Celebrating Christ in the COVID Epicenter
Celebrating Christ in the COVID Epicenter

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In COVID Epicenter, Multicultural Church Celebrates Unity in Christ

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Pamela Barahona-Carroll

Near the epicenter of New York’s COVID-19 outbreak, multicultural church Calvary Chapel of Grace and Truth recently gathered in a drive-in service to celebrate the justice and peace that Christ offers to all through salvation.

Pastor Johnny and a church leader pray with a woman named Laurie to receive Christ.

Pastor Johnny Zacchio and a church leader pray with a woman named Laurie who wanted to receive Christ as her Lord and Savior.

Standing at his podium perched in the back of a pickup truck, Pastor Johnny Zacchio stretched out his arms in welcome under a sunny blue sky to the enthusiastic crowd of nearly 200 people gathered in the parking lot in Yonkers. Some sat in lawn chairs, others in cars listening through the radio. People shouted greetings, and a few even gave hugs to those they hadn’t seen in nearly three months.

Man prays for lady in parking lot

A church leader joins with others to pray for a woman.

“Today I want to share about a man who was falsely accused and wrongfully arrested; He was brutally beaten and eventually murdered at the hands of the very authorities who were supposed to uphold the law and justice,” Pastor Johnny began soberly. “The man I speak of is Jesus Christ, who died a gruesome death on the cross for something He didn’t do. This was the greatest injustice in all of humanity. Because Jesus Christ alone is the only person who walked this earth who is absolutely innocent, sinless, and righteous. Yet He willingly laid down His life for the sake of you and me, because of His great love for us.” A chorus of honking horns, high beams, and hallelujahs responded.

Pastor Johnny preaches outdoors

Pastor Johnny preaches to his outdoor audience in Yonkers. Many in their cars responded with honks and flashing headlights. “Jesus alone is the Prince of Peace, the only one who offers true and abiding peace,” he reminded his multiethnic, multiracial fellowship.

aerial view of packed church parking lot

Members of Calvary Chapel of Grace and Truth return to in-person church in a drive-in service. The Yonkers, NY, fellowship was in the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cars remained socially distanced.

“I’m calling this message: ‘Know Justice, Know Peace.’ We long for justice. In this fallen world with fallen people and an imperfect judicial system, we may never get true justice. But we can take heart that with our just God, one day every wrong will be made right, and we will have true justice at last. There is a time and a place for peaceful protests where people can make their voices heard. But not at the expense of the Gospel.” Cheers and honks sounded. “Jesus alone is the Prince of Peace, the only one who offers true and abiding peace. On the cross, He paid the price we owed to bring justice to a lost and dying world—to right every wrong, and to make forgiveness, reconciliation, and love possible and attainable, not only between God and man but also towards one another. To love our neighbor as we are commanded to do as His followers. My prayer is that we can know His justice so that we can know His peace.”

man reads Bible standing in parking lot

A man reads his Bible in the fresh air.

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. 2 Corinthians 5:16a

couple wearing masks on lawnchairs in parking lot

A couple turns their lawn chairs into a church pew at the outdoor service.

Citing the above verse, Johnny expounded, “As followers of Jesus Christ, when we see one another, we don’t see the flesh [but] the spirit-man. We look at each other not according to our race or age or social or economic status. When I look out at our congregation, I am overjoyed, privileged, honored, and humbled to be the undershepherd of a multicultural, multiethnic body of believers.” Pastor Johnny paused, chuckling, to let the thunderous, joyous applause of car horns and shouted amens subside from the gathering of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians, and other ethnicities. “It’s a joy to see every tribe, kindred, and, tongue, much of which is represented in our congregation. That is the body of Christ.” He spoke about God’s love, and how believers are to show that love to each other and to the world, citing Romans 13:10, Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

ladies distributing commmunion elements in parking lot

Two women carry plates with the communion elements to people waiting in their cars.

Pastor Johnny concluded, “Jesus is just and the Justifier. God executed justice on every injustice on His Son, willingly giving up His rights on the cross that we might experience His grace, mercy, and love. … To receive what none of us deserved, to have eternal life in heaven and an abundant life here on earth. Justice and mercy were met and satisfied on the cross. Let’s seek unity; let’s seek peace. We as Christ followers know justice, and because of that we know peace.” Hallelujahs and car horns echoed across the pavement. He invited anyone who wanted to receive Christ to come forward. “He will not turn you away. It doesn’t matter what your sin looks like or what you’re involved in, if you’re willing to ask Him to forgive you, He is willing to forgive you.”

couple wearing masks listen to Johnny teach

Two attendees relax at the outdoor service.

Yasmin, a first-time visitor, bolted from a car and walked purposefully to the front. Believers cheered and clapped for her. Pastor Johnny led her in a prayer of repentance and salvation. As the group took communion, Assistant Pastor Bob Allbee encouraged Yasmin and gave her a new believer’s workbook. Smiling, Bob said, “When you accept Christ, God takes your sins and throws them as far as the east is from the west, never to be remembered.” Yasmin related that she had gone to church as a girl but never opened her heart to Christ. Bob encouraged her: “Those seeds got sown, and now they were watered, and you came to Him by your own choice today.” She began to cry, nodding and smiling. His eyes also misting, Bob exclaimed, “The angels in heaven are cheering right now. This is a glorious day for you.” Once the service ended, he and Pastor Johnny encouraged her to read the Bible and grow closer to God. Several women from the church came up to congratulate her, and she promised to return next week.

lady clasps hands in prayer in parking lot

A woman lifts her cares before the Lord.

Visiting those in their cars, Pastor Johnny approached Laurie and her mother. He had seen her on occasion before the pandemic. “It’s so great to see you, Laurie. I encourage you to come back to church and keep coming,” he suggested. Sensing the Spirit leading, he added, “It doesn’t matter where we’ve been; it’s just about what the Lord is doing in your heart right now.”

Pastor Johnny and with his wife

Pastor Johnny Zacchio and his wife Tina.

Laurie began to weep and said, “I wanted to go up [to receive Christ] but I was scared. I need to receive Jesus as my Savior. Will you pray for me?” Pastor Johnny led her in a prayer to accept Jesus.

Pastor Johny fellowships with man in parking lot

Pastor Johnny and another man share the joy of meeting in person again.

Johnny recalled, “The Spirit moved on her heart. She was certainly convicted and wanted to receive Christ. It was a beautiful thing. I had been teaching in Acts 2 that day, about how the people were cut to the heart and asked how to be saved.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). He explained, “Peter said to repent. So we really saw the Holy Spirit cutting people to the heart. Three people accepted Christ. It was a really timely message, especially with the current events. It brought a lot of peace and unity. Our church is multicultural and multiethnic—a testament of the love of Christ to all peoples. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

ladies wearing masks fellowship in parking lot

Tina and another churchgoer, happy to worship together again, catch up on each other’s lives.

Daniel Menta, a recent high school graduate, said of the drive-in gathering: “I felt that Christ was glorified, and God’s peace and comfort abounded. Personally, I was deeply encouraged and empowered to walk in Spirit and truth. Pastor Johnny is a great example; I was blessed to be a part of it.”

lady sits on curb in parking lot praying

A lone woman listens, enjoying fresh air outside of her car, at CC of Grace and Truth’s drive-in service.

Assistant Pastor Bob noted that visitors often comment that they feel welcome among the family of believers at CC Grace and Truth. “We are proud of that. We say that whoever comes in our doors was invited by God, regardless of how they look or dress. That attitude comes from Pastor Johnny; he’s a very strong leader in following the Gospel, loving people, and being an example in and outside of church.” Bob added, “We are really blessed to have the demographic we have. … God is the only one who can weave that beautiful tapestry together; we don’t do it in the flesh.”

ladies in lawn chairs take communion in parking lot

Two women take communion at the service.

Calvary Chapel of Grace and Truth had been meeting online for nearly three months due to the pandemic, but Pastor Johnny sensed God leading him to gather the flock together again. To other pastors, he recommended, “If the Lord is leading you to do it, step out in faith and trust the Lord for the results.” His team had to learn about technology, purchasing wireless mics and a low-cost FM transmitter so that people could tune in from their cars in the parking lot. “Being near the epicenter, people are so captivated by fear, so afraid to leave their houses. I told my leaders I didn’t know if only a few people would show up. The first Sunday, no one got out of their cars. The second Sunday, almost everyone was out of their cars, hugging each other. It was just amazing. We need each other as the body of Christ.”

ccogt.org

A woman reads the Bible standing near a car in a parking lot

A young woman reads her Bible outside her car.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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