A colleague in ministry asked me to comment on this for the purpose of a presentation she was doing. These were my comments to her with some editing and minor changes.
I see the international student population as one sector of a much larger missional opportunity/responsibility found in the global city. Many cities in the United States are in some ways more connected globally than they are regionally. However, as the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, large cities affect the surrounding areas as the coronavirus spread from global cities to global cities and then into less globalized areas. In fact, the spread of the coronavirus is an illustration of the B&B strategy of ministering in strategic cities, in order to minister to the world. By ministering the gospel in globalized cities, the gospel more naturally spreads globally (just like the coronavirus). This phenomenon is the result of the globalization of the city. Many cities are connected to other international cities by various populations including; academics, immigrants, refugees, business people, tourists, sport communities and government workers. When we touch any one of these communities, we potentially touch the world. It is my belief, for several reasons, that the city is God’s Great Commission gift to the body of Christ. That is to say, our Savior is building His promised church by gathering the world into strategic places called cities, and, therefore, Great Commissioned -minded people should discern the movement of God and join Him.
The questions in my mind are these: 1) How has the coronavirus affected recent ministry in the city? 2) How are we responding to these challenges? 3) Will there be long term detrimental effects to ministering to the global community as a result of the coronavirus? 4) What are some lessons we have learned during this time of quarantine?
- How has the coronavirus affected recent ministry in the city?
It has severely limited personal contact with anyone. One strength of the city is the density of the human population. This density allows us to connect with many different people groups in a short span of time. Just out our door (literally) the world is walking by, and we have the real potential of ministering the gospel to them. This pandemic has brought all of that to a screeching halt. Social distancing is not a ministry tool.
- How are we responding to these challenges?
One thing that we are doing is ministering in a deeper way to those with whom we already have connection. It has been a good time to show the love of God by looking after one another, whether with a Christian or a not-yet-Christian. Caring for folks from the heart with deeds of thoughtfulness helps prepare the ground for a gospel witness. Focusing on those whom we are already ministering will many times lead to new friends interested in learning about God. Since this allows the ministry of the gospel to naturally flow from one person to the next, it is a very healthy way to go about ministry. We have seen this happen during this time of quarantine.
Since our ministry has always used online tools extensively, it has been relatively easy to do more of the same. In fact, several individuals and families who have left the ministry here to go to other parts of the country/world have checked in to our weekly online services. This has been very edifying to all involved.
- Will there be long term detrimental effects to ministering to the global community as a result of the coronavirus?
I do not think so for a several reasons: a. Cities are too invested in the global community to allow for large scale change now. They can’t afford not to be globalized. b. Cities are a major part of the history and story line of the Bible, beginning in Genesis and finishing, literally, at the end of Revelation. It doesn’t seem biblically possible for cities to become less than globalized at this point in history. c. The plagues of the Tribulation do not appear to be of the same sort as the coronavirus. This leads me to suspect that we as a human race (God’s image bearers) will figure out ways to overcome this type of pandemic. d. Cities have suffered through worst pandemics than the coronavirus and have survived, indeed flourished, afterwards. In summary, I think the new normal will be mostly like the old normal.
- What are some lessons we have learned during this time of quarantine?
This has been a difficult time for me (Bill)—some days up, some days down. Deb and I moved from 1,900 sq. ft. a year ago to being quarantined in 311 sq. ft. this year. We did not come to the city to practice social distancing. This made for a spiritual battle for me with serious ebbs and flows. I have often asked myself, “How do I join God in this?” I have even been disenfranchised with the city and the people of the city. I have felt that the local leadership given has been at times inadequate, and the herd mentality that followed that leadership disillusioning. Yet, I do pray and respect those in governmental positions charged with my care–that is to say, things are frustrating. This has been a time of waiting on God, a pause if you will, stranger than most things I have experienced. I guess a lesson that has been reinforced is my need to trust Him even when I don’t understand what He is doing. This has been a strange time when we just had to stop, sit down and think or do nothing at all. I like thinking, but after a while…. It has also been reinforced in my life and thought process that while much can and should be accomplished with online tools, personal physical presence is also very important. As one person put it, “Those with whom we fellowship online are like the stars of heaven—they always shine brightly, but we still need a hug once in a while!” One other lessen that was re-enforced in my life is the conviction that God created me to engage people with the gospel, not cloister in a monastery. God made me in the mold of Philip the evangelist, so no MONKeying around😊
Hope this helps,