By Kim Cruise
Missions discipleship specialist, Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union
While COVID-19 spreads sickness and death across many countries, responses vary, but the most common response is fear. Fear of a loved one contracting the virus and suffering alone because no visitors are allowed. Fear of doctors and nurses being spread too thinly to meet the needs. Fear of retirement savings being reduced to a pittance. Fear of not being able to pay this month’s bills or provide food for the family. Virtually no one is untouched by this pandemic.
Missionaries who are serving far from home are in a unique situation. Missionaries, with few exceptions, are helpers and givers. That’s why they have left everything to give the gospel and serve through meeting human needs in a myriad of ways. Being told to stay at home while surrounded by so many dire needs, many struggle with the tough decision: “Do I follow government and WHO advice, or do I take the risk and go help anyways? When I chose to follow Christ, wasn’t there an inherent risk involved?” During our years of service in the Philippines, we were often called upon to be the “ambulance” since most families do not own a vehicle. What does a missionary do when asked to drive a seriously ill person to the hospital but doing so may risk their own family’s lives? This is the same basic issue facing frontline doctors and nurses right now.
Many missionaries serve in countries where the income and standard of living is far, far below that of America. They often use portions of their own support to help the poor around them with medical expenses, food, etc. With many businesses closing down, those who live “hand to mouth” have no savings and will suffer the most. Missionaries often feel overwhelmed with the needs around them and that is going to be multiplied exponentially right now. Ask if they need extra funds right now to help out and take up a special offering to help them help others.
An added component thrown into the mix for missionaries is that some are separated by their school-aged children due to quarantine and travel bans. I know of two friends whose high school children couldn’t get home from a trip and are now stranded indefinitely far away from their parents on different islands. Additionally, many missionaries have parents in the US who are in the high risk category and it’s impossible for the missionary to come home and do anything to take care of them. This adds to the worry and guilt.
From another perspective, what a rich opportunity to develop a whole new level of trust and dependence on the Lord and on their churches at home. One of the best ways a church can minister to a missionary is to do for the missionary’s family what the missionary cannot. For example, if a missionary from your church has elderly parents in your hometown, contact them and do their grocery shopping and drop it off at their door. You may even want to spray it down with Lysol first! Offer to pick up their prescriptions for them or go to their house Sunday morning and, keeping social distance, show them how to join an online worship service. Be the hands and feet to serve the missionaries who are far away serving others.
Pray! Contact your missionaries that you know and ask how you can pray for them. Ask for names of lost people they are currently engaging with the gospel. Many who were not interested before, are suddenly very interested! Closed minds and hard hearts are often opened during a crisis and we have a brief window of time to speak hope and truth into these situations. This is true anywhere, but especially in the places where missionaries serve that usually have an extremely low number of Christians. In many situations, the missionary and perhaps a small handful of local believers are the ONLY witnesses for an entire town, village or city. Pray for missionaries to be intentional in using this time to connect with lost friends with whom they have been sharing Christ. Pray that God will make Himself known and birth a spiritual awakening that will outlast and outgrow this pandemic. Resurrected One, we pray that life will defeat death, both now and in eternity. B&R — Cruise and her husband, Jeff, are former missionaries with the International Mission Board. They served in the Philippines for more than 20 years.