Extracting Pandemic Value

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May 2020 | Volume 15 | Issue 5
Drilling Jumbo machine for underground mining.

Extracting Pandemic Value

Church leaders uncover some initial COVID-19 benefits

Yes, the world has changed, and it’s hard to know when we have gained enough perspective on those changes to share useful advice. While we certainly are still in the early stages of understanding the shifts that COVID-19 is precipitating, we know that church missions leaders want to be learning from each other right now. We are grateful to the 10 forward-focused missions pastors who share some of their early discoveries in this issue.

HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC FORCED YOU TO PIVOT ON STRATEGY, FOCUS, OR RESOURCE ALLOCATION?

Understandably, many church outreach efforts have focused primarily on meeting pandemic-related local needs: Feeding programs. Drive-through prayer opportunities. Discovery Bible Study or Alpha strategies. Development of online systems for identifying needs and connecting both those in the church and the community with resources. But what changes are focusing on cross-cultural ministry both local and global?

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Austin Delgado“We have led our church in times of prayer and fasting in order to stand in solidarity with, and intercede on behalf of, the saints in crisis around the world. We have also opened up online avenues for our church body to contribute financially to the relief efforts of our partners both in the US and abroad.” Austin Delgado, Riverstone Church, Yardley, PA

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“Since we can’t travel out of the country, I am using this forced time at home to do long-range, strategic planning for our home mission side. When possible, we may visit some of our European partner churches to learn more from them about local engagement.” Missions Pastor, Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, TN

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“We are serving an average of 100 refugee and international student families each week. It has opened our church to the reality of being a refugee. • We have allocated funds to help our partners with COVID-19 response in their countries—from masks to food, technology, support for healthcare workers, etc. We have engaged our global missions team with volunteers to serve locally by packing, sorting, and delivering meals—cross pollinating global and local ministries.” Christian Mungai, Mariner’s Church, Irvine, CA

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“First, we ramped up our member-care activity. We contacted all of our workers and identified those who are more at risk because of personal health or context, and initiated conversations to assess how decisions were being made about ongoing ministry and whether or not they should remain in location. This helped us identify those with whom we needed to ramp up communications in order to walk more closely alongside them. • Second, we set aside funds for emergency situations. Some of this money has been used to help with workers’ relocations and other unexpected expenses caused by COVID-19. We will hold other monies for additional pandemic-related emergencies over the next 12 to 18 months.” Scott White, Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, CA

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“Our strategy is focusing around deeper discipleship. Themes of suffering and obedience are great heart preparation for our people so they are ready to lead out when the timing is right.” Lynne, Overlake Christian Church, Redmond, WA

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Tim Hood“Our missionary partners are helping us develop long-term discipleship strategies at our church that are already in use around the world. They are coaching and equipping us even from the other side of the planet!” Tim Hood, First Baptist Concord, Knoxville, TN

HOW HAVE YOU BEGUN TO USE TECHNOLOGY IN NEW, CREATIVE WAYS?

“We held a virtual missions team gathering with over 30 on a Zoom call, including eight international workers from four countries, to hear from one of our denomination’s senior leaders. Proximity is no longer a major issue with Zoom!” Kirk Lithander, Fairhaven Church, Dayton, OH

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Tim Hood“We have increased the number of mission council meetings in order to limit them to 60-75 minutes on Zoom. Beyond that time, the medium seems to lose effectiveness. • We were already planning to have our small groups use the ‘Momentum Yes’ video series, but we have moved up the timeline because we think our groups can do the course on Zoom. An initial pilot with both an older missions-minded group and another group of young Millennials was enthusiastically received. • I have begun making 7-9 minute video reports for our elders and missions council each month. Instead of a more factual written report, it allows for a relational ‘color commentary’ update. I also spend an hour a week with one missionary and at the end record a 4-5 minute interview that we can share with staff, elders, and our council. It’s a win for all of us!” Doug Gamble, Crossroads Fellowship, Wake Forest, NC

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“Since we had to cancel all of our short-term missions trips, we are working on virtual missions trips.” A.R. Javed, Calvary Baptist Church, New York City, NY

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“We’ve leveraged technology by inviting our partners to Zoom with our Bible study groups, prayer gatherings, and virtual training events. Some of our missionaries have expressed concern that once the US goes back to ‘normal’ again, we will quit using these virtual meeting tools and they will lose the connection. But including our missionaries on a weekly basis is now a reality that is here to stay, and I’m thrilled about that. • We’ve gone the extra mile to also ensure that MKs are connected to all our virtual children’s and student ministry. • Our recent global prayer gathering used Zoom and included our missionaries and church planters, our local ministry partners, and a group of our members we affectionately call ‘The Tribe’ (people deeply committed to local/global missions). Various designated pray-ers voiced each of our petitions for ministries and workers. It was a rich and deeply moving time.” Tim Hood

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“Next month we are going to shift our regular prayer meeting online. Our most faithful and regular intercessors are our eldest generation, and while it has taken 6+ weeks to be confident that our 80- to 100-year-olds can connect, we think they are ready. We will meet every two weeks instead of just monthly and regularly Zoom in our workers. This prayer meeting was previously a daytime, mid-week gathering but now we are shifting the timeframe to include kids and families.” Scott White

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Christian Mungai“We have asked our global partners to send us a video of how they are responding to the pandemic. We will use these videos to create a conversation with our senior pastor on how the rest of the world is affected and responding to the crisis. This interview will be part of the regular Monday night online conversations our pastor does for the congregation.” Christian Mungai

WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING FROM YOUR NON-WESTERN PARTNERS DURING COVID-19?

“While we in the West are talking about how to take our services online and plan for when we go back to normal, our partners are dealing with the struggle to find daily necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. For them, the incarnational gospel is opening doors for witnessing—they are going to the sick, the hungry, and the needy believing that God will protect them while we are focused on maintaining social distance.” A.R. Javed

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Kirk Lithander“We are partnering with a diaspora church plant in a neighboring county to help them start a church pantry. They have made this ministry even more effective by pairing church families with families in need in their community. The church family delivers food on a regular basis, providing the opportunity to get to know and pray for that family. Combining practical with spiritual has been very effective.” Mark Avery, Zarephath (NJ) Christian Church

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“Prayer has been their first line of defense. They have all called for fasts and long periods of prayer. • Communal responsibility and honor for elders was their impetus for staying at home in order to protect not only the elders in their family but all elders in their community. • We have created a prayer chain with all our global partners in order to share prayer and encouragement. • On a lighter note, our India partner has been sending us movie titles that have an Indian perspective or characters, and then inviting any interested people to do an online fireside chat about the movie.” Christian Mungai

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“Our partners are teaching us that simplicity is the key to sustainable and reproducible ministry!” Austin Delgado

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“We are gleaning ideas for meeting daily needs and for structuring our benevolence ministry based on reproducibility. We want to give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, but we want to ensure Jesus’ name is proclaimed. We also want to make sure that we are retaining the dignity of those we are ministering to and alongside, not creating unsustainable or unhelpful patterns of ministry response. That’s complicated in the midst of such profound loss and need. But our field partners and local indigenous ministry partners are helping us navigate the choppy waters.” Tim Hood

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“Partnership is all about relationship. We have been inspired by our global partners’ boldness as they are the hands and feet of Jesus serving their communities.” Kirk Lithander

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“One thing that has become clear in my conversations with our international partners is that most have little or no margin in their operations and ministries, but they do have a greater capacity to adapt to changing situations because uncertainty is their norm. ‘Embracing uncertainty’ is something that our outreach staff team here at the church is regularly talking about.” Scott White

HOW HAVE YOU PERSONALLY BENEFITTED FROM THE GLOBAL SHELTER-IN-PLACE RESTRICTIONS?

Not everyone has had a positive experience. One person noted stressful family dynamics and another person admitted that they had slipped back into a workaholic mode that had to be corrected to a healthier balance. Another person is “working 24/7” but says it “seems right at this time.” Here’s an overview of what the leaders we surveyed identified as benefits.

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“This time has given me and our missions team the needed margin to begin to rethink our global strategy.” Kirk Lithander

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“My wife and I have been able to structure our schedules to provide more personal quiet time with God in His Word and prayer. Spiritual nourishment has been needed to endure this emotionally challenging time and to shepherd our flock well through this time.” Austin Delgado

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“Forced sabbath is very good for us. I have loved not being on planes and able to be more consistent in routines.” Missions Pastor, Cedar Springs

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“I have had dinner with my family all but two nights in the past eight weeks—which would have been totally impossible without the restrictions. I’m learning how to cook new meals and reading books I had shelved.” Christian Mungai

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“We have had extraordinarily good times with our neighbors. Everyone is hungry for personal connection—lingering longer to chat in the driveway or on the street. They are asking deeper, more intimate questions and truly connecting. A Discovery Bible Study and even a Disciple Making Movement in our own subdivision now actually seem possible, if not probable. A lot of what we have always talked about or longed to do in our own community is actually taking shape, and I’m not sure it would have without the virus.” Tim Hood

WHAT CHANGES DO YOU FORESEE IN YOUR GLOBAL MISSIONS STRATEGY OR LEADERSHIP FOR THE REST OF 2020?

For most of these leaders, plans are still being formulated.While “I don’t know” was the response of multiple people, here are some ideas that are developing.

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Kirk Lithander“This is a great opportunity for all of us both to grieve what we have lost of the past and embrace the future. I recommend this panel discussion from Made to Flourish which is focused on church leaders who want to adopt an entrepreneurial posture to embrace change. • We have a new English Corner Outreach with two of our international workers in SE Asia using Zoom. We are excited about the way they have quickly pivoted to develop a virtual platform for all of their ministries.” Kirk Lithander

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“We want to continue pressing into our local international and diaspora ministry because we are seeing such fruitfulness. Arriving in a new country creates cultural, physical, and emotional disorientation. Add a global pandemic and many internationals are really unsettled, and some have a greater openness to the gospel. We want to increase not only our own involvement with them but our partnership with other local churches in this outreach.” Scott White

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“Locally I foresee us ramping up job placement and ESL as the practical helps aspect of witnessing while equipping our people for sharing their testimonies with others.” Mark Avery

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“Globally we will go deeper with key leaders who are planting churches not just in their city but in their region. We want to help them build out healthy church-planting pipelines.” Missions Pastor, Cedar Springs

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“We are testing our discipleship program, ‘Rooted’ (originally developed by Mariner’s Kenyan partners), with discipleship groups made up of people in various parts of the world. • We hope to do online medical consultations and camps run by doctors in different parts of the globe. • We anticipate increasing our investment in global public health infrastructure to help vulnerable countries proactively counter the impact of a pandemic.” Christian Mungai

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AR Javed“Although I foresee a lack of financial resources to support our global missions partners, I also see an abundance of training and teaching material available online. In the next six months I think every church and para-church ministry will be learning how to do a combination of online and physical ministries. We are already planning our church missions conference and the [New York regional] Heart for Muslims Conference with that in our mind.” A.R. Javed

 

If our readers have additional thoughts or suggestions, we would love to hear from you. We are especially interested in hearing about how you are developing virtual missions trips, missions conference/events, and long-distance field ministry.

 

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