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Leaders Trained

God’s Word is a ‘Lifeline’ for COVID Chaplain

By Bethany Peterson, BSF Contributing Writer

“I don’t know if I could do another year of what I just did,” longtime BSF member Kevin Deegan said honestly. “I feel like, especially one year later, we need new words to describe how we feel. We used words like crazy, unprecedented and exhausted way too early in the pandemic.” Now, Kevin and his colleagues are simply out of words to capture the intensity of their experiences this year. 

A little over a year ago, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., made the unimaginable decision to close their hospital doors to all visitors.  Kevina chaplain in the Step-Down Intensive Care Unit at Providence, found himself taking on an unexpected role as his floor was transformed into the COVID unit. 

“I became the COVID chaplain,” Kevin said simply. “Since then, we’ve had COVID patients on every floor of our hospital, and so every chaplain has become a COVID chaplain. But I like to say I was the first.” 

Courtesy of Mario Tama, Getty Images

Courtesy of Mario Tama, Getty Images

Before COVID, Providence averaged about 50 deaths in a month, but this January alone, amid the height of the COVID crisis, the hospital reported 127 deaths. A chaplain is required to not only be at every death, but also all other crisis events, including code blues (when a patient’s heart and breathing stopand trauma cases, to support suffering patients and anxious families. 

This year, to say Kevin and his team of chaplains are stretched thin is an understatement. Their roles have changed drastically, their hours increased, and the emotional toll is exponentially higher.

But through the exhaustion and pain, God’s Word has steadied this team, and Kevin has personally experienced God’s guidance in desperate moments. 

Creating Connections 

Early in the pandemic, when a daughter was told that her father would not recover, she immediately drove to the hospital, hoping for a chance to see him. When she arrived, her access to the COVID unit was restricted. Walking to meet her, Kevin spontaneously decided to FaceTime the doctor, who turned the camera to her dad. In that moment, Kevin watched a daughter find healing and closure as she said goodbye to her father. 

“I’ll cherish this,” she told Kevin. 

With this experience in mind, Kevin took an idea to his manager — to purchase iPads for the department. The chaplain team pivoted their ministry to a virtual setting.  

“For almost a year now, I’ve walked the halls with the same iPad every day, and I’ve been inundated with these video requests and keeping families connected. A lot of my job has changed to that,” he explained.  

Chaplaincy, as Kevin views it, is a ministry of presence, meant to embody compassion, empathy and support in times of crisis. “To take that theological foundation of my work as chaplain and translate it to a virtual setting, where I’m not technically in person, is that still going to have the same impact? Is it still going to resonate?” Kevin worried. 

To their surprise, adapting to virtual chaplaincy has opened their eyes to previously unreached patients and family members.  

Providence Holy Cross Medical Center serves a lower socioeconomic, and high immigrant, population. Once Kevin began doing video calls with family members, he realized that many of them lived out of the country or would have been unable to come into the hospital because of other factors such as work schedule or caring for children. 

“So even if we completely go back to normal where visitation is back the way it was, I still think there’s a way for us to keep families connected virtually that we weren’t thinking about before,” Kevin saidI still want to be able to offer that because I think it’s part of the whole person healing that we’re seeking. 

Equipped for Innovation 

Having been in BSF for 17 years as a class member, Group Leader, Children’s Leader, Class Administrator and, most recently, online group member, Kevin had a head start in translating spritual support and discussion into a virtual environment.   

“In the same way that BSF has had to translate the intimacy of a group [online], I’ve had to learn the intimacy of connecting with the family virtually,” Kevin said. In fact, Kevin reported that his online group experience has “actually been the deepest group discussion that I’ve been a part of at BSF.”  

Kevin attributes his ability to adapt to new circumstances and lead others spiritually through crisis to the framework he learned throughout his BSF experience.  

When Kevin first joined BSF in a Young Adult group after high school, his life was on a different track. He had never been a great student and was pursuing a career in acting, never expecting to return to any sort of higher education. However, through learning to study God’s Word each week with the daily lesson questions and discussion groups, Kevin had an epiphany:  

“Maybe I’ve just been studying the wrong things. … Maybe I have a passion for God’s Word,” he realized. “That [passion] really evolved through my participation in BSF and certainly my participation in leadership. Through BSF and a few mentors in my life, I discerned a call to ministry and went back to school because of the foundation or the experience of having done some studying with BSF,” Kevin shared.  

For Kevin, BSF was the place where he built a foundation for learning to do ministry well and to be in spiritual leadership. “I feel like I’m equipped well to do this work. Even when we’re going to uncharted territory as we have this last year, because of BSF, because of that strong foundation that was built, I feel confident to continue to meet those needs,” he said. 

Bringing God’s Word to Life 

Through this year’s Genesis study, Kevin has seen God’s Word come to life as he minsters to patients, families and medical staff.  

“As a longtime member of BSF, I have come to believe that God’s Word is ‘alive and active.’ So, I expect whatever we are studying in BSF to come up in my week,” he shared. “I have been impacted by all the family and relational dynamics throughout Genesis. Managing family dynamics is part of my work as a chaplain, but I have also been encountering difficult relationships in my personal life. God is in the business of transformation and reconciliation.” 

Secure in God’s Word, Kevin and his team approach each day with confidence in His direction and provision. 

“There is another presence with us, that’s the Spirit of God with us, protecting us,” He said. “We will come out of this whole.” 

Courtesy of Jae Hong, Associated Press

Courtesy of Jae Hong, Associated Press

Personal Impact

God’s Word Sustains BSFers in 2020

“Despite the global turmoil, overall we see resiliency among our BSF members,” said Emily Cox, BSF’s Ministry Intelligence Director.

Late last year, BSF surveyed class members to examine the impact of COVID-19.

We found that although 69% of BSF members reported being minimally impacted economically by the pandemic, many still felt the emotional effects of increased isolation and the loss of in-person community. 

Click to enlarge

Pre-COVID, we could go to church, we could go to Bible study, we could do these things, but now many people are spiritual islands,” said Kim Hurtado, BSF’s User Experience Manager. “There’s a lack of accountability, a loss of connection, and limited interaction with others spiritually.”

For many, BSF became an oasis, a place members found support and community, even in an online environment.

“That’s a huge hope story for what BSF can provide,” Kim saidYou don’t have to do this alone. We can be there to help you with accountability, we can be there for connection and interaction and help you with your spiritual growth. 

Amid the pandemic, as BSFers saw greater needs in their groups and communities, they responded generously.

Nineteen percent of BSF members reported they were providing support to a friend or family member during the pandemic. Many BSFers helped their fellow group members access much needed lesson materials. In all, 20% of BSF members indicated that they received help from another group member, allowing them to continue studying online.

“BSF made this transition so well because we are rooted in God’s truth, but also because we’ve created a space for people to step into easily, whether that’s online or in person,” Emily said. “And when they do, they’re finding a welcoming, warm community. They’re finding authentic relationships.”

We are grateful to God for the faithfulness and provision He has shown BSF this year. During a time of sickness and social distancing, we have seen our need for God’s truth and our connection to one another as the global Church.

A Faith that Perseveres

Raeda Haddad — BSF Jordan

Since Raeda Haddad attended her first BSF class in 2003, she knew that the Lord had given her the vision to take BSF to the Middle EastRaeda began to pray fervently that the Lord would establish a group in Jordan. She began the first prayer group with other Christian women in Jordan in 2011, and a second in 2016 as they continued to wait for their vision to become reality.

After 15 years of fasting and prayer, Raeda saw the Lord bring the group to life.

I was jumping and crying tears of joy, I felt this was a miracle,” said Raeda, of her reaction, when she heard that the group was finally beginning in 2019.  

Since Raeda Haddad attended her first BSF class in 2003, she knew that the Lord had given her the vision to take BSF to the Middle EastRaeda began to pray fervently that the Lord would establish a group in Jordan. She began the first prayer group with other Christian women in Jordan in 2011, and a second in 2016 as they continued to wait for their vision to become reality.

After 15 years of fasting and prayer, Raeda saw the Lord bring the group to life.  

 “I was jumping and crying tears of joy, I felt this was a miracle,” said Raeda, of her reaction, when she heard that the group was finally beginning in 2019.  

Since then, the Jordan group has grown from their three leaders, trained by the European Area Advisor and Raeda herself, to 10-11 leaders with their own trainer.

But in 2020COVID regulations threatened the group’s growth. Moving to an online format introduced unexpected challenges. Once again, these committed women prayed, this time asking God to sustain their now beloved ministry.     

Reflecting on God’s provision in the past strengthened Raeda’s faith in the present.  

 “It’s [God’s] mighty power. It’s His vision, because His vision doesn’t die. A man’s vision will die, but I believe 100% now it’s God vision,” she shared That’s why even what we are seeing now, it’s God enlarging this group in Jordan and the online group in Arabic, which is growing in a great way. There is a thirst and hunger to know the Lord and to study the Word.”  

Raeda shared one story of a woman who does not read or write English or Arabic well, but wanted to be able to study the Bible. One of the leaders in Jordan invited her to come and offered to help her engage with the lessons. At first, the new member was shy and unwilling to answer most questions. But through the Genesis study this year, she has become a full participant in group discussion and described herself as “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  

According to Raeda, the hunger and thirst that the women and men have for the Word of God is stronger than any challenge, and she hopes to see the group grow to reach men, children and more people in surrounding countries. 

“I pray that God will have what happened in Jordan multiply in all of the Middle East countries because there is a great spiritual need, a great thirst for the Word of God,” she saidThere is spiritual poverty in the Middle East, and I believe God chose and is using BSF greatly to satisfy this need.” 

A Faith Without Fear

Jennifer Owens — BSF Online

Jennifer Owens was apprehensive when she felt God calling her to become an Online Group Leader. For one thing, she did not own a computer. For another, she is blind.

“When I lost my sight in 2002, I really felt like my life was over and I had no purpose,” Jennifer said.

She felt called, however, to continue spreading the gospel in spite of overwhelming obstacles. When she joined BSF Online, she discovered a way to live out this goal. 

Through her uncertainty, Jennifer holds fast to one of the biggest lessons from Genesis this year – God can use anyone and overcome any challenge for His good purposes.

“It’s been encouraging to see the different aspects of Abraham’s family, Isaac’s family and Jacob’s family,” she saidTo see how God uses ordinary people, flawed people, sinful people to accomplish His will … And we just have to be obedient.  

Jennifer Owens was apprehensive when she felt God calling her to become an Online Group Leader. For one thing, she did not own a computer. For another, she is blind.

“When I lost my sight in 2002, I really felt like my life was over and I had no purpose,” Jennifer said.

She felt called, however, to continue spreading the gospel in spite of overwhelming obstacles. When she joined BSF Online, she discovered a way to live out this goal. 

Through her uncertainty, Jennifer holds fast to one of the biggest lessons from Genesis this year – God can use anyone and overcome any challenge for His good purposes.

“It’s been encouraging to see the different aspects of Abraham’s family, Isaac’s family and Jacob’s family,” she saidTo see how God uses ordinary people, flawed people, sinful people to accomplish His will … And we just have to be obedient.  

At first, it seemed impossible to Jennifer that she’d be able to do the job of an Online Leader. She would need special, expensive software, plus a new computer that she would have to learn to navigate. In addition, she would nobe able to see her participants on Zoom or read questions and Scripture passages aloud, unless she memorized the entire lesson 

However, through God’s provision and the support of Jennifer’s Online Area Team, they have created a close-knit and smooth-running online group environment.  

After doing some research, Jennifer and her husband learned that an iPad has voiceover technology that reads or dictates messages, including the lessons from the BSF app. They purchased one, and Jennifer agreed to lead a group. 

Although Jennifer was anxious that her group would struggle with the adaptations, she soon found that her group members love opportunities to help her overcome unique challenges. They volunteer to take turns reading the questions aloud and always announce their names before answering. They have even welcomed a new class member to the group who is also visually impaired and hopes to learn how to lead her own online group.

“I feel I live in darkness every day,” she saidI’m in complete darkness, but I never feel like I’m in the dark. I know this sounds crazy, but I feel like I’m surrounded by light. And it is God’s presence. I know it is the Holy Spirit surrounding me. 

As on Online Leader, Jennifer now has women from all over the world in her group. “And so, we are spreading His message to the nations throughout Bible Study Fellowship,” she said. 

I want my ladies to be the light. I want them to go out every day and to show the world that Christ lives in them.”  

A Faith That Grows

Alex Tahtinen — WordGo

Through a year of fear and uncertainty, 15 young adults were sustained by God’s enduring truth. Facing isolation from COVID restrictions and unrest in their city, Portland Ore., these young men and women continued to build community and study the Word of God.

“I think we were all trying to figure out how to work out our faith in a unique and tumultuous time,” said Alex Tahtinen, co-leader of the group.

Although older adults are more at risk for serious cases of COVID-19, the economic and emotional fallout of the pandemic has hit young adults much harder. Recent graduates and young professionals often have less job security and are more likely to live alonewhich intensifies the negative impacts of a culture that reflects increased instability and isolation.

Through a year of fear and uncertainty, 15 young adults were sustained by God’s enduring truth. Facing isolation from COVID restrictions and unrest in their city, Portland Ore., these young men and women continued to build community and study the Word of God.

“I think we were all trying to figure out how to work out our faith in a unique and tumultuous time,” said Alex Tahtinen, co-leader of the group.

Although older adults are more at risk for serious cases of COVID-19, the economic and emotional fallout of the pandemic has hit young adults much harder. Recent graduates and young professionals often have less job security and are more likely to live alonewhich intensifies the negative impacts of a culture that reflects increased instability and isolation.

In fact, a third of younger adults (ages 18-39) reported that COVID has had a “extremely/very negative impact” on their financial security, as well as on their mental health. These rates were the highest of any age group and double those reported by older adults (ages 56-74), according to the CNBC report.  

Amid these anxieties and stressors, this Portland group has continued to provide support for their members through the structure of their group, which already emphasized accessibility in hectic seasons, thanks to WordGo.

The group began as a singles ministry in a Portland church. It evolved into a BSF satellite group and then pivoted to using WordGo, the app that is a part of the BSF family of in-depth Bible study resources. WordGo provided more flexibility than a traditional BSF class. Alex and his co-leader, Karissa Spears, craved structure to help organize the week and accountability to study the Bible regularlyThe app allows the group to meet once a week for discussion with modified questions. The app provides application questions as users study the passages and notes individually on their phone whenever convenient. 

“I’m a working professional, so to change gears and throw my mind onto a study and to have something that I’m looking to everyday is extremely beneficial,” Alex said. But, with the mobility of the app, “You can work pretty much any way that you want to, and it’s not overwhelming. 

Due to WordGo’s accessibility, the group has continued to study through COVID restrictions and other challenges without missing a beat. This year, they’ve read James, 1 Corinthians, selections from Genesis and John. The group studied individually, over Zoom or outside when the weather cooperated.

According to Alex, each study was introduced at the perfect time this year, speaking to their unique struggles. They began with James when COVID first hit, learning to be faithful through trials. Then they transitioned to 1 Corinthians, which emphasizes overcoming division in the Church.

They finally moved to Genesis, which Alex said has been the most impactful. “It was helpful looking at all of the external situations, the news and everything like that, everything that’s going on,” he saidBut, also to reflect on, ‘Well, hold on just a second. I’m not going to start throwing stones, because I don’t know how deeply bad off I am.’ Genesis was extremely humbling.” 

As a public WordGo group, Alex hopes to see continued growth as they build community in Portland for young adults facing difficult times.  

“We’re committed to God’s Word and to studying God’s Word and that’s what we love to do,” he saidIt’s really changed my perspective on how much I need to study and how much I need to be in His Word. And I think it’s changed that for all of us.