Student ministry under lockdown: Checkpoint Winter 2021
Posted on: 19th May 2021
CMS workers L and J minister to international students in a region that has undergone significant COVID lockdown. What challenges have they faced, and what opportunities have come?
We minister alongside international students. Here is what one Nigerian student, Theophilus, said about his experience of the pandemic:
When Coronavirus cases were reported in other cities, overnight all religious and public gatherings were banned here. Then the shock of early February 2020 was the message: “Students are no longer allowed to leave the university campus until further notice.” I wasn’t allowed to meet my new church family and friends, or go out to buy fruit and other necessities, or even visit other international student dormitories within my university. It was like I was stopped from living.
A year of exhaustion and struggle
Our own experience working of alongside students like Theophilus is that the past year has been similarly exhausting. We have spent much of the time indoors on a high floor apartment with our large family, and a student and her baby—born as the pandemic kicked off. Many students have gone home and ended up stuck there. Those who stayed were restricted to their campuses for months.
The light shines in the darkness
I doubt it is a coincidence that God has allowed us to see the ugliness of sin—the beauty of and need for Jesus becomes so much clearer when there is so much darkness. I’ve been helped by the words of Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist who deals with trauma. She speaks of how real mission happens in the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world; Christians shine his light into the world’s darkness.
Even in small ways this shining of the light has been possible here. But it is costly, and we are very aware of the spiritual opposition to this work.
Effect on students
Where we now minister there are fewer international students from certain countries, and this has changed the immediate student culture in which we are operating. Some of our Pakistani friends here are now more interested in learning about the Bible, whereas before the community around them in East Asia offered its own pressures.
We have observed that people who are less connected back home, or are more ambitious, have stayed on, rather than return to their country of origin.
Many students have run into visa issues, and their scholarships have ended, but flights to depart have increased in price. They are stuck with limited options. This allows for some outreach, but the numbers of Christians able to help directly has also diminished during lockdown. Many students have suffered with mental health challenges, yet no one has been able to reach out to offer help. We have lost many of our small group leaders and other ministry leaders.
We mentioned Theophilus at the beginning of the article. His final message is one of hope:
The lockdown was really a moment to fear. But rather than feeding that fear, it was time to meditate on God’s words and promises and feed my faith. It’s also been a time for me to pray, especially for the world. The world needs all manner of prayers even beyond this virus pandemic. Because of God’s goodness I believe this time shall pass.
Pray for those to whom L and J are ministering, like Theophilus, that they will maintain hope and trust in the God who provides.