Openness in SE Asia – Thanks to COVID

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, disciples of Jesus in Northeast Thailand have changed how they begin conversations with people when they go out to prayer walk and share the gospel. Media coverage and the extensive government lockdown have created fear and uncertainty. Going to nearby villages can draw criticism and opposition. Each village headman, assisted by volunteers, investigates any visitors from outside the village, especially those returning from other countries. 

Social pressure is intense, so adjustments have been made in approaches to sharing the gospel. Some believers have switched to only sharing in villages where disciples live and are known. Since more family members are at home together, they can all hear the Good News at the same time. And when more family members hear together, they are more likely to feel free to come to faith in Jesus.

Another adjustment has been ensuring that disciples who do go to other villages know how to prevent COVID-19 transmission and how to help those who may have the disease. The disciples have learned that, by talking about the pandemic and meeting a felt need by giving out health kits, they can create opportunities to engage in spiritual conversations. (The kits contain a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol, a bar of soap and hand towel, a hand-sewn washable face mask, a pamphlet on COVID-19 prevention produced by the Thai Ministry of Health, and a Scripture verse or Bible portion.)

After passing out kits, talking about how to prevent contracting the virus, and sharing information such as when to take loved ones for medical care, disciples ask, “Are you or your family suffering in some way from the lockdown?” or “Is anyone feeling anxious or fearful?” After listening to the reply, they share, “I follow Jesus, who gives peace that transcends all understanding and guards my heart and mind.” (Phil 4:7) The disciple then shares a relevant personal testimony, shares the gospel, or prays a blessing that addresses the particular concerns. Overall, believers are finding more openness to the gospel than in normal times.  Several have come to faith in just the past month!

Ebola, Covid, and Movements, What?

In 2014, an outbreak of Ebola emerged in West Africa, infecting 8,704 people and killing 3,589. A Disciple Making Movement* was already underway there when the deadly and highly contagious virus struck. To help ministries and movement leaders grappling with new ministry paradigms due to COVID-19, a movement leader from West Africa recently shared insights on multiplying the church during a pandemic.

First, the movement leaders adopted a strategic long term plan. They asked themselves, “How can God use us to deal with the damage today, but also to put in place the foundation of his kingdom for the future?” 

The majority of the movement’s effort was “repurposed” into serving the public alongside other community leaders. They worked with government officials, mosque leaders, health workers, and other church structures and charitable organizations in a concerted effort to combat the virus and its effects. (These efforts would later create unique Kingdom opportunities.) They worked to help the public accept reality, combat fear, and become educated about Ebola. Followers of Jesus brought food into villages, volunteered in medical clinics, drove ambulances, buried the dead, prayed on hospital grounds, produced encouraging radio programs, and served willingly in any way they could. In serving their communities, many risked their lives, and several died after contracting the virus.

People in the movement didn’t stop sharing the gospel. Yes, momentum was lost. The process of a Disciple Making Movement relies on sharing with others and meeting together to discuss Scripture. But they did press on. Whenever they could, they pointed others to God and trusting in Him. They prayed and fasted. They encouraged people and endeavored to bring hope. People saw the hand of Jesus through the serving believers. Communities that had not previously been receptive to the gospel opened up because of the service of believers in the midst of the crisis. “We followed a lot of people back to their villages, and some decided to follow Jesus.”

This leader stressed the importance of serving in our own areas of influence and exhorted the global church to move toward the current situation, not away from it. By working for the common good through the combination of their prayers and meeting felt needs in the community, they found they were able to shape the culture around them. After the Ebola crisis passed, the church was able to bounce back and found their work had produced “spiritual dividends.” That is good news indeed.  

*Part of the DNA of Disciple Making Movements (and the agencies that serve and facilitate them) is to share important lessons learned with other movement practitioners. We wish to thank our friends and 24:14 partners at New Generations for permitting us to share the information in this article with you.

Can the Church Be Locked Down?

A few weeks ago in Nepal, Joel, BEYOND’s Tibetan/Himalayan field leader, and his national team were training foreign workers in a local church on how to start Disciple-Making Movements among Unreached people groups. Part of the training presents a method for house churches to meet together using a process called Discovery Bible Study (DBS). 

When the government announced the ban on large gatherings, the pastor of the church, who had been attending the training as he was able, asked that some people from his church be taught how to lead house churches through DBS. Joel’s team joyfully did so, instructing those gathered on the simple method of reading a passage of Scripture, asking a few questions, and listening for how God would have them obey what they read.

“There is no substitute for meeting in a small group as the body of Christ,” Joel shares, “even in a group as small as two or three people. This method is how the Tazig people, my focus people group, meet together.” 

“During this season of social distancing, we want to continue to grow in our walks with Christ. While some growth comes from individual disciplines, God has designed us to grow together as communities. That community doesn’t have to be 100+ people. It can be 3-10 people meeting together, praying, worshipping, keeping each other accountable, studying Scripture, and discipling and caring for one another. So while we are only able to meet with those in our households, or in small groups of friends and family, I recommend trying a Discovery Bible Study in your home!”

The following week as the nation went into a full lockdown, the Tazig DBS groups and house churches tried to meet by video conference, but technical difficulties prevented them. Not wanting to give up, they tried again the next day by sending out a Scripture passage from Matthew 9 via Facebook Messenger. They sent out the questions, allowing two hours or so for responses. 

“We enjoyed seeing the responses come in all day,” Joel says. “Some people sent voice messages; some sent text messages. People responded to each other’s answers with ‘likes’ and various Facebook reactions.” 

Meeting in this way allowed them to have real and meaningful interaction. Their phone notifications became less about sharing the latest news of COVID and instead highlighted what their brothers or sisters in Christ were learning and applying from Scripture.

*pseudonyms used

Do We Do What We Say We Believe?

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, self-isolating has caused many to reconsider what church really is. With fresh eyes, we see that church is not about the building or a certain set of programs. Church is the community of Jesus’ followers.

We all agree Jesus commanded us, his followers, to make disciples – but have we actually changed our behavior to align with that calling? 

Many would agree that every believer can study God’s Word and hear directly from God. Yet globally, most churches still have Bible studies led by one main expert – such as a trained pastor or Sunday school teacher using a lesson written by a Bible expert. People sit and listen. They may briefly interact with some questions at the end.

In John 6:45, Jesus tells us that all [God’s people] will be taught by God. In movements, churches are groups of people focused on listening to God’s Word — not someone else’s thoughts about God’s Word All share God-given insights. Everyone commits to obey in the coming week whatever God asks. 

Last year, BEYOND’s president, Kent Parks, was in East Thailand. He joined Steve, BEYOND’s Mekong strategy leader, at a four-hour service. The atmosphere of worship, love, and obedience was tangible. “Every single one,” Kent reports, “from young to old, male or female, participated fully as they reviewed the previous week’s Bible study and discussed the new passage. They sang praises. They prayed. They laughed. They fellowshipped. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper. They supported each other.”

As they reviewed the previous week’s biblical passage, a 16-year-old girl sitting three seats from Kent opened up an accounting ledger. Obviously assigned by the group, she asked each person: Last week, you said God told you to obey the Scripture by doing __ (and she read each person’s recorded commitment). Did you do what God asked you to do?” One by one, each person reported what they had or had not done.

As they discussed the new Bible passage, she wrote each person’s new “obedience commitment” for the coming week in the ledger. What wonderful accountability to God and each other!

Recently, five Thai church leaders from another province visited this church. They returned home and totally revamped their church services to this simple, participatory, accountable style. They added a weekly outing to share the gospel in their community. They changed their behavior to be consistent with their belief.

At BEYONDwe believe every disciple can and must make other disciples who obey. We equip people to be vibrant disciple-makers who reproduce as they love and obey God! 

*pseudonyms use

An Update on Covid-19 Crisis Giving

Sanjay and John are fruitful disciple makers in North India. When their country went into complete lockdown due to COVID-19, they knew the effects on the poor could be devastating. They couldn’t sit by and do nothing. Like Jesus’ first followers in Acts 4:32-34, they didn’t want to leave any “needy people” among them. They and some other disciples pooled their resources and put together food packages containing items such as rice, lentils, and oil. They delivered them to house churches in need. They also shared the believers’ need with their BEYOND partners, Ethan and Nicole, and asked for prayer.

Ethan and Nicole, inspired by Sanjay and John’s love for their neighbors and application of Acts 4, wrote to friends and family back home three weeks ago, asking if they wanted to help the churches in the movement. Many gave generously and continue to do so. Ethan and Nicole ensure the money gets to Sanjay and John, who, in turn, distribute funds to area leaders, who buy food and distribute it to the needy house churches in their areas. In the midst of all this, another pressing need has surfaced: water.

During the second week of lockdown, an area leader brought food to a local family. The couple lives in a one-room hut on a dirt lane in a small village. The husband is blind in one eye, and the wife recently fell ill. They had no food and no way to get it. Since the wife became sick, no one in the village was allowing her to get water anymore. They were grateful for the food, but they were also thirsty. They asked if the leader could help them get water.

This leader called Sanjay and John to ask if food funds could be applied to the installation of a hand pump for this family. It would benefit them, but also the other families on their small lane who had no water. Sanjay and John asked Ethan and Nicole if there was enough money. Three days later, the hand pump was installed. The family and their neighbors, fellow members of the Body of Christ, now have food to eat and water to drink.

Lockdown is not over yet. But, instead of starvation and death for the churches, the lockdown has become an opportunity for God’s Body to care for its own. It’s as if 2 Cor. 9:7-14 has come alive:

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure . . .. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poorTheir good deeds will be remembered forever.”

 For God is the One who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, He will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers . . . will be met, AND they will joyfully express their thanks to God . . . AND they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. (NLT)

Nicole summarized the joy they all feel: “God allowed us to meet the need we knew about: food and a need we didn’t even know existed: water. To date, literally thousands of house churches have received food stores to last them through the currently stated end of lockdown. The household described above and others have had wells dug and hand pumps installed. All because a few weeks ago, simple disciples of Jesus had eyes to see and ears to hear the needs surrounding them. They just asked God how they could follow the example set in Acts 4. And then they obeyed.” 

*pseudonyms used

Don’t Hoard, Share the Food . . .

“This is the kind of fasting I want: . . . Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless . . .. Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” –  Isaiah 58:7-8, 10

News about COVID-19 is bleak. The virus is in virtually every country. The numbers of those infected and dead continue to rise. Many of us in the U.S. are entering our sixth week of quarantine. We have exhausted our self-entertaining options and are dealing with personal struggles. Even as we cope with these daily stresses, we should keep in mind the horrific situation multitudes around the world are facing.  As you heard last week, many people around the world are daily wage earners. Each day they don’t work is a day they don’t eat. 

 But . . . 

God’s people in one North India movement are mobilizing to help those hit hardest by shelter-in-place restrictions. Below is a translation of a voice message received from *Sanjay, a national movement leader and Beyond teammate:

. . .We give thanks to Jesus Christ for today’s work!  We left our house this morning at 7:00 because we had set a long journey for ourselves.

. . .We made 133 food parcels to give away. Each pack contained 10kg rice, 10kg wheat flour, 2kg sugar, tea, spices (coriander, turmeric, chili), 1l oil, 2kg lentils, and salt. We were able to take these rations to each place we visited. 

We are very happy because God helped us with all this travel. It’s very hard to travel these days due to the coronavirus lockdown, but even so, we were able to be out all day without getting stopped by the police . . .. We were able to distribute food in four locations. All these people are so very poor. There are more than 70-80 house churches [families] in these four areas. As we hand out these food parcels, we encourage those receiving them to share with their neighbors . . .

Tomorrow, more such visits are planned closer to town, but *John and I will not go because other house church leaders have volunteered to distribute rations.

We thank the Lord Jesus for all the work that happened today. We also give God great praise for the prayers you pray and the help you give.

Then this dear brother in Christ expressed his concern for all of us! We have seen the news about coronavirus in the US. There are so many cases there. How is everyone with our team and all those associated with you? Are they OK? We are worried for them and feel concern for all who care for us. Please let us know if anyone gets ill. We are praying for all of you.”

The beauty of this story is that these same leaders who are distributing food parcels to the starving don’t have very much themselves but share with others out of their own lack. Join us in praying for the 50,000 house churches in the North India Movement. Pray they will continue to wisely yet boldly apply Isaiah 58 to their lives. Pray that God would protect them as they obey, and that God’s Kingdom would greatly advance in these days.

*pseudonyms used