Pastor has ear of the powerful
NEW YORK — Al Taylor, pastor at Infinity Mennonite Church, sees the coronavirus as a trial that is growing the church, somewhat like the persecution of the early church in Jerusalem.
Taylor has seen “a great response” from people beyond Infinity’s membership who have asked for prayer and joined members in Bible classes, prayer and times of spiritual encouragement, which the church has provided online three times every weekday.
Worshiping remotely has extended Infinity’s outreach. Compared to a pre-COVID average attendance of 30 to 40, the May 3 service was viewed online 164 times. Weekday online participants average 15 per session.
Two Infinity members have had COVID-19 symptoms and recovered. One lost her husband to the virus. He was a Seventh-day Adventist in his 50s. Taylor assisted in preparations for his burial in April.
A member of the New York State Assembly, Taylor observes the impact of faith on elected officials. “Sometimes, even in government, people want a prayer,” he said.
He is working to get a COVID-19 testing site in his district, which includes Harlem and Washington Heights. He has advocated for businesses in his district to get government stimulus money.
As a member of the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council, Taylor has access to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. The New York Police Department trusted him to help defuse a potentially violent situation when 300 to 400 mourners gathered where a young man had been killed by gunfire.
“The police exercised extreme caution, and we had to remind the mourners of social distancing,” Taylor said. Though tensions were high, the gathering remained peaceful.
Infinity volunteers deliver 1,000 meals a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “People are asking, ‘Can I give? Can I give?’ ” he said. “We are evangelizing! . . . To God be the glory!”
Research doctor takes her skills to front line
Maria Morban’s heart not only pumps blood, it radiates love.
A member of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship, she answered the call for doctors and nurses to care for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Her words link medical knowledge with spiritual insight.
“Receiving more than what we were giving gives the greatest satisfaction to the soul, to the heart, to that part of the middle mediastinum that the anatomy and cardiology books do not describe, but it exists,” she said.
“The most sublime and beautiful thing is to help those patients isolated from the love and care of relatives due to this pandemic.”
With an M.D. degree from the Universidad Autónoma in the Dominican Republic, Morban is a research coordinator at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Upper Manhattan. She works on studies related to the genetics of chronic kidney diseases.
During the coronavirus crisis she’s helped technicians program the dialysis machines in the intensive care unit, since many patients affected by the coronavirus experience kidney failure.
Morban and her brother live in the Bronx, and she takes the train to the hospital. She was given the option to live in an apartment near the hospital but considered that unnecessary.
Working with COVID-19 patients “gave me a very slight fear, but not because of infection,” she said. If she got sick, it would deny her the opportunity to “help my hospital, my department, our patients, our community.”
For several years, Morban has given back to Camp Deerpark, the church camp owned by the New York Council of Mennonite Churches. At the camp she found happiness and renewal during a difficult time in her life and “began my story as a Mennonite Christian.”
Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship welcomed her as a member four years ago. Now a deacon, she serves the congregation at special services and visits shut-ins virtually during the pandemic.
Of her work in the center of the coronavirus pandemic, Morban said, “What I liked the most was the compassion for others that I saw among the doctors, nurses, technicians and all the health workers.”
On April 23, Morban photographed a hospital corridor with empty stretchers, indicating that for the first time since she started volunteering the hospital was turning the corner on admitting new patients.
The hospital staff sing or play recorded music, such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” when a recovered patient is wheeled down the corridor to be discharged.
Her advice during the pandemic: “Follow the rules. Do not go out. . . . Don’t just fill yourself with the bad news, look for the good news as well. When you look at the statistics of how many have died, look at how many have survived.”
Garifuna pastor ‘not allowing this to keep us down’
Sometimes you get what you ask for, but it can come as an unwelcome gift.
Andrew Nunez, pastor of Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries in New York City and a leader of the Garifuna Council of Evangelical Churches, traveled to Belize before the coronavirus pandemic restricted travel to prepare for a convention scheduled for July.
“I came back so tired I wanted a month break,” he said.
But now, during his stay-at-home break, he is busier than ever. His church meets online four times a week for worship, Bible studies, prayer and “spiritual warfare.”
No members have gotten sick, but some former members and relatives of members have died. Members have been complying with social distancing and stay-at-home orders and “not allowing this to keep us down,” Nunez said. They don’t panic but try to be wise and knowledgeable and keep praying.
A few members are able to work from home. Others are out of work. The congregation has applied for a grant from the COVID-19 Congregational Relief Fund established by Everence, Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Nunez has tried to find help for not only his congregation but for “different churches across the board.” He distributed information and searched for government resources.
Family members living in Belize called Nunez when they heard the bad news from New York City. Nunez might have been safer if he had stayed in Belize. Within five days of the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the government shut the country down, closed borders, enforced curfew and allowed only emergency travel. People returning to Belize from the U.S. were the first COVID-19 patients there. The country has had only 18 confirmed cases and two deaths.
If travel from New York City —the main place Garifuna people live outside of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua — becomes safe before July, the international convention may go on.
Nunez invites people to pray with him and the Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries congregation for those in New York and worldwide who are mourning and suffering from COVID-19 and its economic impact.