Like an uncontrollable wildfire, COVID-19 rapidly spread around the globe this year, causing all our lives to change. However, I quickly learned that there is power in God’s promises to overcome any global catastrophe.
As Easter drew near, my mother kept me informed on the family in Canada and how all were faring. We were particularly concerned with the health of my grandmother, Doris Chin, and my aunt, Dianne Chin, both of whom had spent their lives practicing the love of God in easing the suffering of others. My grandmother contracted COVID-19 first, followed by my aunt, who was also my grandmother’s daughter and primary caregiver.
Doctors expected my grandmother to live for only a few more days. My aunt, however, was expected to make a full recovery. The morning of April 10, 2020, while I was at the Mandan Seventh-day Church making final preparations for my online Sabbath message, I received a phone call from my mother. Nothing could have prepared me for what she said. My aunt had died overnight while home alone. I stood there in disbelief; she was supposed to have recovered!
One of my uncles hurriedly organized a Zoom meeting Sabbath afternoon for an impromptu memorial and to discuss plans for a more formal service for Dianne in the future. The shock was fresh for everyone, particularly Dianne’s only daughter, who had found her in the morning. Over the course of our meeting, the mood began to positively change as people began to open up and share memories and pictures.
The rest of the weekend progressed without incident until April 13, Easter Monday, when I received another phone call from my mother. This time it was to tell me my grandmother had died that morning. I had anticipated this call, but not so soon following Dianne’s death. Later that day, my uncle contacted me to ask if I would conduct a funeral and graveside service for my grandmother via Zoom. Though we were both treading on new turf, it wasn’t long before we had the plans finalized.
On the day of the funeral, two family members with iPads were at the funeral home in Canada to broadcast the service to the family who connected through Zoom. We had an open casket for people to view my grandmother before the service officially began. It was odd looking at her lying there, motionless, through a computer screen. I had last spoken with her two weeks before her death.
When the time arrived for the service to start, I was queued to begin and the Lord helped me conduct my first virtual funeral and graveside service, all from the sanctuary of the Mandan Church. It was an amazing feeling to connect with everyone this way.
More than 60 people had connected to Zoom to participate in the service; people from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. As the service ended, the mood began to lighten as family and friends shared stories and fun memories of both Doris and Dianne. They were visiting like they hadn’t done in years. We each were able to see into the lives and homes of those who had connected. God was using technology to draw people close during the lockdown, enabling them to heal.
A virtual funeral was definitely not the same as a traditional one, but our Savior — in His unfailing love — provided another way to connect during this difficult time. I could sense the Holy Spirit healing my family and friends simultaneously, in each home.
Through COVID-19, lockdowns, social distancing and masks, I have seen that God’s promises are as powerful today as they ever were: “And we are conscious that all things are working together for good to those who have love for God, and have been marked out by His purpose,” (Rom. 8:28, BBE).
— Harold Chin pastors the Mandan Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mandan, North Dakota; this article originally appeared on the Mid-America Union's Outlook magazine website.