Serving Christ in a Time of Plague
News reports in recent days have brought word of an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and around the world, raising fears of a “pandemic.” For those of us who live in the West, where health care and good nutrition are taken for granted, a plague is a thing virtually unknown. Of course, it was not so for our forefathers in the faith. How did they react in the face of mass outbreaks of disease?
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III, senior pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, has written of how John Calvin courageously faced repeated outbreaks of plague during his ministry in Geneva:
During Calvin’s ministry, Geneva was terrorized by the plague on five occasions. During the first outbreak, in 1542, Calvin personally led visitations into plague-infected homes. Knowing that this effort likely carried a death sentence, the city fathers intervened to stop him because of their conviction that his leadership was indispensable. The pastors continued this heroic effort under Calvin’s guidance, and they recounted the joy of multiple conversions. Many pastors lost their lives in this cause. Unknown to many, Calvin privately continued his own pastoral care in Geneva and other cities where the plague raged. Calvin’s pastoral heart, already evidenced by the provision of hospitals for both citizens and immigrants, was further revealed as he collected the necessary resources to establish a separate hospital for plague victims. When believers died, he preached poignant funeral homilies with passion and personal concern. (John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Discipleship, ed. Burk Parsons [Lake Mary, Fla.: Reformation Trust, 2008], 65)
We would do well to prepare ourselves, like Calvin and the other Geneva pastors, not just to cope but to serve should similar trials come upon us.