By early March, the virus still hadn’t hit Gordon County, where Ms. Francis lives. But the possibility was weighing on her mind. The message on her favorite YouTube show was getting more dire as the host, Chris Martenson, a financial guru-turned-pandemic early warner, ratcheted up his pleadings for viewers to prepare themselves.
Ms. Francis’s 27-year-old granddaughter has a compromised immune system. As a senior citizen, she herself was vulnerable. She did what she always has done and channeled her own feelings into her door-knocking ministry. Do you think, she would ask people as she car-pooled with other members to canvass the county, that the virus is a sign of the end of the world?
“No one was paying much attention,” she said.
Elsewhere, in places like New York where infections were starting to climb, Jehovah’s Witness members were feeling the pinch on their ministries.
One of them, Joe Babsky, for weeks had been easing into conversations with members of his Planet Fitness gym in the Bronx. He knew them by first name only — Jerry who had lost more than 100 pounds; Jason who seemed to spend an hour on each body part; Bernie, a 78-year-old who was more fit than men half his age. Mr. Babsky had shown a few of them Bible verses and had made progress recently with Bernie discussing the logic behind the existence of an intelligent creator.
Then the gym closed.
“All those conversations and others were cut short,” Mr. Babsky said.
Life continued as normal in Ms. Francis’s town of Calhoun. She was convinced things were about to change but she was too embarrassed to wear a mask — until an encounter in Costco when a passing shopper coughed without covering her mouth.
In mid-March, her Kingdom Hall meetings went virtual. Members logged into Zoom to share Bible scriptures. Ms. Francis settled on one that she thought would resonate as she knocked on doors in her neighborhood across the county, which had by then registered a handful of Covid-19 cases.
At the doorstep, Ms. Francis would start her pitch by asking people if they could make one thing in the world go away, what would it be? If the answer had to do with the pandemic, she would recite a couple verses from the book of Luke:
“There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another food shortages and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.”