In 2009 Andrzej and Monika Kempczyński were sent by Grace Baptist Chapel in Tottenham to plant a church in their native Poland. They continue serving faithfully in this ministry in Legionowo, a large town about 23km north of Warsaw. Andrzej reports on how God has been at work among them, despite the impact of coronavirus.
On 4 March the government announced that Poland had a Covid-19 ‘patient zero’ in hospital. A week later wide-ranging restrictions were introduced. Schools, theatres, cinemas, clubs and concerts were closed. Employers were encouraged to introduce working from home where possible. Churches were not closed but the government set a limit on attendees, and other public events were cancelled. So we unanimously decided to cancel our Sunday services and prayer meetings and all other activities and move to the internet. That coming Sunday we were planning to have a baptismal interview with Kamil – a man who had recently started attending.
A lot to learn
We didn’t have any experience with online services so we had to learn quickly. We needed to work out how to organise live events on Facebook and how to use Zoom for prayer meetings. Using these tools was not a problem for some of us, but there were a few who struggled. We set up a Messenger group on Facebook to keep in touch with all those who attended the services, informing them about prayer requests and prayer times, and providing the links to Zoom meetings.
We soon started getting used to the new situation. We had to. We adopted a new form of Sunday worship without singing. Our service consisted of prayer, reading of a Psalm, prayer, reading of a chapter of Ruth, short encouragement from the passage we had read, then reading of the sermon passage, sermon and final prayer. At first there were a few more viewers than our normal chapel congregation. But the numbers of viewers grew significantly over the weeks; some services had a couple of hundred views. We also noticed that sermons on our YouTube channel were being watched more – before the epidemic we usually had only a couple of views per sermon, but during that time the viewing figures increased into double-digits. We also held a few online sessions of our ‘School of Systematic Theology’, and again, lockdown has meant more people are attending.
But after a few weeks of this we were missing ‘real’ meetings with people so much, and we longed to gather again in the chapel. So we were glad to hear that from 26 April our government would lift some restrictions, allowing churches to reopen in a limited way. That Sunday only six of us could be there for the service, wearing masks and sitting at a distance from each other. We kept the order of service we had used online, but after the sermon and prayer we switched off the live broadcast so we could sing and pray together. Of course there was no tea and biscuits after the service! – but we spent an hour or two talking, just as we used to do.
As more normality returned we could move ahead with Kamil’s baptism. After Sunday service on 17 May we held the members’ business meeting. Kamil joined us to be interviewed, giving his testimony of conversion and answering various questions. We agreed to baptise him and receive him into membership. So on Sunday, 21 June, with much thanksgiving and joy, we baptised Kamil in the lake near Legionowo.
Meetings in the chapel are a little different now: we check body temperature, wash hands and wear masks – and there is no eating allowed. We have resumed going out with the literature table. And slowly all the people who were coming before the coronavirus outbreak are attending services again.
A time for maturity and patience
We have seen one troubling issue in the wider evangelical scene in Poland, where the virus has caused some division. There have been heated debates on the internet, with Christians writing very strongly and ungraciously. Those who wanted to follow government instructions and who quickly moved church activities online were attacked and accused of unbelief, ‘easy’ Christianity, and of doing the devil’s job. The people who opposed the government’s advice believed that the coronavirus epidemic was a myth introduced by the government to control society through a vaccination programme. Some Christians believed other conspiracy theories, including that the 5G network is the real cause of the pandemic. But as much as we could, we encouraged people to have a proper Christian attitude towards brothers and sisters who hold differing opinions. Thanks be to our Lord that this heated debate cooled down quickly. But it shows us that we need to be more mature in our Christian faith and practice, and that in difficult times we must support each other and not attack each other.
Has there been any good thing coming from the coronavirus epidemic? There is much more traffic on Christian websites and more people are interested in online courses such as Christianity Explored. But we don’t yet see that change in the ‘real’ world. Since most of the restrictions were lifted we have tried to organise Bible studies and Christian courses and invite people to the chapel, and we resumed our literature table in the town centre. But it seems to us that there is no interest in spiritual things at all. It’s even worse than it was before the outbreak of the epidemic. So maybe we need to wait a little longer to see the change in people’s hearts and minds. Maybe we need to wait for people to come to the chapel or to contact us in another way. But two things are certain: the coronavirus is still with us and the Lord is still on the throne. And he will be glorified because all he does is good and glorious.