Did the Pandemic Open Doors?
Effects of COVID on Missions
If you could articulate what you want to see in the world, what would you say? In other words, what is your vision? Before we answer, perhaps we should ask a preliminary question: What is Jesus’s vision? What does he want to see in this world?
When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And he told his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). What does Jesus see? He sees the coming of the kingdom of God. His vision is that the gospel will spread throughout the world, the church will grow, Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed, and his own reign will extend to the ends of the earth. For those who have been radically changed by Jesus and the good news of his kingdom, shouldn’t Jesus’s vision be ours as well?
If our vision is what we want to see, what is our mission? What we are called to do? Jesus our King gives us our mission: “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Do you see how this mission is tied to our vision? The more we make disciples among the nations, the more we will see the reign of Christ extend to the ends of the earth as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation bow the knee to King Jesus and live out his kingdom ethics.
How Crisis Fuels Missions
Maybe you’re thinking, “This is a crazy time to think about missions! We have been navigating a global COVID-19 pandemic, there is a war in Ukraine, and the world seems more divided than ever. What in the world is going on?” This is precisely the question to address. Put in a different way, What is God doing in his world today? Let’s focus specifically on answering this question: How is God using all the effects of COVID-19 to accomplish his purposes in the world?
Let’s remind ourselves that God is not surprised by these world events. In fact, as we look back on the history of modern missions, we see that he has launched many missions movements following major crises. The 1980s AIDS epidemic in Africa led to many missionaries going to Africa. The fall of communism in the late eighties and early nineties brought many missionaries to Germany and Eastern Europe. The September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States sparked a great interest in reaching Muslims. The Arab Spring uprisings in the early 2010s and the subsequent refugee crisis drew more missionaries to the Middle East and Europe to reach those displaced by war.
God does not waste anything. And he seems to use the brokenness and darkness of this world, in particular, to shine the gospel of Jesus Christ most brightly.
What might gospel advance look like in this post-pandemic era? What are the greatest needs?
Though we all have been affected by COVID-19, the poor and destitute have suffered the most. For example, severe lockdowns have greatly affected day laborers. If they stay at home, they can’t earn money to provide food for their families; if they go to work, they are the most susceptible to getting the virus. The consequences of getting sick are grave for those who don’t have the means for medical care or who are the sole providers for their families. Many of these families are still recovering from their losses.
“There is a large overlap between the world’s poor and those who are unreached and unengaged by the gospel.”
At a macro level, COVID-19 as well as the war in Ukraine have increased global economic inequality. Importantly, there is a large overlap between the world’s poor and those who are unreached and unengaged by the gospel. This has created the opportunity for the church, especially in the developed world, to step in and demonstrate the love of God through acts of mercy and generosity, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed.
For many others, these past years under a global pandemic have led to deeper existential questions about life, meaning, and purpose. Being confronted with our mortality, dissatisfaction with work, disillusionment with our governments, feelings of loneliness, and the need for relationships all have contributed to a spiritual hunger. COVID-19 has not been good for the overall physical, mental, and spiritual health of the world. But in this context, we are seeing greater openness to the gospel of Jesus Christ as it provides the answers to life’s most basic questions.
No Substitute for Missionaries
What about our missionaries? Like the rest of us, many missionaries are tired, stressed, lonely, and feeling isolated. Many have taken an early retirement. This has highlighted the need for more robust, accessible member care and counseling. Post-pandemic missions will be at its best when missionaries have support systems in place to care for them as they care for others.
Some may be wondering, “Why are we still sending missionaries? Can’t we just use Zoom and other electronic media to get the word out as we have been doing these past two years?” While we are grateful for technology that enables us to have virtual gatherings, worship services, and teaching opportunities, there simply is no substitute for face-to-face discipleship. Why? Because discipleship is more than transferring information. It is relational. It happens when you eat together, laugh together, and cry together in formal and informal settings. There simply is no substitute for being present.
We see this in the apostle Paul’s letters, where he expresses eager desire to see his brothers and sisters face-to-face (Romans 1:11–12; 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18). The apostle John even writes to the church, “I had much to write you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 13–14). Discipleship is more than imparting information.
Greatest Need for Missions
So then, what is the greatest need in seeing the gospel advance globally? The greatest need is a new generation of missionaries who will go and make disciples among the nations. Our Lord Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion for them “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). It was in this context that he said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37–38).
What is the greatest need to reaching more sooner? Laborers for the harvest field.
“Could it be that COVID-19 is God’s means for preparing an army of laborers for his harvest field?”
Early in the pandemic, all the rules changed, and we were forced to live in a new reality, a new culture. Work, church, and life were all radically shaped by COVID-19. So, what did we do? We adapted, we endured, we worked through the emotions and grief, and most of us survived. This experience reminded me of our family’s first years on the mission field, which were crucial for our development and growth as missionaries. Could it be that COVID-19 is God’s means for preparing an army of laborers for his harvest field? Could it be that these past couple of years living under COVID-19 have trained a generation of more resilient, adaptable, and persevering saints for the purpose of God’s global mission?
Taste, See, Go, Disciple
What in the world is going on? God is opening opportunities for kingdom growth and advancement across the world, especially among the unreached and unengaged.
According to Joshua Project, there are still 7,415 unreached people groups, which make up 42.5 percent of the global population — about 3.34 billion people. Everyone has been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. God is cracking open the door to people’s hearts and minds to hear the good news of the kingdom. And he is calling those who have tasted and seen the goodness of God to go and make disciples among the nations.
Perhaps God has been preparing you for his kingdom service. Perhaps you will be numbered among the many who answer the call to global missions. Maybe we will see in our generation a great movement of the Holy Spirit, leading many to repentance and faith in Christ, the growth and development of the church, and the gospel of the kingdom advancing throughout the world. May it be so, Lord Jesus!