ST. GEORGE — During the Saturday evening session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ April General Conference held Saturday and Sunday, President Russell M. Nelson called for a worldwide fast Friday for members and non-members alike to unite in faith amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized,” Nelson said in his conference address.
Shortly after, and in response to the Latter-day Saint leader’s call, a Worldwide Fast April 10 Facebook group was created by a member of the LDS faith who is currently serving a mission in California.
Through a grassroots-style social media effort, the group has grown to hundreds of thousands of members from around the world. A map posted on the group page displays the many places from across the globe where members live.
“We have, at last count, over 32 religions and there are 21 different languages being spoken in the group,” one of the group’s administrators, Dakota Kovach, said.
In the beginning, Kovach said, some of the comments on the group were ugly and unkind, but it has since become a source of inspiration for people of many different religious beliefs and faith practices.
Kovach is also serving an LDS mission. She said the administrators have a collective chat where they share some of the inspiring messages they have received from members of the Facebook group.
“Our group members are so supportive, and it is so powerful that we are uniting in prayer,” Kovach said.
A global effort against a global pandemic
Another administrator, Alexander Solis, echoed Kovach’s sentiments regarding the power of uniting faiths and countries together.
“I’ve always believed in the power of community and diversity and this interfaith community has proved that there is so much power,” Solis said.
Posts on the group page have poured in from around the world from faiths as diverse as Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and even Wiccan, pagan and those who are atheist. Many Native American tribes have also added their voices to the effort.
“I asked you if I could fast even though I am Muslim, so you surprised me with your hospitality and proved that you are men of tolerance. Thank you to everyone and welcome as friends. Welcome to your requests for friendship, and I will fast and pray to my Lord to lift this epidemic from us. Thank you,” one post said.
“Pentecostal all my life, but will gladly join all faiths with wonderful people with fasting and praying. Thank you for allowing me to join. God bless all of us,” another member wrote.
While still another member posted that his belief was in the Egyptian gods, but he was happy to join in the collective fast and prayer.
Rev. Jimi Kestin, senior pastor at Solomon’s Porch Foursquare in St. George, said when he received a text to join the worldwide effort, he answered the call with a resounding “yes” and “amen.”
“There is no greater blessing than to stand with others in a worthy cause, and the most powerful weapon we have against this unprecedented threat against our health and economic security is the liberty we have as Americans to freely exercise the mountain moving power of prayer. So, we will each give up something meaningful in an act of fasting, we will each pray in the way that reflects our various traditions,” Kestin said.
Kestin said he believes the wide reach and powerful response of the Facebook group says a great deal about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world.
“The attention this movement has received and the scope of people participating from so many faiths, and so many who have strayed from a faith walk wanting to participate, speaks volumes about how much impact this crisis has had in shaking the foundations of people’s well being and security,” Kestin said.
The global impacts of the coronavirus have ranged from death and sickness to economic hardship and mental health struggles, and the group’s posts have reflected the wide-ranging effects.
One member wrote: “I am pretty excited for this fast with you all! I have been pretty depressed lately! This group has helped me so much to know that I am not the only one struggling.”
Others have posted about their own sicknesses or family members and friends who are sick either with the coronavirus or other ailments.
“I’ve now been bedridden since April 2nd and the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts even under good conditions. Being in constant pain and nonstop coughing was really taking its toll. Two nights ago, another fever was coming on, my ribs were so painful with each cough I thought they’d break, and my muscles felt ready to give out completely,” a member of the group said.
“I just want to send out a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who is participating in this fast. United together with God, miracles can happen! I’m overwhelmed by the massive outpouring of faith and love in this group. Thank you for sharing your light. You are making a difference,” she wrote.
Perhaps one of the more profound things to come from the group is the amount of positivity its members have shown to everyone who asks to join the effort.
“Can we take a moment to appreciate just how profoundly compassionate and accepting this community is? This gave me a good laugh, but seriously, this is the perfect example of how amazing y’all are,” one person said after reading a funny interchange on the group page.
The exchange went as follows:
“I practice Satanism, but I’m down for anything to help save the world,” a member wrote.
“You are absolutely welcome to fast with us! Tell the dark knight that God loves him too and is waiting for him to obey his father,” a responder to the post, said.
In a more serious tone, Solis added his voice to the unity he feels from the group.
“This worldwide fast has shown the world and the LDS church, which I belong to, that we all need each other and God and that no matter where we come from, everyone’s faith is valid and needed,” he said.
What is a fast?
Fasting, most often abstaining from food and drink for a set period, is part of the theology of many world religions. Fasting is often accompanied by focused prayer or meditation.
In the case of the worldwide fast called for by Latter-day Saint leader, Nelson, participants are asked to abstain from food and drink for a period of 24 hours or two consecutive meals, if their health allows.
Those who are unable to physically fast can participate by fasting from something that is meaningful to them. Some examples listed on the Facebook group include abstaining from social media, video games or television.
Group members and people throughout the world are invited to participate in any way they can and have been given four specific things to focus their efforts on: that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized.
“I think the outcome of this will be so powerful, and I think it is so beautiful we are all united and focused on one thing together,” Kovach said.
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