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 and Thursday to learn how people with all kinds of perspectives are coping through quarantine, social distancing and COVID-19, and beyond.
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.
Later this week, Stephanie Freed joins us to share how human trafficking is on the rise and how her international ministry continues to fight it in the days of COVID-19.
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: “...The gates of hell can’t stand against us let alone of COVID, and we will get through this because we are the body of Christ. We’re resilient, we’re strong, we’re tough. We’ve faced darker days than this.”
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 Ads or 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