There has been no sustained community transmission of the coronavirus in the United States so far, and many Chinese churches such as Raleigh Chinese Christian Church (RCCC) are doing their best to keep it that way.
Taped to the entrance of the church’s glass doors is a yellow notice with the word “ATTENTION” in capital letters. It warns parents not to bring their children to church if they’ve traveled to Asia in the past 14 days.
Churches such as RCCC—a nondenominational congregation with services in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English—have taken it upon themselves to self-quarantine, in keeping with Centers for Disease Control guidance.
The outbreak of the virus, which began in Wuhan, China, has sickened thousands and has killed more than 2,700 people. At least 35 people in the US are infected with the so-called COVID-19 virus—all linked to overseas travel, including 18 people evacuated from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.
Tan, whose church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), said many US Chinese churches have members grieving the loss of family or friends who have died in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China.
The major airlines—Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines—suspended service to mainland China on January 31, so any Chinese Americans headed to China for work, school—or the funeral of a loved one—are unable to go. Chinese nationals who were visiting the US before the air travel restrictions were put in place cannot return home; so too, Americans who happened to be visiting China before the epidemic started.
Chinese Americans are mostly secular; 52 percent do not affiliate with a particular religion. But 31 percent consider themselves Christians and 15 percent are Buddhist, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
There are between 200 and 250 Chinese churches affiliated with the SBC, said Amos Lee, executive director of the Chinese Baptist Fellowship of USA and Canada. Most are small with about 100 members, but there are larger ones, especially in the big cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Dallas.
The church, located a few blocks from North Carolina State University, has canceled its Chinese student fellowship meetings this month. The fellowship, which includes about 40 students, may resume meeting in March, though no decision has been made.
Charlotte’s Chinese Baptist Church changed the way it serves Sunday lunch. Instead of having people line up buffet style, it now arranges plates heaped with food on a table and servers wearing face masks and gloves hand them to church members.
In response, Chinese American churches and nonprofits have also been fundraising for the people of Wuhan. Chinese Americans from across the Carolinas donated toward an effort to buy boxes of face masks.
Other organizations have offered help, as well. Samaritan’s Purse, for example, donated 78 pallets of medical supplies and personal protective equipment through the US State Department, said Kaitlyn Lahm, a spokesperson for the North Carolina-based ministry.
The New York Times reported that several donations from overseas faith-based groups have not been well received. Local officials have rejected some donations because they fear trouble for cooperating with what the centralized government considers to be illegal organizations. The government in China recognizes five faiths, but at the same time it co-opts state-sanctioned religious organizations.
Cathy Kimball, a resident of Cary who attends CBC Raleigh, said that despite the difficulties, church members are not isolated. Social media has allowed Chinese Americans to stay in touch with friends and family in China, primarily through WeChat, the Chinese messaging and social media app.