“The rapidly spreading nature and the global reach of the COVID-19 crisis greatly affects an organization like Resonate Global Mission,” said director Zachary King. “We rely on travel, small and large group meetings, and one-on-one ministry to do our work.”
Resonate, the mission agency of the Christian Reformed Church, works in communities throughout Canada, the United States, and the world. Through Resonate, the CRC sends missionaries, helps to plant churches, and supports campus ministries. Resonate ministry leaders work in churches, schools, universities, and other spheres to disciple believers, equip leaders, and introduce people to the gospel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered much of this work. For the health and safety of Resonate staff members, ministry leaders, and the communities they serve, Resonate has halted many meetings, trips, trainings, events, and other gatherings for the next six-to-eight weeks.
But that does not mean ministry stops. Much like CRC congregations throughout Canada and the United States, the CRC’s work throughout the world continues. Resonate missionaries, church planters, campus ministers, and other ministry leaders are finding creative ways to adapt to COVID-19 and respond to new needs in their communities throughout the world.
First diagnosed in China, COVID-19 affected Resonate missionaries and partner ministries in Asia first.
“Pretty much everything is at a standstill with a lot of cancellations,” said Paul Yu, Resonate’s regional mission leader for East and Central Asia.
Timothy Leadership Training and Educational Care trainings have been postponed; travel has been cancelled or postponed; and some Resonate missionaries are in another country, waiting until they can return to their country of service. They are continuing what work they can by phone, email, or video call. Missionaries who regularly meet with people in person for training or discipleship are meeting online instead.
Schools in countries where Resonate missionaries serve have closed or turned to online courses. Stan Kruis, a Resonate missionary who teaches at Asian Theological Seminary in the Philippines, is teaching online. “Pray God will give me—and all teachers—ingenuity and tech skills as I continue teaching online,” he said.
Many churches in Japan have cancelled their services and meet online instead. Some churches, however, have been able to meet—it’s up to church leadership to decide based on their situations and as they consider vulnerable people in their congregations. If worship is not cancelled, people sit apart from one another and most wear masks.
The virus has since spread from Asia, and Resonate ministries in other regions throughout the world are reporting similar cancellations and closures.
LCC International University, a Resonate partner ministry in Lithuania where many Resonate missionaries serve, moved to online classes. Most of the students have returned home, but the residence halls remain open for students who aren’t able to travel home because of cost or travel restrictions.
“We mourn this strange and abrupt ‘end’ to the semester,” said Resonate missionaries Joel and Hailey Altena, who serve at LCC. “In many ways we feel disappointed along with our students. We mourn for seniors who will end their semester remotely.”
Resonate missionaries, staff, and faculty are discussing ways they can support students through live-stream events, virtual tutoring, and providing meals for students who are quarantined.
In Spain, Resonate missionaries Tony and Stacey Meyer report empty and quiet streets; they are unable to leave their home for anything other than essential supplies, including food and medicine.
The Meyers pastor a church and are exploring how to best continue ministry. Their church will gather online for fellowship, prayer, and reading Scripture. “We are keeping parents equipped with resources to educate their children both on Sunday and while they are home throughout the week,” they said. “And we are encouraging each other to look for the opportunities God gives us to care for co-workers, neighbors, and friends in Jesus’ name.”
“We are praying that we as mission staff and those we work with will look to God—call on him, trust that he’s at work,” said Steve Van Zanen, Resonate’s regional mission leader for Europe.
The Middle East
Ministries in the Middle East are also coming to a halt. Countries are closing their borders, but Resonate missionaries are all safe and at home in their host country.
Some ministries have been postponed, including the Exodus Vision Tour to the Middle East. Originally scheduled for April, the vision trip has been rescheduled for October 2020 and is accepting new applicants.
Resonate missionaries and their families are disappointed about the many ministry cancellations, but they’re adapting to working and finishing schoolwork at home. They continue to meet with people one-on-one and in small groups. They ask for prayers for the country where they serve.
“As a population, [our country] is vulnerable physically, socially, economically, and we are expecting this crisis to hit the country extremely hard,” said Resonate missionaries.
Steve Holtrop, Resonate’s regional mission leader for Central America, said that most countries in the region have shut borders and restricted public gatherings. Nicaragua, where Holtrop and his family serve, has not reported any cases of COVID-19 so far—but meetings and trips have been cancelled and the pandemic is causing stress and anxiety among the population.
“Dealing with this fallout is exhausting and somewhat [traumatic] for those in Nicaragua who lived in this uncertainty six years ago with weeks of earthquakes and then two years ago with the country crisis,” said Holtrop.
He said a big concern is the effect of the pandemic on the global economy and how it will affect people, both right now and in the future.
“The idea of people stocking up for weeks on end is a humorous thought. So much of the population lives meal to meal,” said Holtrop.
Mexico and the Caribbean
Ministry in the Dominican Republic continues as normal so far, said Resonate missionary Steve Brauning. “Measures have been fairly low-key so far, but stricter measures are expected to be enacted at anytime, in which schools, churches, and any related gatherings may be put on hold.”
In Mexico, people are starting to take precautions. New Life Church, the church that Resonate missionaries Ben and Amy Meyer helped to plant and help lead in Guadalajara, is still meeting for worship, Bible studies, and other ministries—but congregation members are avoiding physical contact.
Resonate missionary David Gifford, who teaches at the Reformed Presbyterian Church Seminary in Mexico City, said that classes will end this week and will resume mid-April. Many other schools are taking similar measures.
Cases of COVID-19 have begun to be reported throughout Africa, and Resonate missionaries and ministry leaders are taking precautions.
“Things are calm here,” reports Diana Boot in Uganda. She and many others in her community are currently moving ahead with ministry plans—but with the understanding that trainings and events might be cancelled. Large worship gatherings have not been cancelled yet, but churches are following precautions.
Resonate’s regional mission leader for West and Central Africa reports that the situation in each country is unique but many schools are still open and ministry continues as planned. “We may need to limit our outings at some point, but that is not yet the case,” he said. “I preached in a local church on Sunday and the attendance was normal as any other day.”
In South Africa, however, things look a little different. With more than 60 COVID-19 cases reported in the country as of March 17, Resonate missionary Megan Ribbens asks for prayers: “Social distancing isn’t a luxury for the majority who live in crowded informal settlements. Stores were crowded today as people stocked up—yet another luxury the majority can’t take advantage of as many families survive day-to-day.”
She also notes that schools have closed and many children receive their only meal of the day at school.
Mike Ribbens, Resonate’s regional mission leader for East and Southern Africa, said they’ve had to make difficult—but necessary—decisions to postpone important gatherings, including a spiritual retreat for staff and the Global Prayer Safari (GPS). GPS was scheduled for the end of April on the East Coast of the United States, and 30 people from eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa were planning on attending. The GPS is tentatively rescheduled for later in 2020 or spring of 2021. More information will be available in the coming weeks.
“Our prayer is that the sun’s heat and ultraviolet rays are making it tough for the virus in Africa. We will likely know soon whether that is the case,” said Ron Geerlings, Resonate’s Global Area Director for Africa and Europe.
Like many CRC churches in Canada and the United States, Resonate partner church plants and campus ministries are working hard to adapt.
“Church is about more than a building or a service; church is about a people. Especially now, even more so during these anxious and disruptive times, we will continue to be a church,” wrote Michael Yang in a newsletter to his church, the Tapestry Nights, a Resonate church plant partner in British Columbia.
Like many churches, the Tapestry Nights is gathering online for worship and finding ways to provide for those who are sick, vulnerable, and isolated.
Campus ministries are following similar protocols. Sid Ypma, campus minister at Ottawa Christian Reformed Campus Ministry in Ontario, is working with student leaders to discuss how to move forward through online prayer gatherings, Bible Q&As, and check-ins with friends. Ypma is also available to meet with or talk with students, faculty, and staff.
“We agreed that it’s important during a time of anxiety to remember that God is good and his loves endures forever,” Ypma said. “To that end, we think it’s important to find times to connect [and] check in with one another.”
Agape and Ecclesia at Loyola University in Chicago sent a form to students about resources they can share and resources they might need: cars, food, moral support, or extra rooms and beds.
“Let us know so that we can share what we have and come alongside one another so that there are no ‘needy persons amongst us,’” wrote the campus ministers.
Despite the in-person trainings, events, worship services, discipleship groups, and Bible studies that are being cancelled due to COVID-19, Resonate ministry still continues and the gospel continues to spread.
“In this disruption, we have an opportunity to take advantage of the break in people’s busy schedules. We can be persons of peace in anxious times. We can love our neighbors in new ways,” wrote Amy Schenkel, Resonate’s regional mission leader for the Great Lakes region in the United States.
In her blog post to CRC congregations and other ministries, she shares ways Christians can be the hands and feet of Jesus in communities—by stopping by neighbors to talk and take care of needs, by gathering in small groups for prayer and worship, by taking walks and praying for communities.
“While we lament many ministry losses, there are new opportunities as well,” said Zachary King, Resonate’s director.
“Because of the threat posed by COVID-19, people are longing for the stability and communion that only a relationship with Christ provides. We will be present as an agency to help communities of faith reach out to their neighbors around the world with the gospel during this anxious time.”
- Pray for God to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to heal those who are sick.
- Ask God to comfort and encourage those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
- Resonate missionaries, church planters, campus ministers, and other ministry leaders continue to find creative ways to adapt to COVID-19. Pray for them as they continue ministering to people who are anxious, stressed, confused, and disappointed.
- Pray that those who do not yet know God, or are seeking him, will experience God’s unconditional love, grace, and peace during this time.
- There are many people throughout the world who cannot afford to stock-up on supplies. Ask God to provide food, water, shelter, medicine, and other essentials.
- Pray for church leaders, ministry leaders, school teachers, and other believers who planned on attending Resonate trainings, events, or gatherings. Ask the Holy Spirit to sustain their work.
- Pray for comfort, encouragement, and peace in the world during this time of stress and anxiety. Pray that people will place their trust in the Lord.
This article was originally published on crcna.org.