by Joshua Rivera
On Monday, March 9th, 2020, at 9:37 in the morning, Raquel gave birth to our second son, Judah, in the peace and comfort of our own home. Raquel and I serve in a co-pastor role at Bethlehem Community Fellowship. As the due date approached, we spoke with church leadership about taking four weeks away from ministry to be together and adjust to life as a family of four.
Two days after our son’s birth, a national emergency was declared and within a week, we were asked to shelter-at-home and distance ourselves from everyone outside of our four-person household. At first, we were not impacted greatly. Since we were planning to step away from the hustle and bustle of life, that’s what we did.
The first week was almost a dream. Friends and family delivered groceries, meals, and needed household items to our front door, so we didn’t need to leave the house. We were enjoying sleeping in with the boys, laughing together as a family, and staring at our new baby boy as much as possible. In this strange time, my family and I felt removed from it all.
A week later, though, we began to feel the impact. The weeks we planned to fill with trips to zoos, parks, libraries, and with visits from family and friends, all canceled. We are an active family, and Raquel is great at planning fun family outings. The pandemic forced us to be at home together in an unusual way. We spent the first week or so in front of the television. But one can only distract from real life for so long. Watching the news was not helpful, satisfying, or edifying.
I felt helpless to assist my church community because I was on leave, had a two-year-old, a newborn, and a healing wife to care for at home. Worst of all, the lack of routine in this situation made much of our week feel wasted. Raquel and I sat down and created a special routine for our family. We made space for her to continue to rest and heal. We set times for her and me to be alone with the Lord. We built in a lot of playtimes. We made a schedule that had an immediate, positive impact.
There is something empowering about being intentional with one’s time. It was powerful to set aside time to meet with Jesus and expect Jesus to show up. The changes seemed to begin with me. I began the day in silence and then prayer. My prior patterns of personal worship, meditation, and study the word, and prayer altered. I spent the time praying for the world, our nation, our leaders, the church, and my family. I didn’t recognize it immediately, but that time of prayer shifted something in me. After my prayer, I brought Ezra downstairs for breakfast and started our morning routine while Raquel and Judah slept. After breakfast cleanup, Ezra and I read a few stories from his Children’s Bible, said our prayers, and worshipped together. When Raquel and Judah woke up, we made crafts, took walks, and played. After bedtime, Raquel and I spent time together.
Quarantine was so much easier. I found myself praying throughout the day. When Judah would wake up in the middle of the night, I would change his diaper, give him to Raquel, and then pray. One day, after our morning routine, Ezra and I did our worship time together. Often Ezra just played in the corner of our living room. This particular morning, I sensed the Holy Spirit draws near. I also noticed the room was quiet, dangerously quiet for a two-year-old playing in the room. I opened my eyes, and I saw Ezra kneeling in front of me. With his face pressed to the floor, he began to pray. My two-year-old son prayed like I never heard him pray before. Ezra told Jesus he loved him. He thanked Jesus for helping him go to the potty, and asked Jesus to take the coronavirus away so he could go play in the park and see his friends. Weeping, Ezra and I entered into an unbelievably beautiful time of worship. My two-year-old and I genuinely worshipped the Lord together.
From that morning, whatever had shifted in me now shifted within our household. Every day was spent worshipping Jesus, reading our Bibles together, and praying together while making crafts, taking walks, or playing. We spoke with increased love for one another and served each other. Ezra sought ways to serve his baby brother and us, which included giving him his pacifier and grabbing burp cloths as needed. Now instead of Judah, it was the Lord who woke me up to pray and war in the spirit for the church of Jesus Christ.
When our four weeks of leave ended, Raquel and I began socially-distanced discipling in our community and prayed for people over the phone and video chat. We began receiving regular testimonies of people being healed and experiencing the love and peace of God while praying over the phone! We began to see growth in our leadership team with a passion for prayer. What the Lord birthed in us during our quarantine spread throughout church leadership.
The more time I spent with Jesus, and the more I began to meditate on the change taking place in me and my family, the more I seemed to glimpse the Lord’s heart for this season. He was, and is, restoring the institution of the family. I became convinced that Jesus was working to restore the family unit back to its place of influence in our society.
My scripture study seemed to echo the same idea. I saw the work of God often accomplished through the family. In Genesis 1:26-29, the Lord blessed man and woman and told them to multiply upon the face of the earth. The family received the mandate to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. In Genesis 6 and 9:1-3, the Lord saved Noah and his family from the floodwaters and tasked them to multiply and have dominion on the earth. In Genesis 12, the Lord chose the family of Abraham, promised to multiply this family, and blessed all of the families of the earth through them.
In the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled the promise to Abraham. Jesus, part of the family of Abraham, brought the kingdom of heaven near. Jesus sent the apostles to find households as a base to share the good news. Many new church communities began in households. When persecution pushed the gathering of the church out of larger public gatherings, the family and the home often served as the center of church life. The phrase, “salvation has come to you and your household” (Luke 19:9) came to mind.
In the New Testament book of Ephesians, Paul gave a practical example of our new life in Christ in the context of the family unit. We are blessed with every blessing in the heaven and the earth, we are sons of God, we are seated with Christ above all powers, principalities, and rulers of the air, we are made alive in Christ, we are the temple of Holy Spirit, and we are empowered to live holy and righteous lives as imitators of God! And empowered in this way, we are to submit to one another, first within the context of family, and then within the larger body of Christ, just as Jesus submitted himself to the will of God.
The Lord taught me beautiful lessons in this strange season of quarantine. In the process of being a better father and husband and my struggle with feelings of helplessness to serve the needs of my church community, the Lord matured me as a leader. As I strove to look after my family, the Lord helped me love and disciple the church better. When my family and I aligned with the Lord, the Spirit began what I am calling a revival in our home. I hope and believe that revival spreads throughout our church community. As we look at our families, empowered by new life in Christ, I believe the Lord is preparing us to serve well in the Kingdom of God.