By: Emily Armstrong
We are quickly moving into the third year of living in a global pandemic, and I’ll be among the first to admit that it’s been hard. In general, I’m pretty good at change – in fact, I like it. Ask my husband, Scott, and he might say that I like change too much! Try as he may to help put dishes away in the kitchen, every four months or so the cabinets look completely different. Sorry, Scott.
We recently were asked our thoughts on some of the challenges that we believe the church will have when the pandemic is over, and Scott has already shared his response this week. It didn’t take me long to respond either! I think anyone with a pulse and in the ministry has been mulling these things over for a while now. And to be quite honest, I’ve stopped living in the “when the pandemic is over” and picked up ministry in the midst of the pandemic, because it will be with us for a while, Church!
Through the ministries of Global Missions and Genesis, I’ve been taking a bird’s eye view on BIG PICTURE issues and a few of the challenges that we are currently experiencing and will continue to face are the following:
- Discouraged local church pastors. Many of our pastors are wondering why people have not come back to the church building for services. They have lost key members due to sickness, death or just lack of commitment. These issues have made it very hard for a pastor to WANT to send a missionary from his or her congregation. They are scraping for as much leadership as possible and can’t imagine losing a strong leader right now.
- Local church finances all over the Mesoamerica Region have mirrored the global economy – they’re depressed. Does that mean we don’t have money? Not at all. But we are unsure of how much we have and how far it will go. With such financial uncertainty, it’s very hard for our local churches and districts, in good faith, to make a commitment to support a sponsored missionary for a two-year assignment.
- The legalities of mobilizing missionaries have always been out of our control, but during the pandemic it has grown worse. For a missionary to be able to live for 2+ years in another country, they must obtain a temporary residency status which all begins with an ominous visa process. Each country sets their own rules about visa interview appointments – and the worst-case scenario that we have heard currently is that one country is scheduling appointments at their embassy for summer 2023. As of the writing of this blog, that is at least 14 months away!
- We (the Church) still don’t have a strong presence in the biggest cities of our region – and it’s hurting us during the pandemic. Our existing urban churches are not trained or resourced to engage in ministries of visiting and praying for the sick and the dying nor education of children that have lost opportunities to continue their studies.
- The city has always been a lively and dynamic place to live, which makes it hard to create an organized church structure. During these two years of pandemic living, we have seen increased immigration to (and through) our cities, which creates environments where people need the care of a church for a short period of time but won’t integrate to become the church as we currently understand it. I believe that this is a key to what we need to begin to grapple with: the fact that God has His Church on the move. We are used to being a group of people that meet in the same space at the same time every week, but who are we when we are in constant movement?
As I grow more mature in my faith and walk with God, I am ever more impressed at the fact that God KNOWS there are impossible things for humanity to accomplish. And more often than not, it’s balanced out with the fact that all things are possible for God. That’s where I find myself at this point in my life: trusting God to make ALL things possible.
The challenges that I’ve identified can take over my thoughts and my emotions to the point of being overwhelmed. Or they can be the very things that drive me to my knees in prayer, asking Him to show me HIS heart, and HIS way through them. And He is showing us what He wants – He is forming His bride, the Church, into His holiness every single day. The formation process is difficult sometimes. It’s painful oftentimes. But it’s necessary.
I believe in a God of the impossible. I believe that He is faithful. I believe that He is constantly at work redeeming the world and drawing people to Himself. And even though what is visible to me is “impossible”, I will wake up every day, looking forward to seeing how God is at work and join Him there.