Written by Juliana Fujii, edited by Amanda Frese, photos by Corrie Myhr, designed by Tabby Bernardus
Spreading the gospel in a locked down world.
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have changed everything about human interaction. With in-person gatherings cancelled and physical interaction minimized around the world, loneliness and screen fatigue are becoming the new normal.
Coronavirus mandates create a particular dilemma for mission trips and spreading the gospel. World Magazine reports that missions organizations including Serge, SIM and the International Mission Board saw a little under half of their global missionaries come home. Many trips were curtailed or cancelled.
However, the Great Commission still hasn’t changed. The Biolans behind the Student Missionary Union and Missions Conference are still working behind the scenes to spread the gospel and serve others despite the challenges of the pandemic.
ADAPTING MISSIONS CONFERENCE
For junior business major Alissa Wooley and junior psychology major Evan Peters, the 2020 Missions Conference directors, the possibility that Biola may remain online in the spring makes for some difficulties in planning the conference.
“It’s super tricky because we have a lot of big decisions we normally make in the summer that we’ve been unable to do,” Peters said.
Despite the uncertainty, the two are choosing to stay flexible and plan as much as possible. Peters said they are planning for both an online and in-person conference.
Though remote school could have curbed volunteer interest, Wooley reports they have still been able to hire a full conference staff. The unfamiliar circumstances have also enabled them to re-evaluate and reimagine the practices of previous conferences, she said.
“This is a really cool opportunity… We can pick and choose those things that we feel are best for the student body and represent everyone best,” Wooley said.
Although it’s not easy to reimagine a tradition that has operated in person for years, the MC directors are using this time as an opportunity for innovation and improvement.
NEW SAFETY PROTOCOLS
SMU has also encountered challenges in transitioning its missions work to pandemic-compliant formats. In addition, President Barry Corey recently announced that spring break — during which SMU trips normally occur — could be cancelled, with more details to come mid-November.
But SMU is responding to these challenges with optimism and creativity. SMU President Bobbi Thompson said student leaders have found a variety of ways to share the gospel, from teaching English to tutoring kids after school.
Local Missions Director Angelica Saldana said local teams are planning in-person mission trips for winter break; trips that were set for spring break will be rescheduled or pivoted online. Global Missions Director Estephanie Ramirez said that all global trips will be shifted online.
To ensure the safety of in-person teams as well as the staff and community members they’re visiting, Biola is implementing extra precautions for each trip. SMU is keeping its teams small to minimize the risk of catching or transmitting the coronavirus, Saldana said.
Saldana also explained that Chief of Campus Safety John Ojeisekhoba’s Travel Safety & Risk Mitigation task force, which normally confirms safe conditions at each ministry location the students visit, is making that process even more thorough this year.
SUPPORTING FROM AFAR
However, SMU leaders also have to ensure that sending students to a site will not burden the missions organization.
Saldana explained that many organizations had to shut down temporarily when the pandemic spread to their area. Especially if they are still figuring out a new format, sending a team of students may not be the best way to support these organizations right now.
Shifting those interactions online is one prudent alternative. On Zoom, Biolans can either connect with community members or support and learn from the on-site missionaries.
Serving over phone or video can take myriad forms. The remote Child Evangelism Fellowship team will host an online Vacation Bible School and form relationships with students, Saldana said. Biola’s Manna ministry is taking calls to help Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada coordinate slots for community members to visit the food bank.
In a way, the remote format makes connecting with unreached peoples around the world even more accessible for Biola students.
Even Zoom calls can allow for increased engagement. “It almost makes it more intimate, in a way, and [fosters] a lot of face-to-face conversations,” Thompson said.
SMU teams also have created other plans to assist missions organizations. If teams are unable to meet the leaders or community members, “they’ll either postpone the trip… or all the funds that they raised to go will be sent to the organization,” Saldana said.
Financial support is more needed now than ever. Serving the public amid a pandemic often comes with a slew of extra expenses, Saldana explained.
“Organizations now have to buy so much more: cleaning supplies and to-go [materials], if they serve food or anything,” Saldana said. “If we can’t go in person, how can we help from a distance, remotely? We’ve come up with plan B’s on providing financial support.”
Ultimately, whether Zoom-calling others across the globe or encouraging your next-door neighbor, Christians don’t need to let the pandemic stop them from sharing the good news and supporting missional efforts around the world. Thompson encourages students to see the coronavirus as an opportunity.
“There’s more ways than ever to lean in and to serve people — whether it’s in La Mirada, whether it’s in the neighborhood I live… or over Zoom with kids in Morelia,” Thompson said. “If we truly are about the ministry of Jesus, then there really is no better time.”