01 Sep Serving God’s Mission in a Covid-19 Season
By Rev. Chan NamChen (PhD)
AsiaCMS, Executive Director
When we planned for this magazine at the end of 2019, it was impossible to imagine the upheavals around the world and changes to daily routines resulting from Covid-19. When the pandemic hit, our initial focus was immediate relief – getting aid and food necessities to the poor and to those most impacted by the lockdowns. Months into this storm, it is now evident that life as we knew it has changed permanently – at least for the next year, but probably longer. This virus will not just disappear. Even with a vaccine, we will live in constant vigilance against this lurking threat. Our world has changed. What then do we need to change in our perspectives and practices in serving God’s mission?
Changes and challenges
Gaps between the rich and the poor have escalated in a world that is already unequal. At a time when access to medical care and the basics for human life is most needed, it has widened the chasms in life opportunities – for work, income, and education. For the poorer communities and countries, it has destroyed years of efforts in playing catch-up in economic sufficiency and human development goals. All may be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boats. Some are in better boats while others are in boats that are capsizing.
Social habits have changed in a world of social caution. It is physical distancing, wearing masks and minimizing trips out of the home, life interactions and physical contact. These deeply impact the quality and breadth of our relationships. We are used to conveying our hearts through a touch, a handshake, a hug, or the flash of a smile. We bond over a shared meal and a cup of coffee. That is why zoom meetings have their limitations. How do we nurture and maintain relationships? How do we reach out, and build new relationships?
The Christian faith also invests significant meanings to actions such as the laying on of hands in prayer, and the sharing of the bread and cup in the Lord’s supper. With the new constraints, how do we communicate meaning in new ways?
Financial contractions deeply impact missions personnel, programs and activities. Travel, both internal and cross-border will be curtailed and more expensive. When travelling does occur, the numbers of people engaged, and the size of meetings will be limited. Travelling will also be weighed against the health risks to the traveller and people visited.
How then do we engage in cross-border missions? How do we serve God’s mission meaningfully when we cannot travel as easily as before? How may we best restructure our programs and activities in the face of financial and travel constraints?
Rethinking how we serve God’s mission
Indigenization of missions. This cardinal missiological principle is often unnecessarily delayed in practice. It is now accelerated by the circumstances. We need to trust local Christians and leaders to take God’s mission forward. The Holy Spirit will guide and empower them. Missions is less about the heroic commitments and capabilities of missions’ personnel but more of what God is doing in local societies, through local Christian leaders and Christian communities.
Re-evaluate the needs in the local contexts. This pandemic is changing communities, often in unexpected ways, surfacing new configurations of socio-economic and spiritual needs. New types of communities may even emerge in different localities. If serving God’s mission is about serving people, then we need to look with fresh eyes at what has evolved and what people actually need.
Maximize the use of online technology and resources. People who were traditionally closed to the use of online and virtual resources are now jolted to learn. Online channels do connect people. Despite their limitations in the deeper dimensions of human interactions, let us tap it for what it is worth.
Recommit to give and share financial resources. The financial impact of this pandemic is highly unequal. Many face challenges, but some will have their assets and incomes increasing during this season. Expenses have also reduced. If we are in these latter categories, consider increasing our giving and sharing, directing finances to where they are most needed.
Do hands-on mission in your local context. Missions personnel and Christians who travelled extensively will now have time freed up. Besides quality time with loved ones and taking time out to smell the roses, this is an opportune time to reconnect with our own local grassroots mission. What is God doing in my locality? How may I volunteer my time, skills or just simply to engage where I live?
Use the season to prepare for the re-opening. Constraints is not necessarily a bad thing. It forces us to reflect and recalibrate. It can be a time of building core strengths, of retooling and rebuilding – inside the individual and in the organization. These aspects are often neglected during seasons of busyness. If done well, it will help us to come out stronger and serve more effectively when situations re-open. This season of constraints will pass.
Look to God’s sovereignty and pray. This can be a trite platitude and a challenge for people in mission who are by nature, usually activists. Praying, listening, and trusting God are foundational to all our endeavours. These should not be a “no-choice, last resort options only” after we have done all we can to control the flow of events. Rather, these are core to who we are, and what we do.
As we navigate into this Covid-19 world, there is the sense that we “have not passed this way before” (Josh.3:4). Yet, we do know that God has walked ahead of us. As we remain committed to serve His mission, His promises ring true. He says, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt.20:20). He also says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb.13:5).
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