ON MARCH 6, officials in Austin, Texas, canceled this year’s South by Southwest, the city’s massive film, music, and tech conference. It would have started March 13.
More than 400,000 people attended last year. But by March 6, more than 50,000 people had signed an online petition to cancel it. Big businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Netflix had withdrawn from the festival.
In early March—before South by Southwest’s cancellation—Christians were preparing for a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) is a group of 185 churches that trains volunteers to work together in crises. In 2018, ADRN Director Daniel Geraci told WORLD’s Marvin Olasky: “God so loves the world and His church that He’s preparing the church to be the best asset when disaster strikes—not the one where the city says, ‘Stay away,’ but the one that provokes a ‘We need these guys’ response.”
Geraci told WORLD ADRN is coordinating with the Emergency Operations Center for the city of Austin regarding the coronavirus. ADRN stocks supplies for disaster response, with volunteers and vehicles ready to deliver them if needed. The leadership team was praying about opening an emotional and spiritual care hotline, and its prayer room already had people praying specifically that COVID-19 will stop spreading. An epidemiologist adviser held conference calls with church leaders to answer questions and talk about responses.
Some Austin church leaders contacted the Austin Baptist Association (ABA) for advice. Director David Smith said ABA encourages pastors to read the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and create a plan suited to their congregation. He also encourages them to connect with other local churches.
ABA member Hillcrest Church has about 350 regular attendees. Karen Oden leads the children’s ministry and recently sent parents the church’s good health policy as a reminder: “Here are the policies we already have,” she said. “Let’s just make sure we’re already doing even higher standards of what we already do.” Oden said the most important thing is “trusting that God’s going to see us through all this, and if things go bad, trusting that God is still good and it will be OK.”