Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The Bible and Coronavirus

Evangelicals turn to the Bible during the pandemic for understanding. Photo by @tanya_jacobs via Twenty20

For the past nine years Fatima Vacacela, 37, has attended services three times weekly at  Ministerios Dios de Pactos, an Evangelical church in Jackson Heights. Located in a chapel on a semi-residential street, the church drew about  75 people weekly  for services. Vacacela found  a sense of community as well as spirituality 

A practicing Catholic for 29 years, Vacacela, always thought something was missing from her religion. A key part of her new church liturgy is close reading of the Bible, unlike the Catholic practice. She reads the Bible daily and interprets the readings to help her with everyday life. 

“I feel like I get the knowledge about things that I don’t know to make decisions. Like using a GPS when you are driving to an uncertain place,” said Vacacela, a human resources manager. 

Finding a sense of meaning  has been especially true with the onset of the coronavirus which she believes was predicted in the Bible, especially by the use of the word “pestilence.” Vacacela refers to Bible passage on Mathew 24:7,

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” 

Another passage is Luke 21:11, 

“and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” 

These passages and others hold deep meaning for Vacacel and thousands of others who turn to the Bible for solace and answers during the pandemic. Americans seem almost evenly divided about Bible predictions of this pandemic. About 44 percent of Americans who said they believe the coronavirus is a wakeup call to turn back to faith in God and the signs of coming judgment, according to a survey by The Joshua Fund, an education organization. However, the same survey found that 47 percent of Americans believe the coronavirus has nothing to do with the Bible or God’s prophecy.  

Leslier Uribe, 21, a human resource assistant, also believes the coronavirus was predicted in the Bible. She attends the same church in Jackson Heights as Vacacela. She too refers to the Bible’s use of  the word “pestilence,” and says it’s a sign of the end of times.  She cites the book of Revelation chapter 22 verse 12,

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 

What does give her hope is the increase in the number of people who have joined  her church for online services, including some non-believers. “I don’t know if after this happens if people will continue with the same enthusiasm, desire, and the same need if seeking God,” said Uribe. 

The coronavirus can change people’s behavior, although sometimes only on a temporary basis.  It’ll be like a sugar high,” says  Juan Hernadez, a professor of Biblical Studies at Bethel University, “It’ll change it for a while and go back to normal. But others will learn lessons from it and perhaps plan better.” 

Professor Hernandez does not believe the coronavirus was predicted in the Bible. He said that for centuries people have turned to the Bible to make connections to current events. “If there was a candidate for a physical fulfillment, it might be the Black Plague where one-third of the world population was devastated; this doesn’t compare.” said Hernandez. 

He explains that the Bible can be read as a historical narrative or as a prophecy. While the coronavirus can be linked to the use of “pestilence,”  it’s important to read the full passage. “The descriptions are so vague that they have multiple applications,” said Hernandez.

Herandez recently hosted a live screening online with a pastor where both answered questions from people who believe the pandemic is a reflection of God’s judgment. “Irrespective of whether it is judgment or not, it is an opportunity to reflect and recalibrate who we are and what we’re doing,” he said. 

Some other Christians wonder whether the pandemic is a sign of the return of Jesus Christ. In a study made a decade ago, Pew Research surveyed that forty-one percent of Americans expect Jesus to return by 2050 while forty-six percent disagree. 

Mayte Felix, 22,  doesn’t believe  the pandemic is a sign yet of Jesus’ imminent return,  “Before Jesus returns there are going to be all kinds of things that are going to happen but no one knows,” said Felix. “It’s going to be like a thief in the night, so it can be one of the signs or not. We don’t know exactly when to expect God.”  

Felix attends  “Sobre La Roca,” a Pentecostal church in San Diego, California where her parents are pastors. Although she sometimes feels a little discouraged she prays and has faith  that everything will be alright. After losing two jobs because of Covid-related layoffs, she has sought God more through prayer.  

Mayte’s mom, Maythe Felix, is among those who  believe the coronavirus was predicted in the Bible. “I definitely don’t believe the end of the world is right now, but I do believe we are seeing the last signs of  the end of times,” said  Felix, a pastor at a Pentecostal church. “After this pandemic, the world will never be the same, it will be harder for humanity.” 

Because of social distancing the church closed and now offers online service three times a week.  About 75 homes are tuning in to their online services reaching more than one person per home. “I believe we have grown as a church. People tell us, I’ve shared the link to my dad, I’ve shared it with my brother, with my friend,” said Felix. 

The people have been asking Felix and her husband, Carlos also a pastor, about the last signs and our thoughts. “We responded by saying we must prepare because nobody knows the day or time he will come, but we must be ready.” However, now going into the sixth week people have calmed down and have been praying more. 

During the service she and her parishioners have been studying the Bible more and reviewing the prophecies of Christ’s return.

“We are praying more, asking God to restore our hearts, clean us, and prepare us because the Bible says without holiness no one will see him,” said Pastor Felix. Hernandez agrees with that approach. “The bottom line with the Bible is not so much when but to persevere, to be faithful, irrespective of the circumstances,” he said.   



Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Yifan Yu July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020

A second wave of the coronavirus creates travel woes in Beijing

Hannah Zhang June 29, 2020

Despite a few bumps, NYC is social distancing more than not

Joanna Lin Su June 29, 2020

Backyard music lessons

Madeline Gunderson June 28, 2020

Experts say ISIS exploits chaos of global pandemic to rebuild

Marina Guimaraes June 26, 2020

Cutting through COVID

Thomas Hengge June 26, 2020

Venezuelan government leaves residents stranded in U.S. during pandemic

Maria Abreu June 23, 2020

Vulnerable communities fear eviction as COVID-19 rent morotorium comes to an end

Jonathan Sarabia June 22, 2020

Beijing is China’s new epicenter for the coronavirus

Hannah Zhang June 22, 2020

Clock is ticking for NYC restaurants even as outdoor dining resumes  

Gaurav Sharma June 20, 2020

Michigan hair salons are back in business

Kyla Milberger June 17, 2020

Seafood markets in China lose business over new COVID-19 scare

Bohao Liu June 17, 2020

China resorts to street vending to revive its economy

Hannah Zhang June 16, 2020

The East Village is open! Well, sort of

Thomas Hengge June 15, 2020

My trip home during the pandemic

Zishu Sherry Qin June 15, 2020

Popular India Square “won’t be the same again” 

Gaurav Sharma June 13, 2020

Feds will not raise its key interest rate until 2022 and project slow recovery

Zishu Sherry Qin June 11, 2020

Despite pandemic, thousands of Syrians protest against government as economy collapses

Marina Guimaraes June 10, 2020

On the frontline of two deadly viruses

Narkwor Kwabla June 10, 2020

Bronx fish market struggles to stay afloat during pandemic

Daniel Girma June 9, 2020

Venezuelans leave behind a country in crisis only to encounter a new crisis in New York

Maria Abreu June 8, 2020

China promotes street vendors to reboot the economy

Bohao Liu June 8, 2020

For the developmentally disabled, COVID-19 brings new challenges

Kyla Milberger June 7, 2020

Giving food to Staten island vulnerable communities during the lockdown

Alpha Kamara June 6, 2020

Hong Kongers gather despite COVID-19 ban on Tiananmen vigil

Yifan Yu June 4, 2020

Army returns home after completing COVID-19 mission in New York 

Maria Abreu June 4, 2020

Ailana’s life in quarantine

Talgat Almanov June 3, 2020

Venezuela has another obstacle: the pandemic

Marina Guimaraes June 3, 2020