In January, before most Americans were even aware of COVID-19, several Chinese-born Christians in our church began meeting together regularly to pray for China and the virus that was spreading in Wuhan. They were hearing reports from family and friends that the situation was growing dire.
Tian and Liying Qi, two of our church’s most faithful members, were among them. They came forward during one of our services and asked if we could pray together for China, and specifically mask shortages. Their connections in the medical community told them N95 masks were greatly needed, and often in short supply. They had begun an extensive search for these masks and were willing to invest their own funds in purchasing as many as possible.
I encouraged them to share their efforts with our Sunday International Bible study group. They agreed, and immediately a Tulsa businessman who attends the class came alongside them to help them. They soon shipped more than ten thousand masks to China, with many going to Hong Kong where they could more easily be received. Hong Kong soon became one of the first major cities to slow the virus spread significantly.
At that time, no cases of COVID-19 had yet been diagnosed in the U.S., and most of the world was still downplaying the severity of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, Tian and Liying felt led to hold onto a few cases of masks from their shipment – just in case a need arose closer to home.
Just a few weeks later, COVID-19 roared into the U.S. The first documented case in Oklahoma happened right here in Tulsa. Soon after, the virus brought all of us to a grinding halt, as new cases were being diagnosed daily. Social distancing became the norm. Americans were scrambling to buy masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and other supplies to protect themselves and their families. Toilet paper was soon sold out across the country. Many people bought far more of all these things than they needed.
As pandemic lockdowns became ubiquitous throughout our state and the entire country, COVID-19 wasn’t the only disease spreading among people. Xenophobia quickly reared its ugly head, and reports of racism against Asian-Americans multiplied throughout the country. Many people wrongfully assigned blame for the coronavirus to Asian people themselves. These incidents were far worse than simply calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or spreading misinformation. Some cases included significant verbal harassment of Asian-Americans and even physical violence.
None of this fazed Tian and Liying. As soon as reports began to surface of N95 mask shortages in major U.S. cities, this tenacious Chinese-born couple immediately went back into action. While other people were hoarding supplies, they sent more than a hundred of their masks to a major hospital just outside of New York City.
Just days later, a Saint Francis Hospital emergency room physician in our church contacted me. Their ER was in danger of running out of N95 masks, and he wondered if I knew of anyone who had masks available their unit. I immediately called Tian and Liying, and they delivered a box of 300 masks. As coronavirus cases were rising quickly, their masks helped equip the emergency room for an entire weekend. We later received an email from hospital leadership, thanking Tian and Liying for their generous gift and the protection it provided for doctors, nurses, and patients.
Tian and Liying continue to acquire and send masks to health care workers in Tulsa and in other parts of our state. They continue working day and night, contacting friends, business partners, and doctors in China, trying to get more masks sent to the U.S.
At a time when anti-Asian sentiments have disappointingly reemerged, Tian and Liying stand out as light in darkness. They have helped meet critical needs, both physical and spiritual, in our community, country, and around the world. They have allowed love, not fear, to drive their actions. Tian and Liying remind us that even in the midst of the worst of circumstances, faithful people are doing good things in the name of Christ. I am honored to be their pastor.
Eric Costanzo is lead pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter @eric_costanzo or visit his website at http://ericcostanzo.me.