut down," said Seo.

Praying to end coronavirus

The Shining Star Community Church is among many Korean American churches in Virginia that started interceding for those affected by the coronavirus.

Hundreds gather to early morning prayer meetings before starting their daily routines.

"Through prayers, we can encourage those impacted by the coronavirus not to be afraid but overcome and conquer," said Eunsik Kwak, an elder of the church.

Other Korean megachurches also told VOA that the coronavirus is one of the biggest prayer requests. Nearly three-quarters of Korean Americans identify as Christians and many show great passion in their faith.

They're praying for the medical professionals at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus, and for the Christians in Korea, many of whom stopped worshiping in church buildings and turned to online streaming.

Health precautions

Unlike Chinese churches across the United States, which saw attendance drop as much as 50%, Korean churches saw a minimal decline. But Korean churches are implementing safety precautions.

The Korean Central Presbyterian Church with some 5,000 members, and Open Door Presbyterian Church with 3,500 members told VOA they issued notices regarding the coronavirus: Whoever visited Korea must refrain from attending church services and watch online streaming for two weeks.

Yongwoo Lim, Senior Pastor of the Shining Star Community Church, told the congregation "starting this week, I will not shake hands with the church members. We need to be mindful of hygiene."

These churches are also considering ways to provide help to the people of South Korea.

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