Local churches serve and thrive amidst hardships

Local churches serve and thrive amidst hardshipsBy CHRISTINA MACGREOR

News Review Correspondent

Though the early signs of COVID-19 had been apparent in some states, a nationwide shutdown of everything but the bare essentials was still unexpected for many in March 2020. And now, nearly a year later, that quarantine still continues.

In spite of the uncertainty and stress, some local churches have found ways not only to survive, but also thrive.

“We learned how to navigate a stressful situation. We learned that we can be very flexible and adaptable, given the circumstances,” said Jerry Gamboa, Executive Pastor at the Ridgecrest Vineyard Church. “We’ve gotten to leverage technology in a really positive way. Even now if someone is sick, we can use a hybrid model where some people meet in church in person, and some people meet on Zoom.

“We were also able to reassess our team structures. We are more flexible now for a variety of situations, and we really built up a team to support that. We are now able to meet indoors, outdoors- a variety of places.”

Ridgecrest Church of the Nazarene has had to make similar adaptations to meet the needs of their congregation members.

“We’ve definitely have more of an online presence now,” said Pastor Stephanie Rogers, Children and Family Life Pastor for the church. “While we are trying to serve the people who can come into church, we also recognize that we need to reach out to those who may not be able to come in. We’ve made it a big priority to broadcast our services. We’ve also adapted our meetings to meet the state guidelines. We practice social distancing, and sanitize a lot more. We try to provide for the needs of our church by giving out masks to keep people safe.”

At Ridgecrest Vineyard Church, Gamboa and his team members became proactive about the need for change as soon as things shut down. They researched inside and outside the Ridgecrest area, to find the right fit for their church during pandemic times.

“We were looking at other churches in LA county and Bakersfield, and assessing how others were doing, to see if we could learn from them and adapt them to our town’s needs,” remarked Gamboa.

At first, things were a bit bumpy for them.

“It was hard at first to navigate the different opinions out there in the beginning,” mused Gamboa. “Are we open? Are we closed? That was the challenge. Also, we were working on our men’s recovery program at the time. We wondered how we could receive participants in our men’s recovery program for treating drug and alcohol abuse. How do we take in people at all during COVID times?

“It was hard enough to figure out if we could even open, and navigate the guidance that was changing all of the time. We also wanted to stay connected as a community through outreach, and still engage people, even with the different restrictions.” ‘When we did everything online for the first few months, everything was on Zoom. We had one camera; it was kind of a hokey process. We realized that video chat was one of the main ways that we were communicating with people during COVID, so we had to make it a priority.

“We had to upgrade our streaming technology. We had people join on Zoom in Zoom Interactive, and in Zoom prayer circles. We also had a daily message from one of the leaders. This was in the early stages. When we were finally able to meet outside, we got canopies and set up seating outside. We did this for quite a while until the weather got bad. Then we were allowed to go back indoors with restrictions. We had modified the flow and the configuration of the sanctuaries so that we could have multiple services.”

Marybel Gamboa, Jerry Gamboa’s wife and Kids Ministry Director, had great success in adapting the Kids Ministry program as well. She created shows that streamed online where her son Daniel played different characters, and the videos would also remind the children and their parents of the fun packets coming in the mail for them to do. After sending out the videos and packets, the Gamboas saw the children’s ministry double in number.

At the Church of the Nazarene, Rogers had great success with passing out their children packets.

“One of the things that we did early on was ‘Children’s Church at Home,’ which was little kits that we dropped off to families,” said Rogers, “We did different things like that, because when we couldn’t have our normal contact with people we found new ways to contact them.”

“We are just trying to help the children live in this new world, and face it with positivity going forward. I don’t want them to be afraid or discouraged, and I definitely want to be there for them and help them adapt to the new changes as well.”

In addition to the children packets, both churches have done extensive charity work as well.

The Ridgecrest Church of the Nazarene helped with “City Serve,” a non-profit group that helped donate a semi-truck worth of boxes of fresh produce from local farmers to families in need around the Ridgecrest, Inyokern and Trona communities. This happened weekly for months, and was a much needed boon to the Ridgecrest community.

Also, on the fourth Monday every month from 7-10 am, the church goes to I-wash on Norma and donates funds and soap to those who need to wash their laundry.

Ridgecrest Vineyard church also has a variety of programs to help community members, including running Men and Women Recovery Homes, and also a thrift store where proceeds help the recovery homes. They also help with funds and soap for laundry on the last Saturday of the month at the Thrifty Wash Fluff N’ Fold, and take part in “Share-a-Meal.”

“We’ve seen neighbors come together. 2020 was hard from COVID, but 2019 was also hard for our community because of the earthquakes,” said Rogers. “This has been ongoing for the last couple of years. People who may not have been involved in volunteer work have come forward and started to volunteer. Everybody did their part, and I’ve seen a lot of love for each other grow out of this situation.”

Gamboa’s parting thoughts on these unparalleled times were, “This won’t last forever, and we will get through this. We will be on the other side stronger, and our faith will go deeper because of everything that we went through.”

“As a church, we’ve found a new way to be a church,” mused Rogers, “We discovered that we are not just a building, and that God moves within our hearts. He’s been with us through this situation, and He will continue to do that. We’ve seen His love grow among us, and it’s helped us to focus on what really matters, which is relationships- connecting with people and caring for one another. That’s what really matters.”

For information about either church’s programs, information can be found at “https://www.rcnazarene.org/”https://www.rcnazarene.org/ or “https://rvclife.org/home”https://rvclife.org/home.

Pictured: Pastors Ken Lewis, Steve Smith, Stephanie Rogers and Kyle Lewis, minister, of the Nazarene Church work as a team to serve their members. - Laura Austin Photo

Story First Published: 2021-02-05