Over the past serveral weeks, we've shared different stories on how those in our congregation are living missionally during this season. For this story, we had a chance to chat with Russ Barbera, who is a volunteer at our Cheektowaga Campus. We did this one a little differently, and displayed it in an interview style.
What have you been doing during this pandemic to be the hands and feet of Jesus?
I determined from the start to press into my relationship with God by doing what I have been doing all along, spending time in His Word and in prayer, first thing each day- before the cares and distractions of everyday life (pandemic pressures included) might pull my eyes off Jesus and following Him. God is at work all around and my mission is to recognize it and join in.
So, God has given me a circle of influence at home, in my neighborhood, at work and in our church body. I try to keep my focus on that.
At home my wife and I continue to stay connected to our church body on Sundays and we also started a Community Group for married couples at our home during the pandemic. We have been ministering to our grandchildren and Barb has been home - schooling two of them.
In our neighborhood - it is rural - we have taken walks with the intention of engaging our neighbors and beginning to establish relationships with them, offering to pray and letting them know we are here to help if they need it. We dropped notes of encouragement in several mailboxes and gave them our cell numbers. That connected us with other believers down the road. We continue to pray for and connect with all of them.
I have continued to work during the pandemic and have been able to share Jesus, God's Word of hope, and invite people at work to church and zoom services. Conversations about life’s difficulties also resulted in a co-worker, going through difficult family issues, to receive Jesus as savior. Just keeping spiritual eyes open at work and not letting stress and pressure take control, leads to opportunity to share the love of Christ and experience a strength and inner peace that the Holy Spirit who lives in me, and is greater, provides me by grace alone.
A call went out last summer through our church for someone to connect with a shut-in who was about to have major surgery. The Holy Spirit prompted a response. The man, an older veteran, was alone with no family or friends in WNY, and relatively incapacitated. Fast forward nearly a year and our relationship grows - his faith has strengthened. Jesus has given him hope. With the pandemic, he is even more susceptible and my time to give him shrank- but with prayer as the foundation, God provided another man from our church to help my friend as well.
How did you see God calling you to that specifically and how has it strengthened your walk with Jesus?
I know God is calling me to love people and I know I can only do so much. God doesn’t need me - nor does He need me to overload myself with an over-busy life of service. But, He has work for me to do, people to love and serve. The way I “hear” God and recognize what He wants from me is by staying spiritually nourished and tuned in to Him by staying grounded daily in His Word and prayer. The more I hear His voice cut through the noise of the world, the more I recognize it. My responsibility is just to obey. It strengthens my walk because when I experience His presence in me along with His faithful love for me and others, that draws me to desire more and more of Him.
What has God been teaching you during this season?
His Holiness. He has no rival. His sovereignty. The pandemic is being used by God to draw many to Him and to strengthen my faith. He is teaching me to trust Him and enjoy Him in any and every circumstance. Pain and suffering will end forever in the not too distant future for a child of God. He is coming for me and all of us- that is certain and gives me a great unshakeable hope.