Mar 30, 2020
In uncertain times, it’s important to remember the power of hope in the midst of mass anxiety. Tune into Faith>Fear every other week to learn how people with all kinds of perspectives are coping through quarantine, social distancing and COVID-19, and beyond.
“Try to find balance in the smallest kind of segment you can,” says Ben Thornley, a missions pastor at Southeast Christian Church. “...When you don’t have a balanced day, try to balance out your week.” If not the week, then the month. If you can’t manage the month, something’s not right. But has it become harder or easier to strike that balance amidst a pandemic?
When it comes to finding that balance as a church, Ben feels that you have to find the sweet spot between thoughtfulness and decisiveness. “I think during this pandemic it really solidified that some of our knee-jerk reactions weren’t necessarily the right things.” The key was listening to their community and determining what needs were real ones they could address.
However, a balance must also be found between holding on to our habits and embracing new ones. He summarized Southeast’s senior pastor Kyle Idleman as saying, “The worst thing we can do is just keep looking back at the old path… Until things go back to normal, wherever he has us, be Christ there.” Normal may not be the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
In 2020, Faith>Fear interviewed over 70 individuals who spoke from their heart about their experiences in life and ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that we still find ourselves navigating similar waters in early 2021, it seems only right to revisit their wisdom. This month, we explore comments on how to carry on in Christian life as we manage stress, find joy, and remember the sovereignty of God, no matter our circumstances.
You might be glad to have 2020 behind you, but how has it shaped your understanding of life? College Heights Christian Church’s lead minister Sy Huffer sums it up well: “I’m not in control of my surroundings, but I’m ridiculously in charge of submitting myself to the hands of the potter.” To put it another way, we can’t change the road we’re on, but we can make sure we take the best turns to arrive at our destination.
One turn that Sy and his ministry team chose to focus on in 2020 was “your one.” “One thing that you could have done throughout the whole year of 2020 is pursue one person to show the love of Jesus to.” Looking back over the past year, we must ask ourselves if we turned at that intersection, or did we blow right past it?
While we all make personal choices, some turns must be made as a community. “If we’re not careful as a church, we can get so caught up in those glory days that we miss the turn, the opportunity for the gospel to reach people that we would have never been able to reach before.” Now that we’re in 2021, look at your roadmap—is this where you meant to be?
“COVID has taught me that God redeems everything,” says our host Mike Schrage. Through all the difficulties, many of us have received the blessings of rest, contentment, and quality time with family. Yet, God has also given us unexpected opportunities for ministry. As Mike shares, “I’ve had more opportunities personally to talk to others about Jesus, whether it’s [a young man from Taiwan], to a cowboy recently in Oklahoma, to a mechanic that works on my cars, and my neighbor putting Christmas lights up...”
However, reality still requires us to take stock of loss. In the US, we’ve lost over 300,000 people during this pandemic. “[Those are families] that didn’t have a loved one… around that table at Christmas... So there’s a lot of hurt there, still a need for faith [to be] greater than our fears as we go into 2021.”
Next year, Faith>Fear will look different as we scale back to monthly interviews, but we want to continue offering you the same message that was also told to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds—Fear not. And the reason we can do so is Emmanuel, God with us.
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
God is growing and maturing his church in this difficult season, but there’s no time for us to spend the rest of the pandemic binging Netflix. “We simply can’t be complacent, and I feel a greater urgency today than I did when I started out in church planting,” remarks Tim Snell. “And I thought it was urgent then.” Tim doesn’t stand behind a pulpit so often anymore, but he’s found a new way to grow the kingdom.
Tim now works as a business coach, encouraging people to merge their faith with their work beyond being Christian in name or using biblical business principles. “Another deeper level would be where we really prayerfully seek God’s direction on a day-to-day and even moment-by-moment basis for business and really let the Holy Spirit direct things.”
That kind of surrender might seem difficult during a particularly stressful time for small businesses. Still, Tim knows that it’s really just one way to demonstrate the kind of trust that God asks of everyone throughout our lives. “A fundamental bottom-line thing in our faith that we probably all struggle with is, if we’re honest, is just the reality that to have faith in Christ is really to let Christ have this moment, and hold this moment, and believe he does.”
Learn more about Tim’s ministry through Business Builder Leadership Coaching at https://www.bbleadercoach.com.
“I don’t want to go back to normal,” says Sergio Rizo. “...I want to take not just every thought captive but every moment captive.” However, the irony that Sergio has realized is that being present requires releasing control.
Like Sergio’s family, we’ve had to let go of our schedules, uncomfortably sharing our time and resources while also sacrificing many activities. In the long run, though, this has afforded many of us the time to be with our loved ones in a deeper way.
In 2020, we may have lost sleep about elections, but Sergio has released that too, knowing Christ’s love drives so many of us. “The tens of millions of people that fill all of the other houses and addresses are so much more powerful than the one person who is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
In the end, we must even lay down our lives, an idea that became real to Sergio when his son experienced a horrific car accident. “I was immensely filled with gratitude… Had my son gone to be with the Lord, I’m actually convinced that I would have had the same gratitude. It was the gratitude that God is with us.” God’s presence or our control—we can’t have them both.
It’s a big step to change your name to Compassion Christian Church, but pastor Dave Stewart thinks they’ve earned it. “I felt like as an outreach guy I was pushing a stalled car,” says Dave. “...Now it’s a lot more like I’m the guy hanging on the back bumper…” He didn’t know how true that analogy would become in 2020.
Many have had a tough year, but Dave’s story is likely to offer most of us some perspective as he’s dealt with the loss of loved ones, contracting COVID, and the desperation of potentially losing others to the virus. “The valley of the shadow of death was being at home, ...super high fever, my son in one hospital, my wife in another hospital, alone and just pleading with God not to take either one of them.”
Dave is not sure he’s out of this season, but he can now see the lessons God has been teaching through it. “I think we need to give ourselves permission to be transparently human and eternally grateful that we don’t have to walk this walk alone… [God’s] right there with us whether we see him in the moment or not.” He may still be hanging on to the back bumper, but Dave knows who’s driving the car.
Clinical psychologist Karissa Christian has a word for you—BOLD. It’s not only an adjective to achieve but also stands for a process. B is for Breathe, a reminder to stay calm. “...You can be the biggest servant to other people [by] making sure that, first and foremost, you’re replenishing yourself and then you’re seeking out to help others,” says Karissa.
O stands for Observe, monitoring your emotions in order to learn about yourself. “If you’re someone that’s struggling, you’re not alone and it’s OK. It’s OK to be scared and lonely and feel overwhelmed. And it’s OK to ask for help.”
L stands for Listen, hearing your values, conscience, and the Holy Spirit in all situations. As II Corinthians 4:18 puts it, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Finally, D stands for Decide, choosing an action while taking all the previous steps into account. “How can I act in alignment to honor my feelings but also connect them with my values?” asks Karissa. While the world seems to spin out of control, God still grants us the strength to stand boldly.
“Embrace whatever degree or suffering during something like this,” says Kirk Hayes. “Embrace that suffering because it’s always in the kingdom. It’s always joy and pain together, parallel tracks.” For Kirk this has been true in multiple ways during the past months, good and bad coming together to create something new.
Some forms of suffering are small, he says, like his loss of taste for the past three months since contracting COVID-19. Other things are significant but have developed advantages, like the innovation experienced in his ministry as president of South Houston Bible Institute, which has launched them into Internet courses for people worldwide and not just locally. Yet other things have afforded them more joy during this chapter, like the presence of children and grandchildren that usually live overseas.
With each situation, however, Kirk sees that Christians are not meant to simply hang in there and get through the worst. God is doing something greater. “I don’t want to waste this opportunity to grow deeper in some way during this time that I’m without something that I normally hold dear.” As small as the taste of chocolate or as great as the presence of a loved one, God leverages any absence to help us grow.
To learn more about Kirk’s ministry at South Houston Bible Institute, visit www.shbi.org.
“...If people are spending time in the digital world, we have to be there where they are, giving them hope, offering them meaning and life through Christ.” That’s how Clyde Taber, director of Visual Story Network, sums up their purpose. When there are 8.5 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, how can the church not use the Internet as a mission field?
However, the mission doesn’t stop at online communication but should extend to offline connection. “[The digital world] can be our on-ramp… In an ideal world, find a way to bring [seekers] into real-world relationships.” So while Clyde believes that Zoom has earned a Nobel Peace Prize for holding society together these days, he’s ultimately more excited that it can lead to many connections that will be carried on into coffee shops, house churches, and beyond.
As much as Clyde champions media to spread the gospel worldwide, he knows that none of us are off the hook individually. It’s up to each of us to make disciples. “One of the greatest joys on the planet is to be able to invest your life in a small way or in a great way to help somebody become more like Jesus. Not enough people are doing that.”
Take Clyde’s discipleship challenge at www.visualstory.org/twelve.
When you sit in a counselor, professor, and actor’s chair like Karl Wendt, you have ample opportunity to observe what people are learning from a time like this. The following are just a few lessons Karl mentions:
Slow Down: “Suddenly people are realizing the value and the beauty of slowing down a little and looking at the people in the eye and valuing that contact when you can.”
Stay Connected: “We don’t need to practice social distancing. We need to practice physical distancing… Because of Facebook, and because of Zoom, and phones, there are so many ways to stay connected socially. And we hunger for that. We need that.”
Think of Others: “What we’ve got to do is find ways to get the people that are not creative enough...maybe [they] don’t have Internet, or they don’t have a really fancy phone. And so where are those people that have been accidentally marginalized?”
Use these tips as a scorecard–what are you doing well, and what needs improvement? Wherever you’re at, remember this last tip: “Go ahead and focus on... the things that need change, [but] always balance that with at minimum 50% looking on the bright side.”
As its name implies, Team Expansion seeks the growth of the church in the most effective ways. “...What we try to do is just multiply disciples, try to multiply groups or simple churches among unreached people everywhere,” says founder and President Doug Lucas. “That’s essentially what we consider to be our mandate.” But how was their mandate affected by a global pandemic?
Even before COVID-19, Team Expansion faced the challenging task of seeking out unreached people groups. “...The church kind of reaches a barrier, a wall, and in order to reach that neighboring tribe, we come out to design a specific or a contextualized strategy that focuses on them specifically.” Fortunately, the pandemic acted not so much as a barrier but a gate to a new emphasis of online distribution.
As one example of the Internet’s impact on ministry, Team Expansions’s Zúme, a disciple-making course, now has over 25,000 participants in nearly 4,000 active groups because it entered the realm of Zoom. Though this approach started with the pandemic, it will not end with it. “It does away with the old-fashioned handing somebody a DVD and makes a kind of a flat earth so that we can now destroy the walls of geography and share Christ with people all over the world.”
In the stacks of the Seth Wilson Library at Ozark Christian College, you may well find Jessica’s workspace right among them. In this sense and many others, she is right in the middle of things. As a professor, administrator of Ozark’s Academic Resource Commons, and mother of a college Freshman she is well-positioned to help students through a difficult time. “We’re enough months into this that, yeah, ‘just grin and bear it’ isn’t going to do it.”
When it comes to coping strategies for these times, Jessica thinks it’s important not to just step back or sweep things under the rug. “God doesn’t ask us to be robots. He doesn’t ask us to disengage from our emotions. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge our emotions, but then let’s take them to him.” This can be accomplished through conversations with others and with God about our honest feelings and perceptions of our experiences.
Could it be that God is actually ministering to today’s youth through their challenges in a unique and remarkable way? “...If they can, you know, be born post-9/11 and live through things like this,” reflects Jessica, “there is a whole lot of potential for this generation to be super resilient.” To her, this is not a time for despondency but for great hope.
The way you think sets your path. Take it from Andrey and Anya Goryainov. Andrey has authored books on critical thinking and the scientific method. While many do not often exercise these mental skills, Andrey and Anya see the pandemic offering a new opportunity to reengage them. “This stressful time makes people ask questions about the basics, about the foundation of life and its true values,” they write.
For those in Ukraine, however, the pandemic has only added a layer of stress to a region that was already in a difficult position. Through an invasion in 2013, ongoing conflict at the eastern border, and the election of a very different administration last year, everything is up for reevaluation. “Changes in Ukraine will take place when each citizen starts treating all the data and information critically … not only from the rational and practical point of view but also in the light of moral values.”
At the same time, Andrey and Anya recognize that God sometimes urges choices that fly in the face of deliberate, precise thought, including the ones that led them to adopt seven children in need. “Looking back, we understand that our decision to adopt kids was not so rational as it was a leap of faith… We have never regretted our decision.”
The cassette tapes weren’t working. Missionary Frank Preston had based his media evangelism strategy on theory and research, but he realized there was something that he needed to relearn. Seeing that the strategies of Islamic extremists seemed to be very effective he decided to study them for missions application. When the Department of Homeland Security caught wind of this and came alongside, it was clear there was significant potential in this research.
What Frank discovered had big implications. “...Media or any type of communication, broad-based communication, is better at identifying than it is for persuading people,” says Frank. “So that changes everything we go about doing.” The cassettes he had tried to use sought to convince listeners about Jesus, but that was the wrong goal entirely.
Rather than presenting an argument for Christ, media can much more effectively guide seekers to the next step. “From the harvest will come the harvesters, so no longer will the professional workers be the harvesters. It’s going to be the individual who’s running his own house church movement.” In rethinking this strategy, we rely much less on our influence and much more on God’s call on the hearts of those who are open to his truth.
“For ten weeks in a row when I would preach, I would sing to the church solo,” recalled David Young, pastor of North Boulevard Church of Christ. “I don’t even know how to sing. I just wanted them to know I’m here, I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere.” That’s the kind of heart the pandemic has demanded of church leaders, a willingness to your commitment by bold action.
Even before the pandemic, however, North Boulevard took the stage to sing when they accepted a specific call from God. They felt led to make disciples and plant 60,000 churches when they had not even started one beyond their home congregation, but the need was undeniable. “...You can have all sorts of missions, but if you’re not making disciples, this is the last generation that’s going to share your mission.”
However, there’s another simple song of boldness that David believes each Christian must sing. Plainly, this is to respond to the word–not just learn from it, but to do what it says. “Following Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness is not bondage. It’s liberating. So I want to encourage North Americans to recover this gift, the beauty of obedience.” The lights are up. The music has started. It’s time for your solo.
Hear more from David Young in his book King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience, available in bookstores and on Amazon.
If you turn on Trinity Broadcasting Network to watch “Huckabee,” it is producer Andy Freeman’s job to ensure that you receive three valuable things. First is information which is often dominated by politics and COVID these days, though they are careful not to merge the two. As Andy says, “Both parties and whoever’s in the middle have taken the COVID-19 issue and politicized it … Medical things should not be used for political purposes.”
Entertainment is the second benefit that Andy makes sure you’ll receive from the show, and it’s one that’s close to his heart. While “Huckabee” often features musicians, wholesome comedy often has a place as well, just like it does on Andy’s social media feeds. “For me, you know, humor is a lingua franca. I was like that when times were better. I can’t not be myself when times are more difficult.”
Last but not least, Andy helps keep inspiration at the heart of Huckabee. While this comes from well-known pastors or stories from everyday folk on the show, Andy finds inspiration in truly knowing the Scriptures. “They are in your mind, in your heart, and we can bring those back to light without having to jump on our search engines. It’s a part of a deeper, and broader, and more vivid and lively Christian walk.”
To watch full episodes of “Huckabee,” tune in to Trinity Broadcasting Network or visit the show’s Facebook page and website.
Experience Life Church had reached its goal early, bringing 10,000 people to Christ in only eight years instead of ten. It was then that they started praying, in the words of pastor Chris Galanos, a dangerous prayer: “What’s the prayer that you want us to pray, not what prayer can we make up to pray? Lord, what’s on your heart?” The answer was not another 10,000 but a million.
To reach this goal, Experience Life knew they had to leave traditional church behind for disciple-making movements. The cost was lower attendance and giving that led many of the church’s staff to pick up second jobs, a move that turned out to be a blessing. “By becoming bivocational, we were basically saying to the people that we were talking to, ‘Hey, you don’t have to be full-time in ministry to be a disciple-maker and a church planter.’”
With 78 churches internationally, Experience Life is on its way to success. “If we continue to raise sails for movement, ...if the wind of the spirit blew into these raised sails, there is no doubt in my mind that we could see a million in the next ten. ...Whether we will or not is up to the Lord.” Are you ready to pray your own dangerous prayer?
“This is happening globally,” says Stephanie Freed. She wasn’t referring to COVID-19, but an outbreak of another kind. “This is happening here in the US, and it’s happening all over the world—a huge epidemic of exploitation happening to our children.” The epidemic is human trafficking, a phenomenon that is greater now than at any time in history.
Rapha International, the organization where Stephanie serves as CEO, seeks to end trafficking and sexual exploitation one child at a time. Their mission has only become more complex under the shadow of COVID-19 in which human trafficking has been able to hide and grow. In developing countries like those where Rapha works, day-to-day survival may have become hour-to-hour, and increased time online has fueled trafficking entry points and pornography consumption.
This epidemic within the pandemic makes for dire circumstances, but anyone can be part of the solution through self-education and advocacy. Stephanie even attributes the growth of Rapha to the championing of such efforts by today’s youth. Yet, she has one more word of advice: “If you see something, say something. If there’s any kind of instinct in you that this child might be in trouble, … make that call because it will save their [life].”
Jeff Vines has served as a missionary in Zimbabwe and in New Zealand, but he believes the most difficult field he’s experienced is much closer to home. He ministers at ONE&ALL Church outside of Los Angeles, where COVID restrictions are high and churches are under a microscope. “I knew that all of our neighbors were watching all of our campuses to see if we really loved ourselves or if we loved them too,” shares Jeff.
Though COVID has caused plenty of controversy about churches nationwide, it has also played into one of ONE&ALL’s greatest growth points—online community. “This is the future. This is the way we’re going to reach a generation who may never come through the front doors.” And this generation thrives on an open forum that they can access from home, has its own ministers, and actively answers spiritual questions.
Since earlier this year, the online community has become much more through community—groups gather at home for service watch parties, prayer, and meals on a weekly basis. “I don’t want to go back to where you’re not in community and you’re just using church an hour and a half on Sunday to get a spiritual buzz.” Only God can use a time of social distance to deepen faith and bring his people together.
Much has been said about the medical and economic effects of COVID-19, but the devastating social effects of the virus have not been treated with the same urgency. Jay St. Clair has a particular name for our current context: “We call them social deserts … where you do not have the community or the relationships to sustain you within a crisis...”
Jay is executive director of God’s Resort, a transitional housing ministry that does much more than shelter the homeless. “We have 39 homes in a neighborhood that we use as a tool to help people, through a community of Christ, find freedom from their past and reach their potential as a child of God.” The physical need of roofs over heads is in focus, but the social need of community is seen as a central solution to that issue.
Not everyone at God’s Resort succeeds all the time, but Jesus makes the difference. “If you come to Jesus, you’re going to spiral up. You’re not going to spiral down… And it may seem like, at some point, you are failing, but that’s not possible. God redeems, and he uses everything.”
“We have a 1,200-seat auditorium, 435 parking spaces, and we feel like we serve an area of about 300,000 people,” says pastor Roy Moran. “...We couldn’t offer enough services in a week to get them all there.” Yet, these 300,000 fall in what Roy calls his church’s Circle of Accountability, an area where they claim responsibility for the lost.
Sundays weren’t getting the job done before COVID necessitated a different approach. That’s why Shoal Creek Community Church started to see their congregation as a hybrid church, offering attractional services but also cultivating a network of micro-churches. It’s about “keeping track of who were the people that were most vulnerable in their neighborhood, creating this social safety net at a micro-level…”
In order to truly exercise responsibility for our Circle of Accountability, Roy believes we need to face a hard truth. “We have the spiritually obese people that know far more than they’ve ever done, and they use knowing to overcome some guilt, I think, maybe because of the doing.” Want to step beyond knowing Christ and into following his example and commands? Maybe it’s time to draw your own circle.
A pandemic year doesn’t seem like the easiest time to lead a conference of thousands, but the International Conference on Missions’ president Jeff Vines thinks it’s more fitting than we realize. “...When everyone’s pausing to consider the future and the rhythms of their lives,” Jeff asks , “how about pausing at ICOM and saying, ‘What is the message that we’re really taking out?’”
This question will be put into particular focus at the Student ICOM (SICOM) in which students will physically gather (or watch online) on Saturday, Nov. 21. “...If I had a teenager, I would make sure they got to Indianapolis this year... because there are some questions that we have in the Christian world, and we want to know how to relate well without repelling people.” Ravi Zacharias International Ministries will lead students to consider how to parse sensitive social topics with their peers.
Before we pause at these events, however, now is the time to also pause in prayer as the conference gears up for next month. “...Pray that somehow during the course of this entire challenging event of ICOM,” Jeff requests, “that the church will remember that God does his best work when things… seem difficult to overcome.” With God’s help, ICOM 2020 could be the most active pause we’ve ever taken.
For more information about ICOM or to register, visit theicom.org.
It was a 50¢ T-shirt on a thrift store rack, but its message seemed priceless to Lydia Florence. In bright blue lettering, it reads, “Know Your Worth.” It may be a simple task, but it’s easy to forget in the fog of chaos. “...We try to find our worth by the things we can control,” observes Lydia, “or we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others.” Yet, our worth is not derived from such things.
The knowledge of our worth is something to be shared, though we often keep it locked away in church gatherings. Lydia feels that our current challenges are teaching us to take courage and invite others into our lives. “There’s a lot of people who would be very willing to walk into my home or your house who might never walk through the doors of a church building.”
Before we can share it most effectively, though, the knowledge of our worth must be held tightly in our own hearts. Know this and remember it: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. You are worthy, and you are whole because he says so…”
Hear Lydia share more on this topic in this reflection video.
Opening your social media feed can be a treacherous decision these days–sensitive topics, opinions, and vitriol abound. However, so much communication happens on these platforms that people like Jennifer Johnson, Chief Communications Officer at Johnson University, have to live with it constantly. And like many of us, she’s come to a new understanding of herself: “As I observe the many things that are going on in our nation right now . . . I’ve realized that there is a lot more anger in me than maybe I wanted to admit.”
Jennifer cites not only reactions to the pandemic but also social justice and political issues as pitfalls that can cause extreme frustration. Sometimes she just feels the need to back away from it all. “ ...Feelings are crazy and uncontrollable and they are what they are. If there are certain days where I just can’t even with all of it, I just don’t.”
Yet, when you realize that some of your frustration is directed towards brothers and sisters in Christ with very different opinions or even value systems, a more active solution becomes necessary. “I think the anger comes from elevating the importance of some of these issues,” says Jennifer. “And they are important issues, but they’re not as big as [the kingdom].” When you just can’t even, sometimes you must.
When the velvet ash tree loses a leaf in its desert climate, a scar remains in the shape of a smile. This metaphor of strength and endurance is the namesake of Velvet Ashes, an organization that encourages women ministering outside their passport countries. “...Women make up about 75% of those who serve overseas,” says executive director Denise Beck. “And if we can impact them to stay and be effective, we’re going to really push the boundary of the kingdom all over the world.”
Through Velvet Ashes, online retreats, blogs, and other resources encourage women but also give them the opportunity to connect with others. “Velvet Ashes basically provided the virtual living room for them to get together and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been through that before. It’s hard, but let me tell you what helped me.’”
Though the ministry recently celebrated eight years, could it be that Velvet Ashes was designed for a worldwide crisis such as this? Yes, but no. “Gathering like-minded women who are serving globally together to encourage and share with each other has just been so transformative, and it really has infused women with courage.” The need for that kind of courage and community may be in focus now, but it’s always essential.
Middle school was not Jason Cravens’ preferred field of education, but his role as principal at East Middle School in Joplin, MO is his favorite job yet. “...It legitimately is an awkward age to live through,” Jason admits, “but as an adult dealing with those awkward aged kids, it’s a pure joy because the reality is they just want to be loved and accepted.”
Parents of junior highers may or may not always feel that pure joy, but Jason has been thankful that they have been gracious during a challenging period for educators. He has even seen parents grow in understanding beyond the current circumstances: “I really think since COVID happened, parents have a greater appreciation for school.”
The truth is that COVID-19 has revealed a need for greater maturity in us all—students learn and develop, parents are finding greater patience, and Jason thinks we must all reexamine our priorities. “You’re called not to live comfortably, not to live in luxury, not to expect the world to stay the same. You’re called to live for Christ.” In this life, we’re all at that awkward age, but times like these can help us grow.
An often overlooked field of ministry is the ministry field itself—as pastors care for their sheep, who will care for the shepherds? Don Wilson retired from ministry at Christ’s Church of the Valley two years ago but has also retired to a new ministry with Accelerate Group. Pastors and their wives are strengthened and encouraged through seminars and coaching from Don and his wife Sue.
The pastor’s position is a difficult one, as is the pastor’s wife’s. Yet, Don is also keenly aware of the great challenge newly retired pastors are facing. “...They have a lot of spare time, the friendships have all changed, nobody’s calling, and they’ve got to say, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’” says Don.
To pastors in either stage of life, Don is sure to emphasize a message tailored to a world in crisis. “I don’t think the church is ever going to have the attendance back what it was in the local building in years, but that doesn’t mean the church can’t be more powerful. But we’ve got to be the church that goes out versus the church that just invites everybody to come in.” Wherever we are in life, pastor or not, we can all be part of a church that goes out.
Have you ever wished you owned a COVID-19 manual during the past few months? It turns out that author Frank Viola has you covered at no cost with his book “A Survival Guide to the Current Virus Crisis.” But don’t read it to learn about masks and hand sanitizer.
Frank’s “Survival Guide” is more likely to address pursuits like seeking happiness which he believes is a myth. Try finding a command in the New Testament to do so. “Instead, the whole push, the whole emphasis of the New Testament revelation is to seek the kingdom of God.”
Seeking the kingdom within the vortex of politics and social media is tricky, and it doesn’t come down to identifying Jesus’ political party. “He transcended both because he was part of a new civilization that he was setting up on the planet that had nothing to do with the political system.”
So don’t seek happiness or activism to try to make the world a better place. Make a deeper change in yourself. “...The message of Jesus and the apostles is to be the better place in a fallen, corrupt world, to be an alternative civilization that lives completely different than the world’s system…”
Get your free copy of “A Survival Guide for the Current Virus Crisis” at frankviola.org/survival.
You’re lounging by a river with friends when you encounter a horrific sight. As small shapes in the water flow nearer, you see that they are babies. Two friends rush into the water to rescue them while you stay on the shore to receive and care for them. However, the most important job is often forgotten. “Somebody, a lot of people, needs to go upstream and find out who’s throwing these kids in the river in the first place,” emphasizes Maggie Schade.
Maggie is part of the RISE (Regional Intervention of Sexual Exploitation) Coalition that brings many parts of the community together to fight human trafficking locally in Joplin, MO. She believes one huge part of that community must be the church. “The church’s most important role in anti-human trafficking work is to go upstream, to find out who are the vulnerable kids in our community.”
As an individual within the church, each has a role to play. It starts with seeking accurate information on the issue. For some, it extends to parenting as moms and dads monitor their children’s devices and online activity. And for all, Maggie believes we must ask, “How can we partner with our organizations that are already doing this incredible work?”
No one envies the position of college ministers right now. How do you begin to approach that work with so many unknowns? College Heights Christian Church’s Kolby Allen thinks that it comes down to surrender. “I think we’ve got to get to a spot where we’re OK with not controlling every little nook and cranny of what’s happening,” says Kolby.
It’s not that Kolby doesn’t see benefit in planning——it’s simply that disciple-making is not driven by people but by the Spirit. People just fall in line behind. He calls it duckling discipleship. “We follow the duck in front of us, and we do our best to be the type of people we’re following. And we invite little ducklings, you know, to follow behind us.” And each link of of that chain is forged through a one-on-one relationship with a disciple and eventually with Jesus.
So the key is not the smoke and lights that accompany the crowded church services that make so many wary these days. It’s not about events and programs that take weeks of planning. It’s about losing control and following Jesus’ example. “You can pray, and you can love people, and you can study the Bible and share… I think those are elements that can go beyond us pretty fast.”
Brixton Charles Johnson is perfect. He was up against a lot (potential health complications, being born and adopted in the middle of a pandemic), but his parents saw God do the impossible in his life. “It was a pretty crazy time,” recalls Brixton’s dad Matt. “...We look back on it now, and it’s kind of a blur, but it’s a huge blessing.”
When Matt and his wife Kassie took Brixton under their wing, Matt already had plenty of responsibilities as an owner of multiple businesses. Undaunted by the uncertainty of the times, he’s continued to grow and adapt those efforts. “God has really honored the fact that… we serve the people that we do life with and we serve the people that expect us to be good stewards of their products.”
Blurry chapters like a complex adoption or maintaining businesses in the days of COVID-19 can become great blessings when we move in the confidence of a father’s love. Matt feels that love for Brixton, but he also knows that God feels that for all of us. “God doesn’t need us, but he wants us… He’s going to take care of us, not because of anything we’ve done. But everything that he’s done for us is going to bear fruit in due time.”
The table seemed set for the International Conference on Missions’ biggest year yet. They had a popular location in Indianapolis, a talented president in Jeff Vines, and a remarkable main speaker in Ravi Zacharias. And then, a few weeks ago, they made a change. “We decided to switch from our normal conference to more of a hybrid virtual experience with a few live elements in Indianapolis,” says Dave Empson, ICOM’s executive director.
While that choice was a necessary one, the effects on the conference are undeniable. It’s going to be shorter with fewer workshops and exhibits. “We have lost or greatly diminished every stream of income—our sponsorships, our advertising, our annual giving, monthly giving is down.” On top of everything, Ravi Zacharias is no longer with us.
Through many challenges, however, Dave is thankful for the ways that God and the church showed up. Many have continued support of ICOM, their president is well-suited to the task, and the sky’s the limit for ICOM’s online attendance. “I have an incredible staff. Without them and the power of God, it couldn’t be done.” Necessary changes are made on every side, but the God behind us remains unchanged.
Micah Foreman is husband and father to a family that comes alongside him in his role as an international trainer of orality, a skill that leverages storytelling to share the truth like Jesus did. During the pandemic, trainings happen online and are finding a new emphasis here in the US. “Those people that feel like they’re on the sidelines, [probably 80-90% of people that go to church],” shares Micah, “it unlocks them to be major players in the kingdom.”
Micah’s young family experienced the difficulty of a traveling parent, but they seem to have found a solution. Instead of Micah taking off for weeks at a time, the Foremans have invested in an RV. “This is our way of combining those two… Ministry and family are happening at the same time.”
However, this new family dynamic was threatened earlier this year when a potentially tragic accident occurred. But Jesus drew them close to himself and to each other. “You’re actually going to be able to follow in the midst of unknowing, following in the midst of fear. And you can’t do that with someone that is a distant god, right?” For the Foremans, Jesus is near.
“We’re not going to get it perfect,” states elementary school principal Holly Schrage. “...We might make a mistake, and the next day we will pivot.” Though the news and the public seem to be up in arms with her field of work right now, Holly simply asks for expectations padded with grace rather than an insistence on perfection.
Schools are putting a great deal of thought into how this semester will work in school buildings, trying to factor in local guidelines that sometimes conflict and won’t always work. “If you’ve ever been in a class with 20 kindergarten students, you know social distancing is sometimes a little bit different.” Beyond those concerns, Holly’s school is trying to be “virtual-ready,” poised to go online at any moment while knowing that kids without Internet access might be at a great disadvantage.
As she asks for grace, Holly is also prepared to give it as parents try to make the right choice for their kids. “God is not waiting to see if you make the wrong decision... He’s waiting to see if we trust in him in the decisions that you make.” Expectations and anxieties are high for all involved, but we stand tall with a faith that God will continue to lead us and grow us.
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom once preached, “There are no problems in heaven, only plans.” To Taylor Brown, that quote still speaks loudly today. “...She was saying God is never caught off-guard by anything,” he explains. “His plan is still as much his plan as it was before.” And his plans are not our own.
Some years ago, Taylor was diagnosed with anxiety, a condition that would seem to impact his career as a public speaker. For some time, however, he was able to separate what he would call the real Taylor and speaker Taylor until one event where his anxiety was put on display before thousands. It resulted in a breakthrough for many students attending the conference. “I realized, ‘Oh, audiences need to see this imperfect Taylor and how Jesus is at work in him.”
God revealed that his plans, though sometimes unthinkable to us, always stand. “I think leaning into telling your story in an authentic way and a way that shows that God has changed your life through his word, you can’t lose with that.” God has factored in every change to allow faith and ministry to continue—just stick to the plan.
For more information about Taylor, visit www.taylorbrownspeaks.com.
Track, basketball, kickboxing, boxing, and MMA fighting all fall under the prowess of Teejay Britton. “That’s five sports that I’ve done professionally, and it’s not me. It’s God who gets the glory from it,” Teejay shares. And that glory extends beyond the athleticism to the influence and example he gives to the many people that hear him share his faith through coaching and speaking engagements.
When Teejay shares his faith today, he focuses on speaking peace into chaos, whether that be the pandemic or racial tensions. When it comes to the latter, peace looks a lot like unity. “...I don’t think you’re going to go to heaven and on the south side, there’s going to be the black church, and over here’s going to be the Mexican church… It’s not going to be like that. We’re a big family.”
Whether in sport, health, or race relations, Teejay knows two universal truths. First: people will fail. We fail to perform, to protect, and to accept. Second: God never does. He expresses that in a way that only a professional athlete can. “This basketball is going to fail you. One day, you’re going to dribble and it may be deflated, and it may not bounce again, but our God bounces any day for you.”
Learn more about Teejay’s ministry at victoryjoplin.com.
“Church is never going to be the same again. It’s just not,” says Greg Nettle, president of church planting organization Stadia. Some may mourn this change as a loss, but Greg has another perspective. “How do we make the transition to not only having a great physical presence, but how do we have a great digital presence as well? What an opportunity.”
Digital church feels different, but it also feels bigger. “No one is stuck anywhere anymore! There are no boundaries when it comes to digital.” Stadia is taking churches on virtual vision trips around the world while other congregations are setting up online groups for prisons and rehab centers. Meanwhile, Greg believes the next step is using the digital church to raise up the next generation, discipling kids and teens who have grown up online.
Can the Internet sometimes be a place of danger and darkness? Yes, but Greg offers an important reminder. “God is omnipresent... That means that God is not only present when we gather together in our physical locations but God is present in the digital space as well.” Now it’s up to the bride to invite the light of Christ in.
For resources to help your church make the digital transition:
First Christian Church in Phoenix, Arizona has chosen to be compliant, not defiant, wearing masks, limiting groups sizes, and physically distancing. “Out of concern for our neighbours, ...we’re going to be cautious and protect ourselves and each other,” says FCC pastor Chuck Foreman, but a few have disagreed with this approach. “I’ve been surprised to see that declaring that position has drawn a line in the sand with some people…”
For Chuck, this has begged the question of how the church defines itself. “Our identity is not chained to our large group gatherings in our nice buildings on Sunday.” If anything, COVID-19 has proved that the church never shuts down, even when the pastor comes down with the virus himself. It’s Christ and the active love he inspires that define a church and keep it going.
Perhaps the true line in the sand is not whether we will wear a mask and keep six feet apart but whether we will take the open hand God has offered us. To Chuck, it all comes down to this question for the American church: “Will you take advantage of the great opportunity God is giving you right now to partner with him, to see what he’s up to, and join him?”
Ziden Nutt recognizes great privilege in his life, though it might look different than you’d expect. Growing up in Gary, Indiana, he was in the minority as a white boy in a predominantly black town. “We were very, very blessed to have grown up in that situation because [it gave us] a deep respect for the African people,” notes Ziden. This blessing would play an enormous role in the life of him and his wife Helen who moved to Rhodesia as missionaries in 1959.
Once in Rhodesia, Ziden’s next significant privilege came in the form of Chief Dandawa. “He had not one day of formal education but was probably one of the wisest men I’ve ever known.” Though he initially chided the Nutts, asking what took them so long to come and help his people, he also advocated for them, protected them, and even made Ziden his son in a traditional ceremony.
These privileges could be attributed to Ziden’s upbringing or his relationships. Yet when he reflects on the needs of the US in the face of many societal tensions today, a different source is revealed. “Unity comes when we all focus on God... and his word. Then we are at peace with one another because we’re following the same God and the same authority.”
“We used to fish with a fishing pole, one at a time,” Chris Casey illustrates. “...And now we’re using a net, and we can just broaden our search, broaden the seed that we sow.” Chris has spent over a decade in eastern Europe not fishing for trout but for people. When various modes of interpersonal evangelism proved ineffective for about ten years, his team resorted to a new tool that yielded overwhelming results—social media.
The team uses Facebook ads to find seekers and connect them with disciple-makers on the ground. This works so well that Chris’ team has become evangelistic not only about Jesus but also this method of “fishing.” Since the start of the pandemic, a team in a nearby country asked Chris’ team to help them launch this strategy as well. “Within a couple of months, they had already pretty much surpassed us in the fruit that they were seeing.”
Though still highly involved in this work, Chris has now moved his family back to the US, realizing that he can cast this net from anywhere. Working here, he can also be more involved in recruiting new fishermen. “Even in the ten years when we didn’t see fruit, Jesus is still faithful... And so he looks at that decade and just smiles.”
In 2019, Christ in Youth hosted over 77,000 students at over 100 events domestically and internationally. 2020 will look very different. All events from spring and even into next year have been cancelled, drastically limiting the organization’s revenue. “...You know you want to call kids to kingdom work, you want to call them to Jesus, you’ve built all of this, and now you can’t execute, you can’t deliver, and that’s heart-breaking,” shares CIY president Jayson French.
“It truly was the goodness of God and the generosity of churches and donors that allowed us to make it through what… is the worst season in the history of CIY.” So while physical events are impossible, CIY has moved into a very new space with online experiences MOVE/AT and MIX/AT that make the “at” of ministry much easier to navigate.
By offering resources, Jayson hopes that CIY can continue supporting and loving the church during a challenging chapter that has made many, particularly pastors, vulnerable to depression and anxiety. To a church in crisis, he offers this encouragement.
During times like these, media can be very frustrating. However, Jon Ralls, owner of Kavanah Media, sees so much potential in leveraging it as a tool to reach the lost. And he thinks any church leader or member can be a part of that, no matter what level you’re at.
Level 1: Make a Call
Personal messages of encouragement go a long way while people are far apart. Reach out to those you can help, and go the extra mile by video calling on FaceTime or Messenger.
Level 2: Set Up a Simple Online Presence
With some inexpensive software or even free apps on your phone, you can reach your people. Barriers like lighting and audio can often be overcome by simply finding the right location, so don’t be afraid of posting that first video devotional or even going live with platforms like YouTube or Facebook.
Level 3: Manage Discipleship
Sometimes we need a little help to keep all of our relationships straight as we try to meet people where they are. GNPI’s Redux is an app that can help you do that, allowing you to set reminders, add tasks, and track progress in multiple relationships. With that edge, you might just become a bit more faithful in prayer, a bit more intentional in love, and a bit more of a disciple-maker. Search for “Redux Discipleship” in the App Store or the Google Play Store to download.
Level 4: Analyze
One thing that many churches don’t take advantage of is data. You can have free access to this by using Google Analytics or installing the Facebook pixel to your website. “People will check the church out long before they will ever visit,” says Jon, speaking on the importance of church websites and social media platforms. Data shows what they are seeking and what they value. Why not make use of that knowledge? Jon can help you get started with his Introduction to Facebook Marketing or Google Analytics Essential Training.
Level 5: Run an Ad
If you have an online presence set up and even have some idea of why people are tuning in, it might be time to consider running an ad. “Church marketing” may sound bad at first, but it’s really just one way to get the Good News out. Use an ad to offer prayer or help with a local issue, and see who God leads to you. When you’re ready, you can learn more with Jon’s Introduction to Google Adsor the Facebook course listed in Level 4.
No matter what level you’re at, remember that this is about much more than technical prowess. “It’s really just about what the Holy Spirit is doing,” Jon reminds us. “And we can do things completely wrong but if we’re submitting to him, he is going to do what only he can do.” For more information about any of these topics, please reach out to GNPI at https://gnpi.org/contact or to Jon at https://kavanahmedia.com/contact-us.
As tension, brutality, and protests rage in the US, the world watches, including Yassir, a black Sudanese minister and professor living in Germany. In his view, the global church has mischaracterized the problem completely. “We need to classify this racism thing as not the government issue or political issue,” says Yassir. “I think it’s a deep spiritual issue.” Describing this another way, Yassir remarks that it’s not a skin problem but a sin problem.
In making that mistake, the church has sometimes squandered opportunities to become part of the solution. “...If Christ could not be the middle ground that should bring us together, I don’t think anything else could bring us together.” The key to this is to look beyond surface differences and recognizes that we all bear the image of God as his creation.
Beyond the understanding that all are equal through God, we may individually strive to love as best we can. Yassir offers a caveat, however: “...Don’t even try to love people, you know. You will not succeed. ...The only way that you can succeed [is] when you put your trust completely in Jesus.” Surrender, though it seems like the most passive response possible, is the most active reaction we can offer through Christ.
“Fever broke. Within another day, I was flat on my back, couldn’t get out of bed. My aches were just excruciating. I couldn’t eat. It even hurt to drink water.” It was mid-March, some of the most disconcerting days when COVID-19 was a very new threat, a terrifying unknown. And Bob Sartoris had it.
Bob works with various ministries in media production and training. He believes that through instilling these skills in individuals, many will realize a passion for using media to share the message of Jesus. Laying in bed, Bob was unsure whether this work would continue. “Would I ever get a chance to finish writing that course or do my monthly thank you letters for our supporters? ...Everything was on the table.”
While many plans remain in question, God brought Bob through, and reaching out made the difference in more ways than one. People reached out through Zoom during lonely weeks of quarantine, but Bob also reached out to find comfort online himself. “I was able to reach out and find something that was an encouragement for my soul… It makes me proud of the work that I have dedicated my life to, to help others [use media] in a way that can make a difference in the lives of people.”
As many of us weather COVID-19 from home, we have experienced many challenges and changes. Yet when we think of expatriates, we must realize that they are faced with an additional set of difficulties. Angela, an international student in the US, for example feels greater worry for her family at home but must also navigate other issues. “We are only allowed to work on-campus part-time,” she says. “COVID [has really] limited those opportunities for us.”
Still, Angela recognizes many blessings that others have not had during this time. “I’m really glad and blessed because I have a host family that has been taking care of me.” More than seeing these blessings, however, she also recognizes their source. “...This has opened my mind and opened my eyes that God is really working regardless of this situation. He has been very faithful to me.”
During this pandemic, one primary lesson stands out to Angela. “The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is adaptation… I’m trying not to hold off any future plans or life plans just because of the pandemic because, you know, maybe this will never be over.” Shifting our steps is inevitable, but we must take that care that we don’t halt them. God hasn’t stopped, and nor should we.
5,617 baptisms—that’s the amount missionaries Terry and Amy Ruff have tallied through their work in West Africa during 2019 alone. This has been made possible by the simple tools of disciple-making movements (DMM) developed by Curtis Sergeant who trained the Ruffs’ local partners in 2015. “The minute they came back from that training, things have taken off and it’s been steady growth ever since,” says Terry.
Discipleship groups propel DMM, but the Ruffs have also found other strategic ways of expediting impact as well. One is the production of oral tools that bring Scripture in mother tongues to those that can’t read, but the key principle is broader. “From the very beginning, that was our intent,” says Amy, “to create something in partnership with Ghanaians in order to leave them with a ministry that they ran…”
The Ruffs decided to return to the US when COVID-19 struck, but this has not stopped their ministry. Their local partners continue working, the Ruffs’ have 14 Zoom coaching relationships, and Terry has uploaded more audio Scripture files in a few months than would have been possible in years from Ghana. “Even if we can’t be in-country, ...he still has stuff for us to do, and that’s pretty exciting to me, you know. We’re not done yet.”
Behind the Scene International (BTS) is a title that captures the skills of its organization very well. While they are a video production company, they also look beyond the surface of content for opportunities of multiplication—spreading the gospel and using media to do so. “We feel media has been a really great tool [to take] the gospel out of the four walls of the church,” says BTS founder Hatem.
This eye for spiritual and strategic depth is illustrated well by their partnership with GNPI. First, they recorded The Global Gospel in several languages. To adapt it for children, they then created “Jesus Story,” a 13-episode program that presented the life of Christ through The Global Gospel and energetic hosts. Now during COVID-19, they’ve taken one step further by producing a livestream program that teaches families to use “Jesus Story” for home Bible studies.
It’s efforts like these that Hatem believes is opening up the Middle Eastern church in a new way. “...A lot of people don’t know each other in their neighborhoods because the garage door opens, they go in, they close it, they don’t see each other. So the church in the Middle East [generally has] the same mentality.” Now the garage is open and neighbors can talk - even about Jesus.
When unknowns abound, we find ourselves clinging to anything that we can control. Jordan Howerton identifies with that as the worship leader of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, but he thinks there’s a better posture to take - an open palm rather than grasping fist. “There’s a lot out of my control that I have to just honestly submit to the authority of the providence of God,” Jordan admits.
Far too often, we become controlled by the things that we try to steer and manipulate. “I think that busyness and urgency are really lonely companions. And I think that we’ve befriended them too often.” Instead, it seems best to prioritize rest and Sabbath to Jordan, asking God to use him more in six days rather than seven.
Beyond rest, Jordan believes strongly that worship also helps us fight that sense of isolation caused by busyness and feelings of insignificance in the face of monumental forces like COVID-19. Through worship, we’re reminded of God’s goodness to us and the body of Christ that sings, prays, and grows with us. “I don’t have the strength,” says Jordan, “but God has given me the strength through the community of people that are around me.”
The reality of COVID-19 may have come in waves for you. At first, it seemed like a disaster limited to one part of the world, but then the threat of a spread became more realistic. Later, the virus’ effects seemed limited, but then they grew significantly as your city locked down. If that rings true to you, you would probably identify with Abi Flores’ experience living in her home country of Mexico.
The people of Mexico also experienced many of the same challenges that you might have—anxiety, social distancing, and an economic downturn. If you were like Abi, you may have even lost some work, adding personal financial pressures on top of everything else. Yet, maybe you felt a touch that pulled you through like she did: “Even when I don’t see... money or whatever, I feel like the hands of God is always in my hope.”
Regardless of what our experiences have been during this pandemic, Abi helps us realize that we can still contribute during this time like she has through encouraging videos and radio broadcasts. Yet, she acknowledges that this contribution wasn't of her own doing, but God's. “[If only one person is] encouraged with my message, I feel good because... it’s the hands of God doing these things, using me…”
“I’m amazed at the people that God brings across my path when I’m out walking,” says Dean Trune. He thought he was trying to stay active in the middle of a pandemic, but God showed him otherwise, as if saying, ‘You’re not walking for exercise. You’re walking to engage people with me.’
While physical walking is important, God also uses Dean to spiritually walk with many individuals as a mentor and coach, especially church leaders. The challenges of social distancing have made him a better coach, but it’s created a difficult environment for those he walks alongside. “It’s really put a new pressure on church staff and elders that this emotional battle that’s taking place is directly impacting their ability to minister to people with the light of love.”
While Dean will continue walking with those he finds on both street corners and in online video conferences, there’s another walk that comes first. It’s so vital that it’s part of his email signature: “My most important responsibility today is to spend quality time with God.” Though we are often troubled by things over which we have no control, we can control the use of our time. What better way to spend it?
If we’re being honest, some of us have seen more blessing than hardship during the past months. Christian Development Fund Capital Foundation’s David Duncan would put himself in that boat. Yet with those blessings come a responsibility from God. “[God] has in essence made himself financially insolvent because he has entrusted the management of all of his resources to people like you and me, Christian stewards,” shares David.
Some blessings are borne of difficulty. If you’ve been stressed during this time, David suggests that you see this period as an opportunity to reduce debt and set up an emergency fund. Other blessings look like a surplus. To multiply that abundance, David has a question: “As an investor in eternity, what are the five... ministries that are my highest priority?” By keeping that list short, David says we effectively narrow our focus to deepen our influence through generosity.
When we take the blessings we receive and share them with others, God often orchestrates our generosity to meet a precise moment of need. “I call those stories the serendipitous blessings of God’s holy spirit…” While COVID-19 has caused much hardship, God has also used it to distribute his grace at just the right time.
Who’s your church going to call when it has a God-sized financial need? The answer just might be Matt Brock, a regional vice president at Christian Financial Resources (CFR). His organization lends funds to churches to make building projects, renovations, or land purchases happen. As Matt says, they are “just another little piece of the puzzle when it comes to God’s kingdom working together to make things go.”
Of course, the past few months have been a financially challenging time for some churches, and Matt has been in a great position to pass along lessons. “Each church, just like each person, is an individual body, right? And so what works for one may not work for another…” In intentionally keeping up with many church leaders, however, CFR has been able to share a variety of approaches to monetary or technological struggles.
Matt readily recognizes that though faith in Christ is powerful, believers and churches don’t always feel free of fear. So to those still wading and waiting through the strife of the times, he has a word. “It’s OK to be not OK right now, but… God can help you even through the greatest of trials.”
During a time when connection has been strained, Timothy Jai Kumar, professor at Lakeview Bible College and Seminary in Chennai, India, has found fertile ground for a return to our creator. “We are supposed to be connected with God,” says Timothy Jai Kumar, “...and because we have lost that connection, things in our life are messed up.”
Fixing a lost connection can happen in various ways, and a primary tool that Timothy and his students use is media. Through videos and social media strategy, they seek to answer the tough and often neglected questions that people are asking during a national lockdown. “In India, ...it is not easy to go out and talk to someone about Jesus, but now our counselors are sitting at home, and these young people are coming to us on their own!” Some connections still need to happen face to face, like the distribution of food to the poor and hungry, which Lakeview is also involved in.
Timothy believes that God is providing the means, whether digitally or physically, for people to return to him. “The only thing [that you need to do is] help them to find that reconnection, …and they will be able to do it because that’s the way we are created.”
Three words could be the bridge over a chasm of argument, debate, and hate. Just three words could be the best response when someone shares a point of view that doesn’t sit well. “When you say ‘tell me more,’ it really brings down the walls,” says Ozark Christian College Director of Diversity Matthew McBirth.
In truth, though, Matthew believes that a true reconciliation in the USA will only be answered through a longer process. Listening is good, but one party of a broken relationship must take the steps of apology, repentance, and Spirit-led repayment. Finally, the other party must also offer the healing of forgiveness. “That's where we can say, ‘I no longer look at you as your past wrongs. I look at you as a brother. I look at you as a sister in Christ.’”
We often think that the great hurdle to this process of reconciliation is hate, but Matthew reminded us, with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that the true opposite of love is simply not caring. “Let’s not choose indifference. Let’s not choose apathy. Let’s choose to actively love our neighbors in this moment.” It’s now our part to take the action of love that God has placed before us today.
Throughout her career as a missionary at Mid-India Christian Mission (MICM), Dr. Sheela Lall has filled needs in many different spaces. She first assisted her husband in media, writing scripts and designing sets, but today she is more involved with MICM’s educational efforts and mercy ministries for children. “I’m thankful to God that during this time we can show God’s compassion and love to people, and nurture them, and mentor them...” says Sheela, speaking with the heart of a true mother.
While India has been under a national lockdown, that heart has not waned. When the media team needed to put together a broadcast in less than 24 hours, she stepped up to the plate to write and deliver a message. “During this emergency time, these kids still come running to me like, you know, anyone would come to mom... to solve the problem.” And leave it to a mom to turn COVID-19 safety instruction into a rap song that has been viewed over 200,000 times.
Sheela knows, however, that she can never be the ultimate caretaker. That space is reserved for God. “We need to reexamine ourselves, and we need to readjust our ways of life according to the word of God. So I think if you have faith in God, you don’t fear.”
“I think one of our biggest daily tasks as followers of Jesus is just to have open ears to hear his leading,” says Jason Casey, owner of Hodell Window Covering, Inc. in New Braunfels, Texas. Jason makes that observation from experience, demonstrating that skill of spiritual listening in several ways since this COVID-19 struck.
First, he read the signs of the times and was ready for big changes during the pandemic, finding ways to keep everyone on the payroll and working from home. That proactive stance has benefited them with a new wave of business as things open up again. “I think clients are looking for companies that weren’t shaken, who were coming out of this confident and in a position to continue business as normal…”
Beyond that, listening to God’s leading has also led him give his ear to others in his life, including old friends and contacts, married couples he’s coaching, and even his employees. As we listen and act in obedience, Jason sees that people are more open to talk about life and faith and that years-old prayers are being answered. Now, as we find a new normal, it seems more important than ever to make sure we have ears to hear.
The country of Uganda’s exposure to COVID-19 has perhaps come some weeks later than in many other countries, and the advance warning of the virus has been helpful. Veteran minister Dennis Okoth reports, “..There has not been any recorded death in Uganda just because of that quick action that the government of Uganda took to close the borders from any person accessing and coming in.” The only cases that have been confirmed seem to be from the essential drivers bringing food and supplies into the nation.
However, the lack of infection has not staved the spread of fear. “People are not dying, yet... you can hear people talk about, ‘Maybe next month people will start dying...’ And so that postponement has given a lot of people anxiety.” This fear has also been somewhat exacerbated by the stress of entire families living under the same roof at all times.
Though these experiences are difficult, Dennis sees that people are learning new ways of strengthening their ministries and their faith because of restrictions and limitations. “People are no longer looking at God as someone who is just out there in the church building. God has been brought home.”
Christ’s Church of the Valley in the Phoenix area of Arizona is a congregation that its teaching pastor Mark Moore describes as “stupid large.” Last year, it saw over 34,000 attend its eleven different campuses. As you can imagine, a global pandemic presents a church of this size with significant challenges but also great opportunities. “When the world is at its worst,” says Mark, “the church is at its best. We have to be the calm in the storm.”
Being the calm has looked pretty remarkable for CCV - they’ve provided Phoenix with the area’s largest drive-through testing site, and they’ve arranged for ten blood drives in two days’ time. “We discovered that the church, who’s better connected to local needs, is a better source for social compassion than government. So instead of bashing our government, we should be creating relationships… to make sure that we provide our expertise in a time of need…”
As things reopen in Phoenix, CCV is looking for a sensitive way to welcome people back into its doors. Mark foresees that the opportunity of corporate worship will fill church buildings on the first Sunday back. “I believe that when churches start reopening carefully, the worship of God is going to be like a balm on an open wound.”
With about 200 new cases a day, the Philippines has a long way yet to go during this COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, Pastor Caloy Diño in Manila thinks his people are well-equipped to cope. “There’s something about the temperament of Filipinos,” he ponders. “We try to lighten, you know, even the most tragic of events in our lives.”
Along with that temperament also comes a desire to help their community as a whole. While the poor are not receiving needed relief and financial assistance from the government, the people are coming together to help provide this. “...It’s bringing out the best of the Filipinos... This is something we need to uphold because this kind of desire to help can only come from God.”
Pastor Diño notes that Filipinos are a very religious people, so this goodwill also comes from a place of trust in God even while things seem tragic. “We know and we understand that things will never be the same, but we have the assurance that if we call to God, we know that everything is going to be all right.” It’s obvious when looking at the Philippines that if a positive attitude is rooted in foundations set by God, great things can happen.
“One of the problems of the Mexican culture is that we’re really independent,” observes Bob Gurwell, international consultant at GNPI-Mexico and dual citizen of that country and the US. There’s a lot of civil disobedience at this point.” Like numerous other countries, the curve has not yet flattened in Mexico.
Still, GNPI’s team in Piedras Negras is doing its best to meet people’s needs in the current situation. All of the staff is working from home, but they have actually significantly increased their rate of output and audience by making more yet simpler videos of encouragement. One feature that Bob is working on in particular is a video series on important Greek words from the Scripture. One suitably centers on the word “corona,” Spanish for “crown.”
Yet, one word that perhaps makes the most impact today is the Greek term for fellowship or communion with God, koinonia. “It doesn’t depend on you being present. It depends on what Jesus did on the cross, God’s decree, and the Holy Spirit in us,” says Bob. “And so we still have communion... with each other, regardless as to whether or not we’re together within a room or within a building.” Even while socially distant, we remain spiritually near.
Ukraine finds the concept of social distancing odd. “You see, you have the public distance even when you squeeze in the same elevator or the same shuttle bus,” says Dr. Sergei Golovin regional director of GNPI Eurasia, “and people just... pretend the other people don’t exist.”
This sort of attitude is partly due to the way the country has become accustomed to dramatic changes out of their control. In 2014, Sergei fled Crimea, his place of ministry upon a Russian invasion. “We were sure we were leaving for two weeks only. So we are still here in Kiev for six years now.” This massive life shift split their team miles and even countries apart.
However, another change also took place. They had lost their production facilities and moved to working from their homes in a “cloud office.” At first, this felt like a loss, but Sergei’s team realized that it was actually an opportunity for growth. Sergei sees that COVID-19 is offering a similar chance for Christ’s body and its message to go further. “This is just a great reminder that church is not where we are going to,” he reminds us. “Church is who we are.”
As the national response to the pandemic shifts, so is Faith>Fear. Moving forward, we’ll be hearing from the international community to see how the virus has impacted them differently, but we’ll also keep an eye out for changes to our own economic situation here in the US. And as always, we’ll keep learning about how we can overcome the present challenges with trust in God.
If the harvest is plentiful, where are the fields? Where are the seekers? Missionary Jon Ralls believed Luke 10:2 when he read it, but these questions remained. That all changed when Jon became involved in something called Media-to-Movements (M2M).
Jon now owns a company called Kavanah Media which helps missionaries and churches identify seekers through digital and social media marketing strategies. They were working in about fifty countries until COVID-19 hit and they added about 20 more. “So far, in every location that I have worked in, we’re finding seekers,” says Jon. Not only that, but he estimates that an average of ten to twenty thousand people hear about Jesus daily through the work he’s been involved in and about which he’s become so passionate
This shift in career from missionary to digital strategist partially came from a very unexpected and difficult place - a diagnosis of an incurable form of cancer. This devastating news actually helped him prioritize his precious time down to essentials. “If you ask my wife, she would tell you she thinks the Lord is keeping the cancer away… because there’s a job to do.” And that job goes back to Luke - revealing that plentiful harvest of seekers and connecting them with workers.
Though it may feel like the world is on pause, COVID-19 has not slowed God down. Andrew Jit, Global Missions Pastor at Owensboro Christian Church, sees no reason why the church can’t be swept up with him. “The world is kind of shut down right now. We physically can’t get there,” says Andrew, speaking about physical churches or ministry, “but… we can still be heavily engaged with what God is doing.”
This is true both for the US church and for the work of missionaries all over the world. Andrew sees the emphasis on technology now educating the church about how to connect with new people in less intimidating ways or to better care for the international workers they support. “He’s given us the technology, and I think it’s almost that the church has gone, ‘Oh, here’s a great tool that maybe we haven’t wrapped our arms around as much.’”
Yet, with the many voices clamoring for our attention, he knows these lessons and others could be easy to miss. “...Ensure in this time that you are carving out time to intentionally and deliberately walk with the Lord and allow his voice to be the strongest voice.” What voice has your attention?
Global pandemics seem to put life on pause. However, many life challenges continue amidst the additional problems that the current outbreak has caused. Choices Medical Services’ executive director and RN Karolyn Schrage sees that illustrated every day in her work. Unplanned pregnancies still occur, infections and diseases are still contracted, and their clients still need “Gospel whisperers” in their lives. “We have to be there to provide that calm in the middle of the chaos to be that compassionate response that knows that in our country there are choices,” says Karolyn, “but we want people to really understand that they’re making an informed choice.”
In continuing to operate during these weeks of quarantine, Choices is taking on cases that other healthcare facilities and services cannot at this time. They are also reimagining many of their work procedures as they rotate workers, take school presentations online, and put their mobile care unit to extensive use. “I think our team has the mindset that we’ve been called into battle every single day to be that justice response for the voiceless victim that is in the womb or that voiceless victim of sex trafficking.” In a time when it’s so easy to be a worrier, Karolyn is leading her staff to be warriors instead.
“People come to me a lot of times, and they get worried,” says Randee Kaiser, “...As the sheriff, you know, that’s my role.” Yes, Randee is sheriff of Jasper County in Missouri, and he meets people where they are, in anxiety, frustration, and pain. During this time, those duties have extended. Even his six year-old grandson has called and asked why he can’t have a sleepover with his friend.
In truth, law enforcement officials have been impacted in almost every aspect of their work. When asked how we can help, Randee responds, “Just being patient with us and being attentive to the possibility that we might be doing things differently than what you expect.” Home visits may need to be phone calls, and forms may need to be sent by email.
Randee reassures us that his staff is still hard at work, but he also admits that he feels anxiety and worry at times himself. Still, he rests on God’s promise in Philippians 4:6-7, a promise that we might misunderstand sometimes. “...What the promise is is that,” Randee notes, “...our attitude towards the problem will be changed when we pray and when we give it up to God.”
“When we got back, we were just stunned by all the news,” recounts Ozark Christian College student Timothy Vaipan. He had spent his spring break backpacking with friends and had left his phone behind. They returned to discover that Ozark had gone online, the dorms were closed as well as churches, and that he should be in groups of no more than ten people. Yet, that was only one struggle of a difficult chapter. Within a few days, he found out that his grandfather in California had passed away. On top of all that, his family decided it was best for him to stay in Missouri until travel was safer.
This got Timothy reflecting on a concept that had troubled him for some time. “Joy is something I never really understood, and many times I’ve asked people what it is.” They would talk all around the idea, but never truly identify it, so Timothy took the opportunity to do so himself: “I define joy as hopeful contentment in a situation due to faith in and love for God as who he is.” And finding that joy through tough times has led to growth. “It’s really been an invitation from God to lean into him and his strength and to stop trusting myself.”
“In life, we get so busy,” says Greg Fish, “and you’re almost like, ‘Man, I wish I could get sick so I could have a nice break.’” As GNPI Joplin’s Creative Media Designer, worship leader, and father, Greg’s desire for a break is understandable. But ask him after he got the flu during the pandemic - the illness and worry isn’t worth the time off.
Now that there are some moments to spare, however, Greg wants to make sure his family is spending the time well. They’ve created a schedule of learning opportunities, limited screen time, and prioritized getting out in nature. Yet, there’s one other opportunity that Greg thinks this period affords.
“You know, the virus is terrible,” Greg admits, “...but the worst disease of all is alienation from God and sin.” So what’s the answer? “...Let God do some spiritual surgery on our hearts during this time and change the things that need to be removed.” Greg has created a video which guides you through a spiritual surgery tool that might help you see things a bit more clearly. Going under the spiritual knife takes a lot of self-examination and honesty, but it’s also essential to the health of the soul.
“We are doing what I call ‘crisis schooling,’” shares mom of three Kathryn Tucker. “It’s not really homeschool or public school but a mix of both.” And while “crisis schooling” may sound dire, Kathryn has made it a fun and memorable experience for her kids. It does include schoolwork but also letter writing, outdoor activities, and meals that are shared with the entire family. “We have tried to really pick one thing each day that we can kind of have as our highlight, so to speak,” says Kathryn. They’ve ended up overshooting their goal: “...The kids now, they say, ‘Oh, the whole day was a high!’”
One reason that Kathryn is excelling in her approach to teaching at home is that she’s Early Childhood Director at her church in Northwest Arkansas. Working with kids and getting parents helpful information during this pandemic has been helpful. However, she isn’t just giving her kids an experience - they are also learning some important lessons. “Another thing is really trying to see God’s perspective in all of the uncertainties right now…” They do this through worship, studying the word, and showing love to their community at a distance. Through that, they’ve found more contentment and gratitude than they ever expected.
Though the physical campus of Ozark Christian College sees little activity these days, a lot is happening in the homes of students, professors, and staff members. President Matt Proctor describes the college’s position when the pandemic hit: “Our two biggest questions were 1) how can we keep our campus community and our larger community safe? And 2) how can we best fulfill our educational mission?” These questions were answered with online classes that keep students plugging away, Zoom meetings and devos that keep workers connected with one another, and online chapel that brings them all together.
However, President Proctor has also looked at these questions of health and mission as a pastor and shepherd by reading II Timothy, in which Paul writes from a kind of quarantine in a Roman prison. Paul counteracted his solitude with a few Rs - Remembering God’s faithfulness, Reaching out to others, and Reading. Proctor also adds the R of running to make his alliteration that much more holistic. “I find that if I’m taking care of my body, I’m taking care of my mind, I’m taking care of my soul and my spirit, then I’m able to live well…” So even under restrictions, God provides these ways for us to see real (and even complete) growth.
Were you to have a dental emergency during this pandemic, Dr. C. J. Hayes could help you out. You might not recognize him behind an N-95 mask, a facemask, and a face shield, but he could make sure that your health needs were met. It’s only the emergencies that his office is servicing, however, as national guidelines for dental clinics recommend. Dr. Hayes also believes that dentists are playing a special role at this time: “Not only are we trying to be here to treat our patients, but we’re also trying to keep the dental emergencies out of the hospitals.”
But he finds another role to be of even higher priority. “I think for me this has been a good step back,” he says, “...This is really important to spend this quality time with our family at home and to make sure that I’m fulfilling the roles that I need to at home.” He understands that opportunities like this are few, especially when thinking from a new perspective that he shared with us off-camera. When you count the summers you have left with your kids, it seems all the more important to use the time you have.
Keeping three restaurants and an insurance agency up and running under a stay-at-home order is no small feat, but Robb Good has managed just that. The key is leadership. “My response to this will directly affect everybody that works for me because, you know, my approach is contagious,” Robb shares.
It didn’t take long for Robb to realize that fear can paralyze and must be countered by decision-making. “All I have control over is right now, so I’m going to plan for tomorrow… I’m going to ask myself, ‘What does God want me to do today?’” That mentality helps him set goals for his staff so that they can focus not on fear but action.
The other thing that inspires that drive to continue working and planning is God’s faithfulness. “...Look for how God is working, not if God is working,” Robb emphasizes. Even though we are surrounded by bad news, God is working lots of good too.
And Robb asks for one little favor: “If you can, if you’re not putting your own health at risk… go to those places that you would normally frequent because at a time like this for small business, every sale matters.”
In some ways, life for Curtis and Rachel Thompson hasn’t changed much since social distancing guidelines have been put in place. They homeschool their three young boys and their videography business allows them to work from home. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has required them to make several very intentional decisions.
First, it’s been crucial to find flexibility. “We’re not super scheduled people, but we are very task-oriented,” says Rachel. They keep their sons learning, active, and engaged in God’s Word through tools like YouVersion, The Bible Project, and Orange.
Second, they’re adding value to others. Many of their clients have had to step away, so the Thompsons are offering their services to some free of charge. “We’re just trying to use… the skills we have to keep the educators and ministry leaders [rolling]. We find them very essential. Even if their buildings aren’t open, we find them very important.”
Finally, they are embracing this chapter as a special time. “I hate the word ‘busy,’” says Curtis. “…Now that we can step away from what people consider to be a ‘busy’ life, just embrace the time that you have with your spouse… My hope and prayer is for families to get tighter and closer together in this time.” Amen to that.
December 7, 1941 - Pearl Harbor is bombed. The US declares war. Five year-old Ziden Nutt and other students are dismissed from school. There was no panic but only new work to be done. Children gathered milk pods that were taken to create parachutes for the war effort. “We were all in this war together. And today, we’re in this war together,” says Ziden. Of course, the current war against a microscopic virus and widespread panic is very different.
“...There are many ways of coping with this. There’s no need for panic - it’s a matter of trusting God and just taking it a day at a time.” When you’ve experienced food rationing during war, other outbreaks like the measles, and remote missionary work in Africa, another period of restriction and limitation is put into healthy perspective.
This isn’t to say that some precautions aren’t necessary, but perhaps even those inconveniences will bring blessing. “Without what’s going on in the world today, would we be caring for each other as much as we do?” Ziden asks. “God uses everything, I think, to make better things come. And He’ll make good out of this situation as long as we keep focusing on him...”
If it seems difficult to redeem the experience of anxiety and fear, author Ruthann J. Weece has a word for you. Having experienced the loss of her parents, the cancer diagnosis of Joe (her husband of 31 years), and now this pandemic, she has felt her fair share of worry. In fact, having gone through social distancing with her husband during chemo, she finds today’s pandemic triggering.
Still, how do you counteract worry? “I think the first thing we need to acknowledge is [worry] is not a sin,” she shares. However, Ruthann also notes that worry does nothing for our interaction with God. Instead, there’s a great replacement for worry that we need to practice - worship. When you worship in prayer, gratitude, or song, “you can’t be anxious at the same time… Your brain can’t do it.”
These truths don’t completely extinguish all worry, and Ruthann admits that she hasn’t found all the answers. Instead, she has a new perspective on fear and anxiety. “It’s not that it feels good when we’re in it. It’s that he’s not going to waste our pain.” She believes God is using it to call us back to him even now.
“Before all this started when the market was making all-time highs… I said, ‘..This can all just go away just as fast as it came,’” Max Allison told us. It turns out that thought was prophetic. Max is a financial advisor, working with people to help them meet their financial goals. It’s admittedly a very challenging time for that field. “The virus - there’ve been many other viruses just like it… but this one was so severe that it’s pretty much caused a bear market.”
Max doesn’t know how long it will take the country to recover financially, but he’s not concerned. Why? “Free markets work, at least they have all this time, but I don’t put my faith in them… If things don’t work out, I know that God’s there and He’ll provide.”
Mindy Snell is a new member of the GNPI team, joining us as VP of Development just this January. She has already been an energetic and encouraging shot in the arm for the ministry, but she admits to being someone who experiences what she calls “the Squirrel Phenomenon,” drawing a comparison to the distracted dogs of the Disney Pixar film Up. “My brain is constantly going… It’s a challenge for me to sit and pray for any certain length of time without notes or something of that nature.”
So now that she’s working at home and finds herself with a little more downtime, what does she do to connect with God? Enter the Prayer Wheel, a prayer system that guides an hour of prayer through twelve five-minute stages of praise, intercession, song, thanksgiving, and other forms of prayer. “I like to refer to it as interval prayer training,” says Mindy, explaining that it’s like a variety of exercises for our prayer muscles.
Beyond using this “life-changing” tool, Mindy also believes that prayer makes for a much less stressful environment at home. “When you turn your hearts to worship, it’s hard to stay mad at people, right?” And she finds hearing the heart of her children in prayer is also an inspiring reminder to keep it up as she prays for the world during a difficult time.
Chris DeWelt, Director of Intercultural Studies at Ozark Christian College, shares the new rhythm that his family has found while social distancing. It includes sleeping just a little bit later, teaching students remotely, taking walks with his “Fitbit nut” wife Carol, and watching old movies. But he recognizes that this is a time for clarity.
“I think this whole situation is causing us to focus on things that really matter… Or it can go the other direction, where we just while away the time and waste it.” For him, this focus comes through lifting up ACTS prayers (Adoration - Confession - Thanksgiving - Supplication) and listening for names that the Holy Spirit puts on his mind.
And finally, it’s a time to rest in the peace of Jesus. Chris reminds us of John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” These were Jesus' words when preparing His disciples for a time when he would no longer be with them in body. We’re experiencing a similar separation from one another, but God’s incomparable peace still reigns.
GNPI president Mike Schrage introduces “Faith>Fear,” an interview series that will help us create personal connection even at a time of social distance. Join us twice weekly to learn from everyday individuals about how they are learning and living in an uncertain world.