According to two recent studies, Canadians are more anxious, depressed and lonely in light of “the new normal” that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon us since March 2020. In one study, nearly 25% of respondents said that they were drinking more alcohol in response to these mental health struggles. In more encouraging news, data from 95 countries has shown that Google searches related to prayer are at an all-time high, as much as 50% greater than before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Furthermore, Bible apps are being downloaded at unprecedented rates and people seem more spiritually hungry than at any time in recent memory.
Learning from others
How can we as the Canadian church meet anxious, spiritually hungry people and share the good news of Jesus with them while being vigilant regarding COVID-19 health protocols? As North American church leaders, we can often tend to feel isolated, forgetting that our South American, African, European, Asian and Australasian brothers and sisters in Christ are facing similar challenges related to sharing the Gospel during the pandemic. How have individuals, churches and ministries in these settings been sharing the Gospel in their unique contexts, and what can we learn from them?
In the small West African country of Togo, the government put measures in place preventing gatherings of 100 people or more, closing borders and calling recent travellers to self-isolate. While respecting these restrictions, some missionaries in Togo have been able to share the good news through their “End Bible Poverty Now” ministry. Cameroonian missionary Moise Ndjomou (serving with the organisation Youth With a Mission or YWAM) and his co-workers have distributed over one thousand memory sticks containing audio Bibles to nominal Christians and non-believers. Many of these people are coming to faith in Christ or seeking greater discipleship as a result of hearing Scripture in their mother tongue for the first time. Despite the difficulties of conditions due to the pandemic, Ndjomou is determined to continue in this ministry, saying that “everyone has the right to listen to the word of God in their mother language.” Is there any way that we as Canadians can share Scripture with people who have never had the opportunity to engage with it?
In the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore, strict COVID-19 related restrictions were put in place, resulting in the majority of the population being homebound (except for essential errands and medical appointments) between April 7th and June 20th. In light of this, Pentecostal pastor Daniel Joseph (a Singaporean now living in Canada) of Outreach Revival Ministries constructed an evangelism course with the goal of equipping Singaporean young people to share the good news of Christ over social media. The fifteen participants then put their recent training into practice by hosting several evangelistic events over Zoom that were centred on basic apologetic questions about the Christian faith. Joseph is pleased with how these young people are now excited to share the Gospel and how seeds of hope are being planted online: “My firm conviction is that every challenge is an opportunity for the Gospel to spread.” How can we as the Canadian church equip people to share the Gospel online? How can we use technology to share the good news of Christ with people?
Saulo Porto, a Brazilian missionary in Portugal (also with YWAM), is using Instagram and art to undertake this task. Although not usually very active on social media, Porto was encouraged by friends to become more engaged in light of the pandemic. Since May 12th he has been painting a watercolour picture every day and posting it to Instagram alongside reassuring words that encourage people to seek an active relationship with God. Porto says, “My goal is to give hope and disciple people in a very simple way.” Since this time he has seen the number of his Instagram followers nearly double (to around 3500) and his beautiful art has been published on various Christian and non-Christian websites and is sparking conversations around the world. You can check out his work @sauloportomme on Instagram.
In South Africa
South Africa has had one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world, with residents being confined to their homes (except for grocery shopping and medical appointments) from March 26th—May 1st. Regardless of this, Phinius and Katlyn Sebatsane, a South-African/American missionary couple serving with YWAM in Cape Town, have continued their ministry to the homeless. They share the Gospel and provide trauma counselling, job training, and opportunities for discipleship to destitute people in the beach suburb of Muizenberg. Because of the government-imposed ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products, many people the Sebatsanes serve have experienced forced abstinence from alcohol and drugs and have a renewed desire for sobriety and rehabilitation. Describing their ministry, Phinius Sebatsane says, “These people are not our projects, but our family…we seek to give them a hand up, not a handout.” Who are the most vulnerable in our own Canadian communities and how can the Church meet their holistic needs during these difficult times?
In the UK
Despite COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom, Ackroydon Community Church (Church of England) in South West London is attempting their best to do just that. Community outreach pastor James Holloway says, “Right now we have the opportunity to show those in need the love that Christ has lavished upon us – it’s time we start loving our neighbours in practical ways.” The church has been doing this by visiting government housing in their area, knocking on every apartment and ensuring that people in need are connected to charities that provide food and children’s educational activities. This has also led to non-Christians joining online evangelistic programs such as Alpha and greater discipleship for those who are already believers.
In the face of these dark times confronting our world, may we be encouraged that our Father is drawing many people to himself from every nation. And may Canadian believers, pastors, and churches across our land be similarly encouraged to follow the lead of the Spirit of Christ who continues to be at work and present in his international and diverse body.