New Yorkers, Italians Seek God Amid COVID-19 Conversations

By   •   April 21, 2020

The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has been ministering to community members in New York and Italy due to COVID-19. Here, they offer support to a NYPD officer.

Over the last few weeks, more than 1,400 New Yorkers and Italians have prayed with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deployed in the hard-hit areas of New York City and northern Italy, the team’s crisis-trained chaplains have been offering emotional and spiritual care alongside Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospitals. While hundreds of patients have been treated by medical professionals, chaplains donned personal protective equipment to comfort the isolated and sick, encourage those working around the clock, and talk with families and community members nearby.

With much of the globe affected by this virus—including 2.5 million confirmed cases and more than 170,000 deaths worldwide as of April 21—many people are fearful they’re one step away from contracting COVID-19.

That’s how Charlie* and his girlfriend felt as they drove two hours from New Jersey to New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. His girlfriend was pregnant and needed a health exam.

As Charlie waited outside Mount Sinai for his girlfriend, he worried she might contract the virus and that the baby would become sick, too.

Ironically, he was standing nearby the Rapid Response Team’s Sharing Hope in Crisis tent, an area available to the community for prayer and a listening ear. A Billy Graham chaplain saw his look of distress and introduced himself. Charlie asked the chaplain to pray for God to protect the mother and baby—and help subside the family’s feelings of anxiousness.

The chaplains have had many conversations underneath this tent, set up near Central Park’s East Meadow.

However, this kind of prayer wasn’t a new concept to Charlie. He told the chaplain he believed in God and said his mother was religious.

“You believe [in] God, but have you ever accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” the chaplain asked him.

Looking around, Charlie took note of the passersby around him, seeing if anyone else was listening. He had just wanted temporary protection, but now had an opportunity for eternal refuge with the Almighty God.

They decided to move to a less-congested area. Pulling out a booklet called “Steps to Peace with God,” the chaplain showed Charlie how to become sure of his relationship with the Lord.

The booklet contains the following Scripture:

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

The chaplain asked Charlie if this promise meant anything to him.

“If I confess with my mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him, I will be saved?” Charlie asked.

It’s that simple, the chaplain explained.

>> View photos from the chaplains’ additional ministry in the tornado-ravaged Southeast.

But Charlie still wasn’t sure if he wanted to make a commitment. He didn’t want to surrender all aspects of his life—like smoking marijuana. And he didn’t attend church.

Following Jesus is the first step, the chaplain shared. There’s no requirements in earning salvation—it is a free gift of God.

The chaplain said if Charlie accepted Jesus, then God would transform his heart through the Holy Spirit. He explained that Charlie would eventually find that he would no longer want to smoke, and he would help him find an encouraging church family.

That resonated with Charlie, and he prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

This decision wasn’t a checkbox to get to heaven, the chaplain reminded him. Charlie agreed, wanting to follow Jesus.

Update: Cremona, Italy

Four-thousand miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, Rapid Response Team chaplains stationed in in Cremona, Italy, have also been privileged to witness God open hearts to His Good News.

One conversation started with just a cup of coffee—a chaplain brought a cup to a police officer manning a hospital admission gate. When their small talk shifted to eternity, the officer mentioned that he believed he would go to heaven. In turn, the chaplain shared how he could have a relationship with God—and the man prayed to invite Christ into his life.

Chaplains also encountered two Cremona Hospital employees, who came to the gate at the Samaritan’s Purse Field Hospital. One shared that she was a Christian and had wanted to pray with them a few weeks ago, but thought there would be a language barrier. The chaplains were able to lead the women in prayer. The two employees later shared about the peace that God gives with family members and co-workers, leading others to receive Christ.

In Cremona, Italy, a chaplain encourages a local while taking safety precautions. While some people are fearful of contracting COVID-19, chaplain Damaris Scalzi shared her perspective. “That’s where your faith has to come in,” she said. “If you feel called to help someone—to help the sick—you can’t shrink away.”

*Name changed due to privacy.

Do you want to have God’s peace, too? Know Him today.