This paper reflects on the ways that COVID-19 made it necessary to let go of plans and follow God’s leading to reimagine how mission mobilisation could continue—mission training online and enlisting short termers to engage East Asians who live in Northern Ireland.
Before joining OMF International, Nathaniel Jennings lived and worked in Bangladesh for over fifteen years. He did his BA (Hons) in South Asian History at the University of London and later got his MTh through Queens University, with his dissertation on the church in Islamic contexts. For the past ten years, he has been living in Belfast with his wife Donna and children Micah (13) and Tabitha (10). At the moment, Nathaniel serves as OMF’s Area Representative for Ireland.
Getting Out of God’s Way: Innovation During the Global Pandemic
Mission Round Table Vol. 16 No. 1 (Jan-Apr 2021): 36-37
The Father created life and order out of emptiness. The Son brought redemption and restoration through his own betrayal, public humiliation, and murder. The Holy Spirit emboldened and empowered Jesus’ followers so they could overcome a state of confusion and fear. The good news was proclaimed and the church built as Word- and Spirit-filled men and women shared the hope they had found as they fled persecution. The mission of God continues today as the likes of my Bangladeshi believer friend Jibon and his wife Toruna tend to the sick and deliver food and essentials to the poor, whilst many others seek to minimize risk and seek self-preservation.
From the Bible and church history, right up until the present day, we see that the Lord works out his purposes in the midst of earthly crisis and turmoil. To be involved in his ongoing work in our own times and spaces, we have to be willing to look up and step out, even when all certainties and securities seem to be crumbling around us. As an OMF Area Representative in Northern Ireland, the arrival of the COVID-19 lockdowns meant seeing all my best made plans binned. We knew that God was still at work, but we had to be willing to adapt and be creative as we continued to seek to follow in the ways he was leading. When we were willing to do this, God surprised us by working and providing fruit in ways we would never have previously thought of.
As mission mobilizers, we have long prayed for a breakthrough in reaching out beyond our core, faithful community of supporters. The pandemic forced our events online. This was not what we wanted, but we came to see it as a chance not just to try to do what we had always done online, but an opportunity to be creative and try new ways of doing things. When we held our NextGen Ireland: Mission without Borders event, we used multilingual YouTube videos for worship and staged a quiz that all “attendees” could join through their devices. The whole event was designed to be interactive as folk were able to send us questions and comments and contributors joined us live from Singapore, Japan, and Cambodia. Fifty young adults joined from across the UK and Ireland and another 200 watched via Facebook and YouTube livestreams.
During the pandemic, we discovered a wonderful course developed in the States called Momentum Yes. This program is ideally run over six ninety-minute sessions across six weeks. All necessary resources are free and available online. The content is delivered through a series of short, high-quality videos. These videos take the groups on a journey exploring the biblical basis for every believer being a witness, what this should look like for each of us, and how we can see disciples formed from every nation, whether they live on our doorsteps or on the other side of the globe. The materials and the format lend themselves perfectly to the online platform with sharing and discussions carried out using breakout rooms. So far, we have run two courses and have another in the pipeline. They have been greatly appreciated by participants from a variety of ages, stages, and backgrounds. At the end of the course, most made strong commitments to taking concrete steps toward greater engagement in mission.
My inability to facilitate people going to serve in East Asia—which has been the bread and butter of my role—has been extremely difficult. But it has been a great joy to journey with a local lad who decided to do something to keep the people of Japan—for whom he is deeply burdened—on his heart and mind whilst he waits to return to the country. Joshua worked out that the distance from his house in Northern Ireland to Japan is 8,078 miles and decided to walk that distance! He recently reported, “I have just passed the 500 mile mark, 546.6 being the exact figure—only another 7,894.4 left to go! The walk is doing its job. I’m still moving towards Japan. I get a few miles closer each day, and if God wills it, by the time I’ve completed this goal, I’ll be able to go back.”
Whilst folk like Joshua have had to put their plans to go to East Asia on hold, we have been able to offer others virtual short-term mission opportunities in partnership with the OMF UK Diaspora Returnee Ministries field. Lizzie, a Bible college student from the south of England, was able to do a four-week placement alongside OMF workers in Manchester and Belfast. She took part in a weekly Zoom call with a group of four Belfast-based Chinese students, during which she got to play online games, share her testimony, and lead a Bible study. She spent time online, making one-to-one contact with three East Asian Christian ladies, listening to the joys and struggles they experienced while making Northern Ireland their home. She and they were much blessed by these conversations. Lizzie was also able to share at three online gatherings for local supporters and individuals interested in mission. Reflecting on these experiences, she then wrote a very helpful report on our online activities and made suggestions on how we might better engage with young adults like herself as they move forward in mission thinking and practice.
The pandemic and all the uncertainty and anxiety that came with it were pretty crushing at first. However, as we let go of our own plans and reimagined how we might continue to work, what we have been able to do has been beyond our hopes and imagination. While it looks like restrictions are lifting and we may be able to go back to our old ways of working, we are not planning to do that. God has shown us new ways of working and new possibilities. Perhaps more than anything else, he has led us to a place where we are holding everything lightly, being willing to go with the flow in the light of our current circumstances, and trusting in God’s leading and presence in the midst of uncertainty. Please pray that we can stay in this place. Our human natures want certainty and control, and yet, as we hand everything over to the Lord, he blesses us with fruit that surpasses anything we can ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
 Momentum Yes, www.momentumyes.com (accessed 6 May 2021).
 For more information, see “How to Keep a Passion for Mission Alive: Walking to Japan,” https://omf.org/uk/how-to-keep-a-passion-for-mission-alive-walking-to-japan/ (accessed on 6 May 2021).
 “Lizzie: my virtual mission placement with OMF (UK),” https://omf.org/uk/lizzie-my-virtual-mission-placement-with-omf-uk/ (accessed on 6 May 2021).