INTO THE UNKNOWN
An excerpt taken from Global Transmission, Global Mission published by Operation World
By JASON MANDRYK, Operation World
“Our world has changed forever.”
We have probably all seen these words in recent weeks. And while they do smack of hyperbole, we can see even at these early stages of 2020 how a tiny virus has become the vehicle by which a great shaking has been delivered to our world. There is arguably a degree of folly in writing about such a complex subject even while events are still unfolding, and while the reactions by governments, churches, and missions are still evolving. Yet it is worth thoughtful examination and prayer-filled response – not just once, but regularly. If government bodies are meeting daily to assess and shape responses to CoVid-19, then those in full time ministry will probably need to take an approach that requires regular re-engagement with the endless news cycles in a fast-changing world.
1) We just don’t know. We don’t know all there is to know about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and associated CoVid-19 disease. Such viruses are called novel coronaviruses for a reason – they are new by definition. It was only a few weeks ago that initial medical research was giving us the first verified facts about the virus and how it spreads. It has been well documented that it is a confusing virus in a confusing time. We are already hearing that a subsequent mutation has overtaken the original strain. Yet, we are nowhere near having a vaccine or cure. We can forecast, but nobody can be certain how the world is going to change over the next 12 months as a result of CoVid-19.
Prognostication and prophecy are risky businesses when changes so profound are happening so fast. Between the time I write this, and the time you read it, the situation will have significantly changed. And then it will change again. Already, a number of countries already seem to be on the other side of the worst of it, with businesses, offices, and churches re-opening. Yet we are also reading about second waves, more virulent strains, and permanent damage to the health of survivors. If the world’s best virologists, epidemiologists, and economists don’t know what things will look like several months from now, who does?
2) Course correction. The (predominantly Western) narrative of uninterrupted progress has suffered a serious, but probably not fatal, blow. Despite the macabre fixations of the news on disasters and conflict, human flourishing in most of the world has enjoyed an amazing run over the last 75 years. However, we are always vulnerable to setbacks.
Wars, climate-events, and pandemics are the most frequent offenders, at times setting back human progress by generations.
It must be remembered, however, that our unfettered “progress” frequently takes us in directions we should not necessarily go, and then such setbacks force us to change our thinking (a.k.a. to repent). Will the coronavirus be seen as one of those which allowed our wayward civilizations to make essential course corrections? It certainly is an opportunity to change our ways and shape a future that is cleaner, fairer, and kinder. Even God has demonstrated a willingness to “overthrow what He has built, and uproot what He has planted.” (Jer 45:4)
3) There is no return to normal, because whatever we had before was not normal. There are parts of our old ways that we shouldn’t want to go back to! If we were comfortable with everything just the way it was, then we probably need to do some serious soul-searching. There are also real opportunities to use the current upheaval to bring about positive change to our lives, our communities, and our societies. Whatever we go back to after all of this, it will not be what was, but it could become more like what should be.
We must also consider the possibility that there will be no herd immunity, and no effective vaccine or cure anytime soon. Wave after wave of mutations and economic devastation could keep us on the back foot for years to come. If so, we are looking at much more profound shifts in human civilization than what we had anticipated. Some aspects of life will very much resemble our past expectations and experiences, and we will be grateful for that. But other aspects will be significantly – and permanently – different.
4) If we can’t know the future, then how do we plan for it? Business leaders have been banging on about the concepts of agility, nimbleness, and leanness for years now. The shattering of the myth that we are in control is a painful but potentially redemptive lesson for the Global North in particular. This is true not just for secular society, but for our approach to Christian ministry. While we can end up paralyzed as our sophisticated long-term strategies unravel around us, we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global South (broadly speaking and with some exceptions, the Global South consists of nations in Africa, most of Asia, and Latin America, while the Global North is comprised of Europe, North America, and Oceania). By necessity they have long walked the walk of leanness and agility, and know how to survive and thrive amidst disruption.
“The Christendom mindset assumes that we are holding power and can live our whole lives in planning mode. The next time we wish our “weaker” partners were better at planning and implementing, let us remember that we are as culturally crippled in coping as they are in planning.”
– Stan Nussbaum, Global Missiology Journal, Vol. 3 No. 17 (2020)
5) Facts matter, just as truth matters. I have encountered reports (in public health, in church ministry, in overseas mission), wherein anecdotal examples are projected out to global generalizations. It is all too easy to assume that what we observe in our own little pocket of the world is true everywhere else as well. This attitude is fallacious thinking at best, and at worst both betrays and encourages ethnocentrism or idolatrous nationalism. Moreover, just because we hope, long, and even fervently pray for particular outcomes does not make them true. We should not speak of them as true until we know they are true. People of who belong to the Truth must avoid these twin temptations of projecting and an ‘evangelastic’ treatment of data. Falsifying, tweaking, or even ignoring data, to make ourselves look better, grander, wiser is the remit of the enemy. Wishful thinking is not the same as biblical faith, and the Gospel is never threatened by the truth. Facts, not spin, actually belong in the Kingdom of God.
6) One size does not fit all, so don’t try to force everyone into the same outfit. Reactions and responses to world-shaking developments are going to be as varied as the number of people involved. Painting us all with the same brush does us a disservice. Some will comply with government policy, others will rebel. Some will panic and despair, others will hold the line with steely determination. Some will bury their head in the sand, others will disseminate wild conspiracy theories, and others still will learn voraciously. Some will start incredible community initiatives, others will selfishly hoard. Some will take the lockdown as an amazing discipleship opportunity, while others will shipwreck their faith. Christians of equal godliness and conviction will attribute CoVid-19 to widely divergent causes. Some will shine as stars, others will lose whatever testimony they had.
GLOBAL TRANSMISSION, GLOBAL MISSION by Jason Mandryk began as an outflow of and an article for prayer for every nation in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and became a valuable resource of observations and reflections on how the global pandemic has impacted the worldwide Church, and particularly the world mission. This short e-book is available for FREE download for your interest and prayers.