OSMOND — The church bells ring twice a day here.
They serve as a reminder for residents to take a moment to pray for a nation in the midst of a pandemic and as a reminder to check on the welfare of neighbors, especially those whose age or health conditions puts them at higher risk if they should contract the novel coronavirus.
That’s what prompted Osmond resident Clark Wilke to take a closer look at how well the spiritual needs of his elderly neighbors were being met while in isolation due to the threat of COVID-19.
“I live across from a retirement home, a six-plex, where everyone is 70 or more,” Wilke said. “Most of those people are not on Facebook and can’t get to Zoom and all of that other technology. I thought let’s back up our technology to 1960, and see if we can reach some of these people.”
Working with the pastors of two Osmond churches and services provided by American Broadband, a telecommunications company that services the Pierce County community, Wilke spearheaded a plan to provide regularly updated biblical messages to residents that are accessible from landline and cellular telephones.
“It really started with Clark,” said the Rev. Glen Emery, who serves as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Osmond. “He emailed me and expressed some concern about where this coronavirus was going to take us and how it was going to affect our community.”
Emery said Wilke suggested using a landline telephone to offer a pre-recorded message for people without internet connection to get a “daily dose of encouragement, so they can be building their faith to know God is in control and everything is going to be OK.”
Wilke reached out to American Broadband with his idea to see if it had the technology for Emery and the Rev. Rodgers Chishiba — pastor of the Osmond and Pierce United Methodist churches — to record their messages from a remote location. Within 48 hours, the line was up and running, Wilke said.
Emery and Chishiba now have worked out a schedule to provide the regularly updated messages that are available by calling 402-748-3974.
Chishiba said he’s using the platform as a way to encourage people to distance themselves from fear, stress and anxiety as they also practice social distancing.
His message late last week focused on the verse from Psalm 23 that talks about God anointing one’s head with oil. Chishiba said in ancient times, oil was used on the head of sheep to repel insects.
“The oil was also used for anointing — for setting apart people for certain titles like kings and so forth, but when we read Psalm 23 ... it’s anointing of healing,” he said. “Where we are trying to practice social distancing and fear and stress and panic distancing on top of that, we have to know that we have a divine oil that God has put on our head to prevent all of these other bugs such as COVID-19. God, in that process, is healing us.”
Chishiba — who was born in South Central Africa and came to the United States about 10 years ago — said when he began serving as a pastor in this country, he noticed that many have a tendency to place trust in themselves without acknowledging that God is the one who ultimately is in control.
Chishiba said he would like to see the current situation become an opportunity for people to “bring God back into the equation of everything we are doing.”
Emery said he’s been encouraged by how well the project has been received; he knows of people from outside of the community who have called the number to hear the message. Emery added that he believes the greater use of technology in ministry — from landline telephone messages to daily devotions on Facebook Live — may become part of the “new normal when COVID-19 becomes a worry of the past.
“We never did Facebook Live devotions before or the phone voicemail messages before. Those are things people have commented and said it’s really nice we could keep it going. I fully expect we’ve created a monster now, and we’re going to have to keep these things going,” he said with a light-hearted tone.