While brewing my Hawaiian roast coffee on a late April morning in 2021, I received a text from the pastor of Oasis of Praise in Portland. He invited me to a Zoom meeting with medical staff from Oregon Health and Science University Hospital (OHSU) and representatives from the Coalition of African/African American Pastors (CAAAP).
The meeting was to start in sixteen minutes.
My mornings ideally begin with a cup of coffee, a daily Bible passage, and some quiet time contemplating the day’s schedule. But, as it turned out, God placed an unscheduled opportunity on my path that morning.
When God is at work in your life, expect disruptions to your plans, ideas, and preferences.
In this case, his plan would become beautifully imprinted in my mind through a single phrase.
OHSU’s Equity Committee was troubled by the slow rate of Covid 19 vaccinations among African Americans. While Oregon’s overall vaccination numbers exceeded state requirements for reopening businesses, the disparities in vaccinations between White and non-White residents were alarming. Their objective for meeting with CAAAP was simple: “We must ensure every Oregonian has access to a COVID-19 vaccine." They wanted to hear from Black pastors and gain our perspectives on this disparity. The committee also wanted us to host vaccine clinics at our church facilities, hoping our community cache would engender confidence among ethnic residents with historically based trust issues. We sifted through ideas and devised tentative plans to bring Pfizer vaccines to two church campuses in the greater Beaverton area.
Our goal was three hundred vaccinations. As of the day before the clinic, forty-five people had preregistered to receive their first shots. The low preregistration numbers were somewhat deflating. We regrouped to create last-minute promotion ideas like walking neighborhoods and handing out flyers at shopping centers. Some felt that we ought to cancel the clinic and try again later. Instead, we talked with OHSU and jointly decided to bring one hundred and fifty doses due to the low preregistration. Honestly, we could feel a defeatist spirit creeping into our atmosphere.
Then the day of the clinic arrived. Within the first hour, fifty-four people received vaccination shots. This early turnout shook us out of our funk and brought us back to the purpose of our event. That is, we were determined to bless our community. As a result, we pleasantly remembered that our collaboration was never about a projected number of administered vaccination doses or checking off a statistical box. Our event was successful the moment one person was vaccinated. One turned into fifty-four. By the end of the clinic, fifty-four had turned into one twenty-four. Each individual was a recipient of a beautiful blessing. For that fact alone, our collaboration was a great success!
I did not know it at the time I received that early-April-morning text. But now, I am fascinated by how I had only had sixteen minutes to say yes to God—so that he could bless one hundred and twenty-four residents of our city.
Here Are Four Observations
First, the initial text came from a dear brother and fellow pastor in Portland. We had already built a relationship in Christ. In other words, we had a foundation upon which we could work together to bless others!
Second, that invitation came from a trusted source. I was more inclined to take it seriously as a result.
Third, CAAAP is a diverse group of influential leaders from different theological, denominational, and experiential backgrounds. They wear their diversity on their sleeves and shamelessly celebrate it. Partnering with a local hospital to help people in need was a brilliant idea that expanded CAAAP’s reach into the community.
And fourth, our collaboration intentionally invited all of our voices to participate in the conversation. Each perspective was valuable as we formulated plans for hosting vaccination clinics.
I doubt that I can recall every detail of that first vaccination clinic. But I guarantee that I will remember how God orchestrated an opportunity to bless precious residents in our cities—and I only had sixteen minutes to say yes! The next time you only have a small window of opportunity to respond to divine appointments, remember that our Lord knows how to take five barley loaves and two fish and feed a massive crowd of hungry people. Between you and your trusted network of people, he can delightfully transform all of your sixteens into one-twenty-fours.
 Two ethnic communities in particular are hesitant to receive Covid-19 vaccinations and for good reasons. African Americans remember the gruesome atrocity of the 1932 “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” This one event is so incorporated into Black history that it often evokes automatic mistrust for any medical injections. Latinos statistically are feel more favorable about receiving the vaccine according to U.S. News & World Report. Among the obstacles preventing vaccinations, the fear of deportation for undocumented residents is real. I spoke with one OHSU doctor specifically about this issue. He emphatically said that they do not care about citizen status. All they want is to help prevent people from contracting or spreading Covid-19. Yet, the mistrust in these communities remain as obstacles. For info on the Tuskegee study, see the CDC’s article “The Tuskegee Study” at https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm. For info on Covid-19 vaccine issues among Latinos, see the U.S. World News & Report article “Survey: Hispanics Are the Most Eager to Get Vaccinated – but Face Obstacles” at https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-05-14/latinos-are-most-eager-to-get-covid-vaccine-but-face-obstacles.
Avery Stafford is pastor of Common Ground Church in Beaverton, and author of When Collaboration Mirrors the Trinity: Leveraging Unity to Bless Our World (Wipf and Stock).