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Willie Mays preaches during a livestream service of the Corona Church of Christ.
Screen still via Youtube.

Virtual visit: Corona Church of Christ, California

‘Have you ever thought about what separates people who thrive from those who merely survive?”

That was the intro question on the screen of my latest virtual visit. I’ve heard the question before, but wow! It feels exceedingly relevant in the midst of this pandemic. Only yesterday I scrolled past Facebook rants by my brothers in Christ, decrying the lockdowns as a hoax and belittling those of us who observe them as “sheeple.” (I understand the frustration, friends. But please listen to this sheep when I ask you, in love, to knock it off.)

“Broken, but Still Blessed,” is the title of the sermon I watched during my visit with the Corona Church of Christ in California — probably the most unfortunately named congregation in our brotherhood right now.

Erik Tryggestad

Virtual visit | Erik Tryggestad

“Why do we have to call it CORONA-virus?” That’s a question church members have heard a few times since the pandemic began, said minister’s wife Terri Mays when I interviewed her a couple of months ago for our “Troublesome times” story.

“It’s a badly, poorly named disease,” said Scott Mazo, one of five elders who serve a diverse mix of 120 members — white, black and Latino — in California’s Riverside County, about 30 minutes east of Los Angeles. The church has services in English and Spanish.

Terri and her husband (whose name is Willie Mays, speaking of coincidences) moved to Corona last year from the 1st and Georgia Church of Christ in Chickasha, Okla.

Terri’s a talented a cappella recording artist who sang at Oklahoma Christian University during a ceremony honoring 18 former students who were expelled unjustly from the school 50 years ago over a racially charged incident. She’s sung with vocal groups during racial unity events hosted by my home congregation, the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

“Nobody enjoys bad experiences,” Willie Mays preached during the service I watched. “Few people manage bad experiences in a positive way.”

He drew from the Old Testament story of Ruth, a Moabite woman who chose a life of poverty so she could serve as a caregiver for her mother-in-law. I like the way he equated their experiences with the song “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” by The Ink Spots, featuring Bill Kenny and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald. The blues song was released in 1944, while the world was in the midst of another terrible conflict.

Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine

Maybe our situation right now isn’t quite as bad as Ruth and Naomi’s, and maybe it doesn’t compare to the horrors of World War II. But we’re all in a valley right now, for sure.

Valleys aren’t meant to be places where we stay, brother Mays said. They’re meant to be places where we learn.

One of the most important lessons we should be learning right now is our complete dependence on God. I’ve learned and relearned that lesson many times, from Pakistani refugees in Bangkok and in the war-torn villages of South Sudan.

There’s no shame in seeking refuge in God, brother Mays said. Instead, there’s power. He promises to meet our every need.

For Ruth and Naomi, God provided Boaz. He’ll provide for us, too. Just be patient.

I really appreciated brother Mays’ prayer during the sermon. “As long as you’re on the throne nothing can take us down without your permission,” he prayed. “If it takes us down, you will take us up.”

The church continues to operate the Corona Bible Institute, offering online courses through Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute, where Willie Mays earned a ministry degree. The church’s elders do their best to stay in touch with members, especially elderly ones who aren’t up on the latest technology, Mazo said.

“This isn’t ideal. This isn’t a new paradigm for worship, God meant for us to be together,” elder Mazo told me. But in troublesome times, “God has created a way for us to be the church.”

Corona, CA, USA

Meanwhile, Terri Mays has been on conference calls with the church’s women, discussing books, including one on overcoming anxiety. She’s also posting video Bible lessons for children on the church’s website.

Although much has changed,“what has not changed is the power of God,” she told me. “He still is in control. God is working, whatever the plague.”

Where should I visit next? Leave suggestions in the comments.

Filed under: California California and COVID Californian and covid Church of Christ corona Corona church Coronavirus covid Covid and church COVID-19 Features National virtual visit

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