Dear JCSTS Community,

Grace, peace, and health to you! This note is to update you about themes and activities resonating at JCSTS in light of COVID-19.

The Coronavirus outbreak often is described as 'unprecedented.' Perhaps it is. But a look back through the annals of history may indicate otherwise.

A century ago, the influenza outbreak of 1918 infected one-third of the world's population and claimed the lives of a whopping 675,000 persons in the U.S. alone. Fifty years ago in 1968, an evolved strain of the flu took the lives of 100,000 people in the U.S., most of them older adults. Just 20 years ago, the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009-10 took the lives of 12,400 Americans. The reality of life on Planet Earth is that viruses and bacteria that activate the human immune system helping to keep us strong can morph without warning, causing epidemics and pandemics that result in heartbreaking loss of life.

During uncertain times like these, history can help us maintain our perspective and renew our hope. In a recent CBS This Morning interview, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin remarked that "in going back and remembering the people who lived in those early days of the Civil War or the Great Depression [we realize] they did not know how things were going to end. They felt enormous anxiety. And yet history tells us that in each one of those situations leaders and citizens came through and we emerged stronger than before."

Goodwin's statement recalls the essence of salvation history which recognizes a God who raises up the right people at the right time and who extricates us from the devastations of shortage, hunger, enslavement, war, homelessness, marginalization, disease--even the cross.

Wittingly or unwittingly, Kearns' statement also recalls the African proverb symbolized by the Sankofa-- a stylized bird with its head turned backwards, feet facing forward, impregnated with a precious egg in her mouth. The Sankofa is associated with the words, "it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." Pregnant with possibility, she retrieves what she needs from her past as a pathway to her future. As we navigate our way through our current tribulations, it is not wrong to go back and get lessons to help us move forward wisely into the unknown.

In 2001, Malawi born William Kamkwamba who had just graduated eighth grade when his education was interrupted by a famine that brought his family’s farm to ruin and left his parents unable to pay his annual school fees. Hungry for knowledge, William borrowed a book from the town library called Using Energy . He taught himself to build a windmill that would power his family’s home eliminating the need for kerosene. He then built a larger windmill to pump grey water for irrigation that helped restore the family farm. William went on to study at Dartmouth College, graduating in 2014. His inspiring story is the subject of a feature length film entitled 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.' To read more about him, click here: William's story reminds us about the power of the human spirit and its drive, amid the worst of hardships, to survive and flourish.

Former President William J. Clinton said, "the greatest progress we have made, and the greatest progress we have yet to make, is in the human heart. In the end, all the world's wealth and a thousand armies are no match for the strength and decency of the human spirit."

Psalm 8 says, "[humans] are made a little lower than angels and are crowned with glory and honor." There's no doubt this pandemic will change us forever; but we are human and we shall emerge stronger and wiser than before.

Finally, as JCSTS drills down on lessons from its own rich 153-year history, we remain committed to making high quality online theological education accessible to all. As more and more organizations turn to digital platforms, JCSTS also is committed to offering our partners online and digital support. We pray for those who are ill and grieving today. And we hope you'll join us in monitoring, advocating for, and assisting in the just and equitable distribution of medical goods and services to the underserved in your respective locale.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jeremiah 29:11
Yours in Christ,

Paul Roberts
Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary