Missionaries see God working during coronavirus crisis
Converge Content Specialist
The growing coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of people around the globe, including the 182 Converge missionaries working to create a gospel movement among every least-reached people group in our generation.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Our missionaries are seeing this truth play out in their respective ministry locations in this time of crisis. Here are their stories:
A Middle Eastern church goes online
We’ve been hearing for years now how the harvest is ripe among Muslims in the Middle East. It’s true, but at the same time, the barriers are still very strong and very difficult to break through.
In recent years online ministries have been making waves in the Middle East by giving Muslims opportunities to view and engage with gospel-centered material, without the challenges that come with actually attending a church in their community, if there even is one.
However, the local church still plays a vital role in the furtherance of the gospel in the Middle East. Most online ministries desire to be the door for which people to walk in and hear about Jesus, but they need the local church to provide people with long-term discipleship.
As we have all learned in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, online is nice, but it’s not a permanent solution. We need to gather people together to fellowship, worship and sharpen one another. Iron doesn’t sharpen iron without physical contact.
What, then, is the potential of combining the local church and the online platform? This is what we are currently discovering in the COVID-19 reality that is sweeping the world. Many churches across the Middle East are beginning to go online for the first time.
We have the pleasure of partnering with a local church here in the Middle East that had no previous online presence. As lockdowns went into place, we quickly scrambled to create a Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Live videos are not a realistic option as the internet is too unreliable. Still, we figured we could post a video of the Sunday sermon and maybe a midweek Bible study, and at the very least, the 15-20 people who regularly attend will still be hearing the Word of God from their local leadership.
God, however, had something else in mind entirely. Last Sunday (March 29), our morning service had been viewed over 270 times on YouTube and reached over 400 people through Facebook by the end of the day. It was even viewed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. That afternoon, a Muslim lady contacted the church wanting more information about how she could follow along with the church’s teachings. Our pastor, in a true sign of humility, immediately connected her with another pastor in her more immediate area of the country.
The next day, some of our Sunday school teachers posted a video for the kids of the church to watch and engage with. The video featured a Bible story, an object lesson and even an easy to do, at-home craft. That afternoon, we received pictures of four kids in a local Muslim family who watched the video, and all participated in the craft time, writing Bible verses about how God holds our hands and helps us overcome our fears.
God is doing something unique and new through the COVID-19 crisis. The internet will never be a replacement for the local body of believers gathering together, nor should it be. But necessity breeds ingenuity, and God works in mysterious ways. By the time this crisis ends and lives are restored to normal, he may have used the internet to break down some barriers and open the doors for local believers to engage face to face with Muslim seekers in our region.
I know it has opened the eyes of the local church to the power and potential of going online. I can’t wait to see what God will do as we combine the local presence with the online platform to see gospel movements among least-reached people groups in the Middle East.
The missionary who submitted this story is part of Converge’s Great Sea Initiative. For more information and how to get involved in the Great Sea Initiative, including our full-time media outreach to the Arab-speaking world, email us.
‘Now is the time to give more’
I loaded my scooter with a month’s supply of rice and lentils and headed home. The prime minister of my host country had just announced a 21-day lockdown, only giving us six hours to prepare. As I drove home, I paid special attention to all the day laborers and construction workers. I couldn’t help but think of the desperation they were about to face.
Things are so uncertain for everyone right now, but I knew God was giving me an opportunity to respond. The Lord reminded me of Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I felt strongly that now is the time to give more and not keep more.
Almost immediately, friends and family started asking how they could also help. I received a few donations to buy supplies, and I was able to buy enough food for 15 families. After I measured everything out, I had more than I realized and was able to give a two-week supply of food to an entire colony, plus a week’s worth of food to seven families. After I passed everything out, there were still funds left over and more funds coming in from friends. God was and is still multiplying.
In these desperate times, I continue to believe God is up to something big. People are seeking answers to the “what,” “how” and “why,” and I truly hope we can continue to point them to the “who.” I take comfort in knowing God loves these people and will not let this time be in vain. I believe he will reveal himself to them, and as for me, I will continue to be available. Send me, Lord. Use me.
The missionary who submitted this story is impacting the lives of children, families and communities in Southeast Asia with the gospel.
Calming fears in Cameroon
“I am afraid.” I was with some of my friends sitting on wooden benches near the road — the local gathering spot.
“Why are you afraid?” I asked. “Because of the unknowns, this coronavirus is killing so many people, what will happen when it arrives here?” my friend responded.
We talked about the virus, how it spreads, what it does to people and the risk factors for getting a severe form of the disease. We talked about God being in control of this world. We talked about trusting God during times of fear, that death is the path for all of us eventually, and that God loves us and sent Jesus. God is using a virus to open doors to share the hope of the gospel with those around us!
Doug and Stephanie Lewis are using veterinary medicine to reach out to the community in Cameroon and working to strengthen the local church through teaching and mentoring.
Estonia state TV broadcasts church services
In Estonia, Converge missionaries Crick and Mindy Porier and Estonian national leader/Converge missionary Helari Puu lead the work to raise up disciple-makers in one of the world’s most atheistic nations. The Soviet Union left a bitter legacy in this country, in which 86% of the nationals self-identify as atheists. While the work is hard, lives are being transformed by the gospel.
Since March 13, Estonia has many restrictions: no school or work, malls closed and no meetings allowed, including church services. But churches are seeing positives in these challenging circumstances. Thirty churches out of the 85 in Puu’s denomination have started using the internet to broadcast their activities, including Sunday mornings.
The Estonian government, due to the restrictions on churches, has offered time on the national public television station every Sunday morning for broadcasting worship with the participation of different ministers from various denominations.
“We have had the privilege of having worship on TV at Christmas and Easter, but never regularly every Sunday,” Puu said. “So, God brings out good and new things, even in the midst of difficulties.”
Providing encouragement to Albanian moms
When I came to Albania almost six years ago, I was committed to reaching out to the women of Albania. In a shame-based country where they have less value and less of a voice because of their gender, I desired to help them know and understand that God treasures them and truly “sees” them and their value. I have loved building these relationships, though, to be honest, it has had many challenges. Trust does not come easily for them. It’s assumed that if you want to come close, it is only to find out their weaknesses so that you can destroy them. So, I have sat for many hours over coffee, listening to their stories and caring for them and helping them know that they are safe.
I work primarily with MOPS Albania, led by Albanian moms who are the first generation of moms to raise their children completely free from communist influence. These are amazing, strong and beautiful women who are trying to create a safe place for other Albanian moms to experience the love of God. I am an advocate, a mentor and, in many ways, a mother to them. They look up to me because there is no previous generation of faith; they are on the front lines forging a beautiful trail for others to follow. It’s messy and hard but well worth it.
Many times I feel much like a doctor in a war zone. I see the wounded, and I go to them. I open my bag and give them what God gives me, the healing balm of his love and truth. The coronavirus has created a “radio silence” type of feel in the middle of this war. Walls are up that can seem daunting. What I use to be able to do easily now has extra twists and turns. But the thing about love, especially God’s love, is that it pursues. When there are obstacles, you find a way.
I was scheduled to meet with a group of moms, which of course, had to be canceled, but instead, I created a video for the moms so that they could see my face and hear my voice and remind them that they are not alone. We have a group on WhatsApp for the leaders and almost constantly have a thread going. Many of the leaders and I post videos of encouragement or verses to remind each other that we are together. We try to have Zoom meetings with those who can, but not everyone is set up for that. MOPS leaders are posting ideas on Facebook with activities or crafts that moms can do with their children that don’t require anything special. The message to them, “You’ve got this, mom!” “We’re here to help you win!”
Feeling alone is possibly one of the worst things that can happen during this time of social distancing. Normally, a mom may be at home, or she may have a job or activities that take her away from her home for part of the day. Now, that same mom is at home all day with her children in a very small space with the added responsibility of homeschooling her children. Add the pressure of taking care of her husband and home, which in their culture is to be done with perfection. She feels overwhelmed and very alone. Who cares?
A personal message sent on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp helps keep them from feeling alone or forgotten. They may not have the words to share their deepest feelings with me because of their fears, but they can receive care. They can feel seen. We have and are still fighting to find ways to show care. It could be leaving a surprise plate of cookies or just reaching out by phone or text to ask, “How are you? How can I pray for you?”
Every little act of love matters because with those acts, we are saying, “You matter!” That feeling — that they matter — is not something that they are accustomed to, and that’s when God’s love becomes a real thing. The key is not to give up and remember that small things are really big things.
Michael Smith serves as Converge’s content specialist. He has nearly two decades in the newspaper publishing industry. Michael worked as a copy editor and designer for the Tampa Tribune for more than a dozen years. He also was a member of the editorial staff of Florida Baptist Witness and other publications across the Southeast.