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 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to learn how people with all kinds of perspectives are coping through quarantine, social distancing, and COVID-19.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
For now, Max sees more families enjoying the good Phoenix weather and thinks that's the right way to spend this time. “The investments? They’ll take care of themselves…” Keep the right focus because, in the end, financial capital has no comparison with eternal capital.
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.
You can check out more of Ruthann’s thoughts at https://ruthannweece.com/ or on Facebook and Instagram.
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...”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
Return on Wednesday for a discussion with Mark Moore, teaching pastor at Christ Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona to hear how he believes the church is at its best when the world is at its worst.
Faith>Fear is also available in podcast form at https://anchor.fm/gn-pi!