As COVID-19 spreads throughout the earth, the unknown complexity on society poses new questions about its effect on long-term missions, particularly for those already on the field and those eager to go.
Missionaries across the globe find themselves in self-quarantine, wishing they could enjoy the in-person fellowship of local believers or longing to do quarantine with more than their six kids under the age of 10. Mobilizers and field workers alike may feel that their labor has been taken from them by the virus for the foreseeable future.
Thankfully, the church is not swayed by quarantine anxieties or pandemic fears. We have Jesus. “Take heart, I have overcome the world” rings in our ears. To help, long-term workers and wanna-be’s can put into practice the following six heart attitudes.
Missions is all about intimacy with Jesus. Often our jobs distract us from “the one necessary thing (Luke 10:42)”—Jesus Himself. Don’t let the rat race of the virus-chase steal away this opportunity to refresh your personal relationship with your Best Friend and reflame your desire for oneness with Him (John 15:5; Ps. 27:4). Get up early or take turns watching the kids—somehow—plan hours a day to sit quietly with the Lord and wait on Him (Ps. 5:3; Ps. 37:7; Isaiah 40:31). As Martin Luther put it, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Remember that Jesus’s work in the cross and resurrection is finished, yet He’s still working! Hebrews teaches us that He “always lives to make intercession” for the church (Heb. 7:25). Do what the most skilled long-term missionary did—no matter if your plans are cancelled or you can’t leave your house—follow Jesus by interceding for those in your target people group by having them “constantly in [your] prayers night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3). Those on the field know best— long-term missions is primarily about interceding for those far from God and, then, secondarily about preaching the gospel.
God in you is the best thing you bring. First Thessalonians 2:8 says: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Your presence re-presents Jesus. They may have heard He is a Western god or only a prophet, but by becoming one of them (i.e., eating their food, living in their neighborhoods, experiencing the same illnesses) you present Him to them anew. This time as the All Sufficient when there is a lack of resources, as the Healer and Hope in the face of deadly sickness, and as the Joy-Giver and Comforter in any trial. This is why you became a missionary! Don’t be disillusioned—you’re still likely the only example they have of what turning to Jesus looks like, and leaning into your own neediness is the place where the Spirit’s supply shines bright. His kingdom is not a matter of talk, but of power (1 Cor. 4:20), a power to do miracles and an inner power of ceaseless gratitude and sacrificial love. Who knows what doors COVID-19 will open to unengaged hearts and the least reached regions when the people of God stay, remain, and abide in His love and with those suffering?
In summary, 1 Peter 4:7 says “The end of all things is near; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded, so that you can pray.” COVID-19 is stealing away much in view of worldly opportunities. But there is a tool that can’t be taken, and that tool is prayer.
As one practical application, if you would like to pray for 30 minutes a week over the phone with believers across the USA for unreached people groups to know Jesus, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or let us know and we can resource you to start your own phone prayer group.