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God’s word is not chained: Checkpoint Winter 2021

CMS International Director Peter Rodgers considers the challenges of a global pandemic and turns to the Bible to encourage us to rejoice, persevere, and trust God. 

You might imagine that as the world shut down due to the pandemic, global mission was put on hold. However, that has not been so! And when we turn to the Bible we find encouragement aplenty as to how to continue in a time of crisis. 

“God’s word is not chained” 

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were locked up in a prison in Philippi. Three elements in this story can encourage us in the midst of COVID-19. 

Firstly, despite the circumstances their joy could not be extinguished. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:25). On a superficial level, things were terrible. At a deeper level, the great eternal truths of the gospel remained. 

Secondly, their ministry was not put on hold even for a moment. God ordained this event to build his church in Philippi through the conversion of the jailer and his household. Thinking beyond this incident, the Bible is clear at every stage that God’s mission will continue till the great day that the Lord Jesus Christ returns. 

Thirdly, the Lord miraculously intervened and rescued them. We believe and trust in a God who does the miraculous and who has no equal. His power is not restricted by our circumstances. 

“God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9). Even a prison cell could not stop God’s mission. Actually, God used their suffering to bring about his purposes. The same is true today.  

Current encouragements for CMS 

Doing mission in a COVID world has been challenging. However, we have every reason to be encouraged:

  • New missionaries have been trained and ready for service. The St Andrew’s Hall Redevelopment was completed on time and on budget, despite the lockdown in Melbourne.  
  • New churches amongst gospel-poor peoples were established. In Japan our church planters had to purchase a new building to cater for the extra people that had previously joined online.  
  • New believers were reached and discipled. In Argentina, for example, ABUA, the Christian University Bible group
    reached more university students than ever before, through online means.  
  • New resources were developed. In Timor-Leste, initial disappointment that the virus delayed the launch of the Tetun language translation of the Big Picture Story Bible, turned to joy at the news that it has become part of the National Curriculum for Protestant schools.  
  • Across the globe new leaders emerged and were trained. The MOCLAM courses (which look in-depth at parts of the Bible) have continued to bless key church members throughout the Spanish-speaking world. 

Mission has continued, albeit in a different way, and God’s Word has prospered around the world

Encouragement from history 

Doing mission through difficult times is not new for CMS. CMS was established in Australia as an independent agency in 1892. Since then, we have had missionaries serving overseas during world wars, the Great Depression, revolution and civil unrest, droughts and tsunamis, and of course during the Spanish flu 100 years ago. Throughout all that time we have been able to testify to the sovereignty of God, serving in the certain hope that he will fulfil his eternal purposes.  

Mission during COVID 

In Australia we have largely been spared the suffering that has gripped much of the world.  

However, most of our missionaries serve in places where the effects of the pandemic have been terrible. They are likely to know neighbours, classmates, colleagues or church members who have contracted or even died from COVID. Some of our missionaries have tested positive but thankfully recovered and continued their work. Most have remained on location and been able to shine the light of hope in a world that is afraid. 

Many of our missionaries have been in very lengthy lockdowns. It has been difficult trying to learn language, develop relationships and understand a new culture whilst unable to leave their homes. It has been difficult to home school children for months on end. This has been costly for all family members. But I am thankful that as lockdowns were relaxed, our missionaries were present and able to identify with the sufferings of those they were seeking to reach.  

During lockdowns, mission moved online and we have learnt new ways to reach people for Christ. The common testimony is that more people than ever have been reached. 

Of course, travel restrictions have played havoc with the movement of our missionaries around the world. Flights have regularly been cancelled, and many missionaries have been unable to make future plans. Some have kept rebooking and prayed that they will have a seat. For some that has still not been possible. Others have opted to extend visas and remain on location and continue ministry. We are reminded again and again that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring and as followers of Christ we ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will,
we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).  

Looking ahead 

Mission is changing as a result of COVID-19. Time will tell which changes are temporary and which will become part of the landscape of mission into the future. But the commission from the Lord Jesus remains the same, to make disciples of all nations. Whatever lies ahead, we remain committed to our theological and missiological convictions, including the necessity for people to hear the gospel and be discipled in their heart language. We continue to recruit, train and send missionaries to cross cultures to see a world that knows Jesus.   

Throughout history, pandemics have been catalysts for sudden and significant change. Some have suggested that this pandemic may signal the final end to several hundred years of European/Western dominance in mission, although realistically it is too early to say this with any certainty. The non-western church has been numerically larger than the western church for a number of decades, but money and power have largely been held in western hands. Who will lead the church in the new era? Has the pandemic hastened the shift to polycentric mission—that is, mission that genuinely happens ‘from everywhere to everywhere?’  

We are asking how traditional mission models will fit within a post-COVID world. What might need to change? Travel may be more expensive. Visas are likely to be harder to attain and retain. Western mission agencies may be under greater financial strain. Surveillance of foreigners may increase, bringing greater risks to missionaries.  

In fact, these changes have been underway for some time but may have accelerated due to COVID. 

Such changes could be viewed negatively, and indeed may make it harder for us to do mission the way we have in the past. We will need greater flexibility and adaptability. But these changes may also bring about good outcomes, such as a rise in the indigenisation of mission. One example is the expansion of our Co-Mission Partner program. Through this program we now support a growing number of key global leaders and indigenous mission movements, including support for three Aboriginal teachers at Nungalinya College in Darwin.  

Technology and mission 

The pandemic has also forced us to develop our ability to do mission online. Digital mission is no longer an option but a necessity. Of course, digital mission enables us to cross boundaries in ways that are not possible physically. We must adapt to technology in mission or we will be left behind. However, in our enthusiasm for digital mission, we also need to be cognisant of two things: 

Firstly, our theological and missiological conviction is that people need to hear the gospel and be discipled in their local language. There may be a push, post-COVID, to do more ministry online in English. COVID has broken down barriers to working online, but we cannot use it as an excuse to not do ministry in local language. 

Secondly, for most of the world there is still limited or no internet, and large proportions of the population are illiterate or semi-literate. Technology will play a greater role in mission going forward and we may need to recruit missionaries with media and internet skills, but technology will not replace the value of long-term workers, on the ground. 

Rejoice, pray, support, go! 

Paul and Silas found themselves in a difficult lockdown in a Philippian jail. But they did not despair. In fact, they rejoiced. Will you rejoice today that even during the pandemic, the gospel is bearing fruit in unexpected places? Will you pray confidently, believing that God will use this pandemic to build his church around the world? Far from mission being on hold, CMS is pressing forward to send more missionaries to reach gospel- poor peoples and grow strong and faithful Christian leaders. Will you support this great work? There are as many opportunities to serve God overseas today as ever. Will you consider going? In all things let us look to God who can do more than we ask or imagine.

GIVE

The mission of God, and therefore of CMS, continues through crisis and pandemic. Will you give generously to support the work of CMS missionaries?