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Dealing with Covid-19 in the Bronx
27th September 2020 • Engaging Truth • Evangelical Life Ministries
00:00:00 00:24:44

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Rev. Matthew Gonzalez, Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, NYC, and Host Matt Popovits discuss the pastor’s recent diagnosis with the coronavirus and what it was like to fight the illness. Pastor Gonzalez also shares what it’s like to lead a congregation in the epicenter of the pandemic and to pastor a church where so many have fallen ill and others have succumbed to the virus. What’s the message of hope to be preached when an entire city is on lock-down and hundreds of thousands of your neighbors are sick?

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The following program is sponsored by evangelical life ministries.

Welcome to engaging truth, the manifestation of God's word and the lives of people around us. Join us each week. As we explore the impact of his message of spiritual renewal from the lesson of forgiveness Fords in the crucible of divorce, to the message of salvation by an executioner, from a condemned killer to the gift of freedom found in the rescue of victims of human trafficking. This is God's truth in action.

Welcome to engaging truth. I'm your host, Matt Popovits. And with me on the program today is Reverend Matthew Gonzalez, pastor of Trinity evangelical Lutheran church in the Bronx New York city. And pastor Gonzalez is with us today to talk about his personal journey of being diagnosed with COVID 19. And also what it's like to pastor a church in the middle of the epicenter of this pandemic. So pastor Gonzalez, welcome to engaging truth, and let's just dive right in. When were you diagnosed with COVID 19. And, and what was that like

When we first got it? New York city was just starting to kind of face some shutdowns and, and, um, think through what that was gonna look like. And we were diagnosed, um, actually technically I was diagnosed, my wife had almost identical symptoms, um, which were fever, um, a little bit of chest tightness, cough, uh, incredible, incredible fatigue. Um, so anyone who knows me knows that I am one of the high energy human beings in life. Um, and I could not believe how fatigue I felt, just how zapped I was. It was, it was really, I mean, remarkable and scary, you know, I, I, I tried to tell myself, okay, come on, get up and, and be, feel better. Um, and I, I physically could not, I mean, it was that exhausting and then, um, lost sense of taste and sense of smell, which was one of the strangest things.

That's the weirdest SI uh, uh, symptom we had because you just, it just takes away. Um, yeah, you're your, almost like your desire to eat. And so it's really strange, you know, and you have to be consistent. Uh, strangely having kids helped one because they didn't get symptoms. And we were really grateful to God for that. Um, and because of that, we were, you know, having to keep somewhat of a routine. Uh, I had first had the worst symptoms for about three or four days, including some fevers that got close to about 1 0 2, um, and things of that nature. And then my wife had it kind of right after me. So as I just started to feel a little bit of strength, a little bit energy come back, hers kicked in pretty tough. And then she had a, a few rough days. So we were able to take care of our kids and, and kind of get through, um, you know, the worst of the symptoms.

And then it was just lingering fatigue. You know, we noticed that if we didn't get at least a, a, a solid night of sleep, the next day was really hard for about two weeks. So it was really being intentional with how we rested and being smart about that lots of vitamins, um, and just taking care of ourselves. And the, and the reality is we had really mild symptoms compared to what a lot of people went through, so, right. Yeah. You know, feeling better now, it's, it's been, uh, about a month and a half. And so, you know, we're out of quarantine and all these kinds of things, or should say out of isolation, um, obviously we're still quarantined, but yeah, that's, uh, yeah. Feeling better now, thankfully. So,

So when you were first diagnosed, I mean, that was, you know, five, six weeks ago. And, and, and that was still relatively early on in this journey that the whole country's been on. Uh, my, my guess is there was a lot still kinda unknown about what, what the, this virus would do to people who had it and, and things were, were, were you ever, as you started to battle this, were you ever scared wondering, like what this was gonna do to you, what the effects were gonna be?

Yeah, so early on, um, I'm not sure I was scared. Uh, I tried to take it a little kind of a day at a time and see if things got worse. You know, I actually really stayed away from reading a ton about all these different people's experiences. Cause I was nervous that, uh, I would convince myself it was getting worse than it was. And so I really tried to just respond to how my body was feeling. Um, and the first, the first day that I felt it, uh, wasn't awful, the next two were, and that was when I was like, man, how long is this gonna go? Then that fourth day I felt a tiny bit better. And thankfully, um, I was really smart about it. Uh, and crazily enough, my parents had it right before us. And so we were walking through the fear of what they were going through early on and, and wondering whether or not we were gonna go take care of them and risk getting it and these kinds of things.

And then we got it. And so we were a few days behind their symptoms and had pretty similar symptoms. We had seen them for, um, a wedding the weekend before. So, uh, we're pretty sure we kind of all shared it at that point. Um, but, uh, you know, we realized then, um, kind of watching their symptoms of what we were in for and, you know, theirs lasted longer. Theirs were a little bit harder. I mean, both my parents are in their sixties. Um, and thankfully they've recovered, which, you know, tons of prayer there that we were doing and a lot of big time fears more for them than even for ourselves. Um, but you know, it was, it was scary cuz we didn't know. And really the scarier thing was once started to feel a little better. We didn't know what that meant, you know, were we actually getting better?

Was it going to come back and get worse? We had heard horror stories of people who felt better for three or four days and ended up in the hospital that fifth day or something like that. So we were really intentional about taking care of ourselves for the course of two or three weeks of just staying away from everyone, eating as healthy as we and, and resting rest. I, I tell everybody who's had it, we've a number of church members who've had and things like that. And I've just said, we have to be intentional about taking the rest that we need and, and, and trust your body, you know? So that was really a big part for us. Um,

And, and being in New York city, New York city has, I think almost everybody knows is really kind of the epicenter of the outbreak here in the us. Uh, just as a resident of the city. What what's it been like for you to go through this and, and live in the city with all of this going on around you?

So it's been strange because we had it so early that while everybody I think was really going through kind of the intense fears of it, um, or I should say the first jolt of fear, if that makes sense, uh, for us, we were in it. And so we were trying to be really intentional to keep people calm, especially in our congregation, we were honest about the fact that we had it. We didn't put it all over social media because we didn't want other people worrying more than they needed to, but we were, you know, um, in communication with our congregation and some others that, you know, people were closer to and, and kind of let them know, um, just so that they would know we were okay and, and really kind of kept saying that said we were being smart about, it said we were resting these kinds of things.

And so, you know, it was a lot of resting and then a lot of phone calls with church members and, and people we cared about just letting them know we were all right. And, and, uh, being intentional with our words and, and everything we kind of talked about. And then since then, um, it's been different because our experience has been, you know, we're not, we, we don't know enough about the virus to know whether or not you're fully immune, but we're also not necessarily as concerned as, you know, we can tell so many others are who haven't gotten it. Um, cuz there's really just the fear of, of the unknown and enough people, uh, both in our congregation and just in the city at this point, know somebody who's died from it. It's not, it's gotten to a point where there isn't a, you know, this is still far removed from me or my family or my friend group.

Everybody has someone, um, or multiple people. And I think the bigger your community you're connected to the more people, you know, you know, I, I sadly, I, I have a running list now, um, of, of people that in our, not necessarily in our congregation, but you know, one degree of separation from our congregation, whether it's a, an extended family member or something like that who have passed. And, and you know, we're thinking through what our next steps after all of this and, and you know what that's gonna look like. So it's a lot, it's, it's really heavy. People are really wrestling with it. People are afraid and, and people of faith are learning how to remain faithful and communicate that while also recognizing that in the midst of being faithful, it's scary, you know, and, and trying to really be trusting in God while also having fears and having the doubts and having the questions. So it's a lot, it's heavy stuff.

What's your sense of how this is gonna change life in New York city for you, your family and, and your friends going forward.

Yeah. So I don't, it it's such a strange time because I'm not sure what it's gonna look like until we know more about it and how it's gonna be handled. You know, I I've really had, I've had a number of conversations with different people that have ranged from this is gonna change everything about how we live to this is going to become once it's in some manner treatable or, you know, once some sort of herd immunity develops or vaccine or whatever it is, this will become similar to the flu except scarier in the sense of people are gonna be prepared for seasons of it and recognizing it and wines to get the vaccine and, and these kinds of things, but not sure how to handle it. So, you know, I get the stent that ultimately, as there's a sense of how it's gonna be treated, um, you know, new Yorkers are resilient and they'll figure out a way to bounce back and work through it.

And I also think new Yorkers have a, a brashness, and I can say this cuz I'm one of them, um, that allows them to, uh, allows us to, to feel like, all right, you know, we, we have to stand together and, and battle this in whatever that means. Um, and, and I think that there's a sense of, of figuring out how to do that right now. And that's the hardest part once we get past that, I think there'll be a sense of moving forward. Um, you know, as a city and, and, uh, it's, it's a it's, it's certainly, and I've had conversations with a number of people about this pastors and others. It's certainly one of the more, or probably the most unique times since September 11. So yeah, it's really an intense time. Yeah.

And, and really there's still so much uncertainty over the city in terms of when things will start to reopen. I mean, I'm, I'm talking to you for, from Texas and, and just, uh, yesterday as we're recording this, uh, our, you know, our governor announced how all these measures about how he's gonna reopen the city, starting IME, uh, re reopen the state starting immediately. Uh, but that conversation hasn't really started for, for, for New York city yet. Hasn't

No, not at all. And, um, so from the sense I get from our governor and from our mayor and, you know, governing leaders is that really, they're trying to be as intentional, uh, in their thought processes about how to, you know, keep people safe and, um, you know, to not have a continued uptick or, or, you know, sudden spike again of, of cases is in deaths. And the like, and so a lot of it is thinking through some of the CDC guidelines of, you know, 14 straight days of declining cases before making any kind of move. And, you know, we're, we've been preparing our congregations for the reality that we could see that as a mid-summer thing at the earliest, you know, and so in may be we're working through may and through June, before we start seeing things reopen in any kind of way.

Um, and really towards the end of the summer before we're close to some semblance of normalcy, the scary part about that is, you know, the CDC has also had conversations about the fall and, and the winter of a, you know, reprise and maybe worse. And so we're also preparing for the reality that this could be, you know, some time to go outdoor and spend time with people and then kind of be prepared to maybe hunker down again, if that's what's necessary, especially in, in, you know, New York and some of these urban centers. So it's tough, it's tough to prepare. It's, it's being really thoughtful about it all.

If you're just joining us, we're talking to pastor Matt Gonzalez of Trinity evangelical Lutheran church in the Bronx and New York city. We're talking about his own personal journey with being diagnosed with COVID 19 and also pastoring a church in the heart of the episode. Then over this pandemic, I, if you're enjoying this program, if you wanna listen to more, uh, episodes of engaging truth, you can, you can check those out at E LM, houston.org, and also wanna remind you that this is a listener supported ministry. Our hosts are volunteers, and it's supported by generous donors. Like you, if you'd like to donate, you can head to E LM, houston.org for more information, how to give a gift. Uh, so Matt, as a pastor in the middle of this, uh, obviously, uh, there are some, some deep impressing needs that your people have in order to be guided through this. Um, and to walk through this, uh, with, with a heart of, of faith, uh, what, what have, what have you been doing? It's a, it's a comfort your people in the midst of this, um, with the, with the promises of the Christian faith, uh, what's that conversation been like, what, what's the focus of your sermons been like? Um, how have you been trying to keep people anchored in Jesus in the midst of all this?

Yeah, so it's an interesting time. Uh, one of the first things that, that hit me right away when we went into you, what amounts to a lockdown and this quarantine and the like was we need some sort of daily devotion out there. And so right away, uh, we were recording and putting up daily devotionals on our website, which we still have, you know, up there and available basically from March, I think, fifth of, yeah, from March 15th all the way up until today. And so, you know, making sure that there is God's word being heard, um, and, and a, and a reminder of what his promises are every day, uh, you know, as, as Luther Christians, it started in lent and moved into Easter for us from a seasonal standpoint. And so it was really unique in, in the sense that, you know, early on, it made sense, um, you know, from a Lenton kind of fast conversation and, and, and this idea of, of really kind of this dedicated focus and it moved into Easter.

And so it's really, um, what it's become in terms of proclaiming Christ is, is the hope that we have in him. Um, because you know, it's, a lot of Jesus went to the cross of carry you through a time like this, because he knows you're suffering. He knows you're hurting. He knows what you're going through. Um, and, and he literally lived it and died it and, and rose for it. And so this kind of real intentional conversation on that's the hope we've cling to, as we're, we're walking through this, because where else would we find that hope? And so, you know, it's, it's the Romans eight that's that's where I hear constantly is that reminder of that. Um, and the other thing I've been really intentional in encouraging our congregation to do is, is, um, you know, that passage that reminds us, you know, to be, um, uh, slow to speak and quick to listen.

And the reason for that is because, you know, you hear so many different voices, so many different people, uh, from so many different walks of life and experiences, you know, there's, they're, you know, it's hard when you're pastoring people who are seeing other parts of the country who are really adamant about opening up while they're losing loved ones and, and there's anger and anguish there. And my constant reminder is, well, don't let your anger, you know, have you fall into a different, uh, you know, stereotypical camp for whatever that stereotype might be instead stand firm in the faith and say, Hey, we need to be praying for the people that are struggling in whatever way they're struggling. And, and if that their struggle for whatever reason, because they're not being affected by this, we obviously don't wish, you know, COVID 19 on someone. That's not what we do.

Um, and rather we pray that that God will provide for them too, and whatever it is their needs are. And so being really thoughtful and intentionally thoughtful and communicating that because one of the things that's been really pressing, and, and I honestly, it's, it's been spirit driven is, um, this need to remind people that as Christians, we have a unique opportunity to set an example, um, in a time like this, where so many people are grasping for, how do I get through this? We have the unique example of saying Jesus, you know, and, and, and being able to proclaim that and doing so while also admitting all of our failures, all of our faults, all of our struggles to then point people, to Jesus, us for ourselves too, you know? And so it's been really, it's been a really unique time in, in that too. Um, and, and it's something that I think we constantly have to be, uh, reminded of and that, and that's been a helpful thing for guiding how we do what we do.

Yeah. If you look at the history of the church, you know, the Christian Church has, has, has really, you could argue flourished in times of, of persecution, pandemic and, and problems in general. Um, why, why do you think that is? Why is it that the church in, in general has, has seen seasons of growth in the midst of seasons of immense struggle?

So it's a great question. It's one that I've had other people ask me and it, and it's unique in that I really truly believe two, two things. And we see it in the scriptures in scripture. Um, God draws us close in suffering, you know, and of course I can easily to say, look at the cross, right? Yes. And, and that's true. And so I'm not saying like, that's not the most important point, but I think all throughout scripture, God draws us close in suffering. You see it, uh, in the old Testament, especially that's where I, I find myself like watching, you know, God's people go through different, uh, layers and levels of, of struggle and exile and all these kinds of things, and God continuously drawing them back to him in their times of hurt. Um, and so I think that's one part of it.

The other piece is that I think, and this is gonna sound, um, maybe a little off base. So I'll, I'll, I'll say this is my own interpretation. I'll be sure to say that first. But I think that in a way, um, there is a separation of those who were marginal to closer to unbelief in their faith versus those who were, you know, on the edge. But saying, my faith still means something to me because in a time like this, I think you kind of feel pushed in one direction or another, where if it was marginal, you didn't believe anyway, you're kind of like, well, see, and you start almost getting to that, that blame God moment. Um, which I think is something that as, as Christians, we get to speak to then, um, and for those who were kind of on the edge, but you're earning for that closeness with God, they are drawn close because they're on their knees praying for, for deliverance, praying for provision and, and, and things of that nature in a time like this.

And so I think you see the spirit be, be, um, you know, fired up if you will, you know, and, uh, it was, it was cool this past weekend, I preached on, uh, Jesus speaking to his disciples on the road to MEUs. And I, I found myself in many ways, um, you know, really connecting with those disciples in saying this, there was this deep need for Jesus as friend and companion and being in an intentional way. And Jesus responds by doing all of that and then, you know, reigniting the spirit in them. And I, in a way, I, I kind of feel like there's that going on here? And I know that people could say that's an allegorical connection or some kind of, you know, strange thing. But my thing is, I just think scripture speaks to us in a way that's saying, yeah, like when you're going through these challenging as those disciples were, and they'd said it to him, um, you know, Jesus responds, he's there, he's there to, to make sure you know, that he's there. Yeah. Um, and, and, and, you know, I think that's really important for people to remember. Um, and it's something that we get to, to communicate to those who maybe are on the other end saying, ah, I don't believe this anymore. And so like, wait a second. Why, you know, and, and really have conversations that are helpful. So,

Yeah. Well, what's so beautiful about the, the post resurrection accounts is you, you've got the disciples, you've got the believers, um, who are in hiding and they're full of fear. There's a ton of uncertainty. And, and what Jesus does is the resurrection to Jesus goes and seeks them out. And he joins them in their hiding places. Right. Whether they're walking on the road of a mask, Jesus seeks them out or they're hiding out, um, uh, uh, in some, in some room with, with doubting Thomas, there he goes, and he seeks them out. Um, or they're out fishing. He goes and seeks them out, you know, and, and, and I, I would, I would like to think that the resurrected Jesus is still is still doing that when people are lost in their fear, he's still seeking us out and making himself known to us. And perhaps that's why in seasons where the fear is inescapable. Um, so many seem to find him because he loves to find us in those moments. Right. Right. Have you had much conversation with people who have started to question, um, the existence of God or the goodness of God in the midst of this,

I've had some conversations with people, um, not necessarily existence. I've had some unique conversations with people who prior to this were questioning God's existence and have started to kind of say a, like, I can, you know, almost, I can't imagine anything else carrying us through this. You know, I think there's, there's a, a, a humbling nature to this, um, for, you know, for the humanist, honestly, because as people we often think, you know, oh, we can figure this out or beat this or whatever, and right now it ain't happening and you can't see it and, you know, and all that. So, so I've had those conversations, um, with people who are doubting people who are struggling, people who are seeking God's goodness definitely had those, um, you know, I've had those conversations with people who've lost, loved ones. And, and it's, it's a reminder to, um, for me first and foremost, to help them understand that God grieves with them and that he hurts with them.

And, and, you know, I find myself, you know, pointing to, to Jesus when he's weeping at the death of Lazarus and these kinds of things, and just reminding people, Jesus weeps at death, he hurts with you. And, and, and, and it's, it's not to be minimized. Um, and at the same time, as they question and doubt, remind them that God's big enough for them, that's been a constant, uh, conversation point like, God can handle your doubt. God can handle your questions. God can handle your anger. Do not feel that if you're doing that, your faith is nonexistent. Rather take that as a sign that your faith is, is, is there. And God is ready to respond to all that. You're gonna bring him, you know, that he's ready for those conversations. He's ready to, to offer you himself and then be intentional about how you hear him, hear him in his word, hear him as we are, you know, witnessing, uh, you know, worship together, all these kinds of things, like be really intentional because before you start pushing, 'em away, make sure you're not closing your ears.

And, and you know, now I wouldn't necessarily say, I'd say that exact way, because, you know, you wanna be really thoughtful in, in how people are hurting, but really reminding them that, you know, don't draw away because then yeah, you're not gonna hear him if you're pushing him, you know, and, and instead being really intentional of, of, and, and thoughtful of how am I trying to hear, how am I listening? What am I saying? Because oftentimes I find myself realizing that, um, that's something that I think we all need to do. I know I find myself doing that. What I'm saying, be really intentional in his word and, and that, so that when I'm sharing it, I'm not just, you know, throwing things out there. Yeah.

Well, Matt, it's been, it's been great to talk with you. I'm so glad that you are, you are healthy and your family is healthy and you have survived. COVID 19. And I want you to know that, uh, the engaging truth family and, and my family personally are, are praying for you as you do ministry in the epicenter of all this. God bless you, my friend.

Thank you. Appreciate it. God bless you all. As, uh, especially as you open up, we'll be praying that that, uh, continues to be something that goes well and, and, uh, praying for you all there.

Thanks so much, Matt. And, and thank you to all of you. Who've been listening. Thanks for tuning in to engaging truth. We hope to have you with us next time.

Thank you for listening to this broadcast of engaging truth. Be sure to join us each week at this time, to help support our ministry, contact evangelical life ministries, post office box 5 68, Cypress, Texas 77, 410, or visit our website@elmhouston.org, or find us on Facebook at evangelical Lifeman. Thank you.