Doing Deputation During COVID-19
David, Northern Africa
Deputation is tough. There is, of course, great good that comes from it, and in a practical sense, it is necessary in this age for the advancement of the gospel. But the unavoidable fact remains that deputation is difficult. The missionary on deputation faces long, circuitous trips across the country, the pressure of engaging with hundreds of individuals in condensed periods of time, the loneliness of never really developing close friendships, the emotional stress of depending almost entirely on the generosity of others for necessities like food and clothes, and the awkwardness of trying to express a deeply-felt, sometimes lifelong ministry burden in a way that inevitably ends up sounding a bit like a sales pitch.
None of this ought to be discouraging for prospective missionaries. Indeed, I would hasten to point out that our overall experience on deputation has been very positive. But it behooves us to be prepared and to count what costs pursuing a life in missions may include. Still, there are some costs that one cannot fully prepare for ahead of time because they lie so completely out of human control. Such has been the case with the recent outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent global restrictions on meetings and travel. For many missionaries – including our family – COVID-19 pushed deputation from difficult to almost impossible.
The spring and the fall are often the busiest times for deputation since churches tend to emphasize missions or hold conferences during those months. As such, we rely heavily on those times for advancing our support-raising efforts. Throughout March and April, we were scheduled to be in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. By the second week of March, we began receiving phone calls from pastors informing us that they would have to cancel their plans because of restrictions in their states. Quite literally in a matter of three or four days, our entire spring schedule was cleared out. Eventually, we lost all of our meetings through the end of June.
These were tough blows. Missionaries don’t just stumble onto meetings while traveling; they’re a precious commodity. Obviously, meetings bring the possibility of committed support and another step towards on-field service, but there are other benefits as well. For many of us on deputation, love offerings are not just nice – they get us through the month. We had worked hard to get our schedule put together, and several of these churches seemed like they held good potential for us. But, one by one, the calls came, and I found myself taking an eraser to my planner.
We were thankful that most pastors were sympathetic and willing to work on rescheduling us, but as of now, only one has actually settled on a new date. Of course, we understand their situation. The stresses of shepherding a congregation through an epidemic and unknowns about restrictions in the future obviously affect the ability of church leaders to confidently say anything about missionary visits. Many churches have faced great economic burdens as church attendance plummeted to zero. We simply cannot expect churches to take from the needs of their own sheep to tend to ministries elsewhere. But the discouragement was still sharp. We were hopeful that after our spring meetings, we would have moved ahead in our support by several percentage points. As of now, we’ve simply flatlined and do not know how much longer it will take to make up for what feels a bit like lost weeks. The situation has certainly pushed back our target date by several months.
In one way, all of this simply underscores the foundational role of the local church in accomplishing the task of missions. Without churches meeting regularly, the progress of sending new missionaries comes to a grinding halt. This, I believe, is to be expected under a biblical philosophy of missions. But in another way, the situation highlights the need for serious reflection on the deputation process and how we might better prepare for contingencies such as the ones we are now facing.
Many churches have turned to social media for their “meetings” during these months. Platforms such as Facebook and Zoom have become key ways for churches to stay connected with one another. But they also may hold interesting opportunities for deputation. Using them, missionaries have been able to initially present their burden to church leaders and engage with small groups across the country without actually having to travel. We were invited to participate with one church’s prayer meeting via Zoom and were able to share updates with them. Another church invited us to share our burden with their missions committee by the same platform. The possibility for pastors and missionaries to “meet” this way early in the process of forming relationships, before deciding to make an expensive trip, could prove beneficial to both senders and goers.
Still, there are other complexities to consider. We were counselled by many people to publish videos on Facebook and YouTube for pastors and churches to watch since we couldn’t travel. That may be wise in many cases, but security risks prohibit us from utilizing publicly accessible forms of communication. Participating in open livestream services was often simply not an option for us, given our target field. This severely limits our ability to connect with churches when almost all connections are being done over public social media. Small groups on platforms such as Zoom are helpful, but the churches that were ready to host such meetings for us were few and far between. I don’t know that I have a simple solution for how missionaries like us can best proceed under the circumstances.
Nevertheless, this time has also taught us some truly wonderful things. First, we have seen the Lord provide for us in meaningful and encouraging ways. We really have only lost a small fraction of support, despite many churches facing financial stress. Indeed, some churches and individuals gave extra to our ministry to help us during these months, and these gifts are precious to us. God provides for His people by His people, and this principle holds true through all the storms of this world.
We have also learned patience and contentment. Paul himself learned to be abased and to abound through the strength of Christ, and we are finding that it is a sweet secret to learn. Deputation was never really in our control. The Lord is the Lord of the harvest; we are unprofitable servants. There is indeed a great deal of rest to be found in that truth. The Lord knows the right time for us to leave America, and it is for us to believe that He is right and rejoice in it.
Finally, God has renewed our understanding that deputation is about service to the church. It is not about us, ultimately. We may, in the providence of God, never reach our field, but if His Spirit has moved through us to increase the devotion of one congregation, we are pleased. It would be a strange sort of Christian who claimed a desire to spend his or her life building up the church in far off places who also sneered at opportunities to serve the church at home. And now that we’ve been home for so long, we genuinely miss being with God’s people and stirring them up for the glorious work of missions.
COVID-19 has brought about complex problems for missionaries on deputation, and there are no simple answers for most of them. But it has also done us some good. It has brought us focus and has built patience. And, in a strange sort of way, it’s shown us that we long to be on the road again. It has given us certainty about two things – that deputation is tough, and that we miss it.
Out of Hand
Shadrach Nyeko, BJU Grad
What do you do when you find yourself in a situation that feels completely out of hand? I am writing this article from a country in Africa that has already been under coronavirus lockdown for more than eighty days. Travel regulations and curfews are now normal things around here. But before all this became normal, I had the opportunity to personally experience and observe how others reacted to the new situation as it developed.
I left the States on March 19th, a week after BJU announced that all classes would continue online. At that time, the global panic was just beginning to set in. When I arrived at the airport here at home, I was welcomed by a team of Ministry of Health (MOH) officials who guided me to walk through two temperature guns, pre-set to monitor those arriving. Following that initial screening, my passport was confiscated, and my temperature was taken again using a hand-held device. When they saw that I was arriving from USA which was considered (at the time) a category one country, along with China, S. Korea, and others, I was ushered into a waiting area. All this happened in the space of about thirty minutes. As I sat there waiting, it started to dawn on me that this might not be a very pleasant reentry. With my passport gone, I could already feel that the reins were out of my hands.
About forty-five minutes later, two men came back with our passports and started reading off names, one by one. I was given my passport and led into the immigration line. But, when I handed in my passport to the immigration official to be stamped, it was impounded for the second time – this time never to be returned. No one else was allowed to keep their passports beyond there. At this point, the normal airport exits had been sealed off. I was permitted to collect my baggage then told to sit and wait, again. I could feel the anxiety beginning to build up within the crowd of arrivals. At this time, a list of pre-selected isolation sites began being passed around with the idea that each person should select where to be taken. I felt a little better, but that feeling did not last. After waiting for almost two hours with no information whatsoever, the anxiety in the crowd quickly turned into vigorous agitation. A few people started to question the MOH officials and guards who had also been passively standing there. The buses which I imagined should take us to the various quarantine places were also parked in plain sight the entire time, so nobody understood why there was a delay.
When all these questions were met with no clear answers, the rowdiness of the crowd started to rise. Some people started threatening to forcefully walk out. There was a wide range of emotions there, from those who sat in silence to those yelling at guards. Some calls were made, and eventually, we were allowed to start boarding the mini-buses. It was 2 a.m. when I boarded. The intensity of the scene further escalated when three army men armed with AK-47s joined us on the trip to the quarantine zone. At this point, many were cursing and saying all sorts of things. To make matters worse, the place was covered in millions of lake flies as the rain poured in the typical tropical fashion. As for me, I was more concerned about the costs of quarantine for the fourteen days. So, I chose a place on the cheaper end of the spectrum from the available options. As it turns out, that may have been a bad choice. Along with me were a missionary lady from Oregon, a teacher from the Netherlands, and Somali businessmen traveling from Amsterdam. This place was so remote that even the driver couldn’t locate it. After several attempts to find it, someone came to lead us there. The road was a very narrow dirt path with a cliff-like drop on one side, eroded away by running water.
When we arrived in the walled, quarantine compound, it was pitch black, and the ground was flooded to ankle level. I made my way to the reception room with a small flashlight, ferrying luggage with me. Names were written in a big book, and we were asked to pay the entire fee upfront. Since some of us could not do so, the boss gave us a grace period following some discussion. I was then ushered to my room for the night by candlelight. It was already 5 a.m. when I set foot in that room. That was the first day, and all of it was only an indicator of what was to come. Over the next two weeks, we would be heavily guarded by police and army men and checked every day. After the 14-day period, no information was given as to when we would be let out. We had been tested, but no results were ever given. From day 14 to day 25 when I finally got out, it was one minute after the other of helpless waiting and wondering what would happen next.
In addition to multiple messages and prayers from friends, church, and family, the words that kept me comforted during this period were from my pastor’s preaching in Daniel 1. He said, “No matter where we go, no matter where we are, our sovereign God is there, even in enemy territory, faithfully guiding our faithful steps, preserving us and accomplishing his purposes.” When confronted with a seemingly out of hand situation, the first step is to recognize that nothing is ever truly out of hand. If it is not in my hands, it was never there to begin with. If God is truly sovereign, which He is, then nothing can ever get out of His hands.
The MOH officials at my quarantine site were always trying to assert their authority in whatever way possible. The two men from Amsterdam comforted themselves with beer on a daily basis. The American lady did everything right for the 14-day period, but after her discipline did not pay off, she started to boil up, eventually bursting out into full aggression, yelling, and spewing out all sorts of unsanitary words. When a situation gets out of my hands, my flesh tempts me to react in a way that makes me feel heard. But what if in such situations, we made sure that it was God’s voice being heard? In the midst of my own troubled heart, God gave me the opportunity to share the gospel with two policemen, one army doctor, four occupants, and especially with a security guard named Joseph. Joseph professed to be a Christian but had ceased praying and attending church after his wife left him. Following our interactions for a few days, he suddenly asked for my Bible and begun to read it. He told me he was learning about forgiveness. From our conversations, I could tell that he was experiencing some change. The anger he had held for so long was beginning to wear off. Through Joseph, God changed my outlook on the whole isolation experience. What is it in your life that feels out of hand today? Remember, it is still in God’s hands.
Coordinator of Outreach & Evangelism
Last week I laid a Biblical foundation for ministry outside the walls of our churches. Today, I want to give a few practical suggestions for what that might look like for you this summer. I chose the word “suggestions” with purpose. This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at discipleship and evangelism but rather some humble suggestions to jumpstart your personal ministry as we come out of stay-at-home orders.
Before going all in, take time to talk with those in your church leadership. They may be planning and praying for someone to step in and continue or start a ministry. You could be the answer to their prayers! Whether it’s the head pastor, youth pastor, or a deacon, talk with someone about the vision for ministry this summer. Don’t be afraid to contribute your own ideas as well. Start by listening, but if asked, share possibilities you have in mind or plans you have already made to be an encouragement to the church.
Once you’ve given some thought to what you would like to do, determine who you could invest in this summer. Think, “Who could I help to take the next step spiritually?” and also, “Who could help me take my next step?” One of the biggest mistakes we can make is believing we don’t need discipleship. None of us have arrived on this side of heaven. Find someone from a group of older, wiser, more mature Christians who can pour into your life. (Use a church directory to help you think outside your normal circle.) Then, take what’s been given to you, find others your age and younger, and pass on what you’ve learned! As a college student, you have tremendous opportunities to shape and develop those younger than you. This summer is a great time to invest in them!
Once you have people in mind, the toughest part can be trying to get something started. It’s often awkward (although, usually worse in our minds than reality) to walk up to someone and say, “Can I disciple you?” or even “Can you disciple me?” Don’t be afraid to be creative here in finding something to bond over. Running, hiking, cooking or any number of hobbies can be a natural way to kickstart something!
However, don’t allow it to be just a hobby. As you find something to connect over, ask if it would be okay to include a Bible study or to read a good Christian book together. There are so many ways to turn our everyday lives into discipleship and ministry opportunities, but, in my experience, they don’t typically happen accidentally. You will have to be intentional about including spiritual growth opportunities.
Now, maybe you are wondering how to choose what to do. At times, my discipleship experiences have included going through a specific Bible study or reading a good Christian book together. Other times, they have been a mix of the two. There are merits to each. A good way to combine both discussion over Scripture and a book would be to discuss the weekly Sunday sermon(s). Knowing that someone is going to regularly ask me about the sermon helps me to focus on it every week. Accountability like this also creates an ongoing impact of the preaching ministry.
Here’s why I am a proponent of using good Christian books for discipling. Ultimately, it is the Spirit of God through the Word of God that changes hearts. If your study of another book doesn’t push you deeper into the Word with a greater understanding or passion, then I would ditch the book and stick exclusively to the Word. However, in my experience, good books on spiritual growth can help in two distinct ways. First, they launch young believers into the Word. Second, new believers and spiritually stunted believers can be helped by authors who tactfully address a number of specific truths (often hard truths to address) that must be applied in order for believers to learn to feed themselves through the Word.
In no way do I want to steer you away from a Bible Study. Scripture is the source for true, lasting, Biblical change. Utilize good books as much as they drive you to respond to the Word of God.
Lest you think I have forgotten about evangelism in this COVID culture, consider that, right now, the best opportunities to invite unbelievers in to hear the gospel may include some of these instances of Christians meeting together outside the church. I imagine you have experienced the currently awkward routine of simply going to the grocery store. Lingering to look for the right vegetables feels like a crime! It seems that some people will be nervous for quite some time about gathering indoors for a church service. These very people might not step foot inside a church for the foreseeable future, but, just like the rest of us, they are stir-crazy. Maybe, they would be willing to meet in a small group to enjoy an activity together.
Doing life-on-life ministry outside the church walls may be easier and more well-received by unbelievers we invite to join us. Whatever you choose as a hobby, find ways to use it for discipleship and evangelism.
In review, talk with your church leaders, find people to invest in, find reasons to get together, be strategic in your discipleship, and enjoy this season of life as a recipient and agent of spiritual growth. God has given us this unprecedented time for ministry. Let’s make the most of it!
 Here is a short list of books I have used or would recommend for spiritual growth. Essential Virtues by Jim Berg, What is the Gospel? By Greg Gilbert, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung, Need to Know: Your Guide to the Christian Life by Gary Millar, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.