March 15th will mark one year of continuous community quarantine here in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Although I greatly miss visiting churches and church planters, their reports have encouraged me. My situation reminds me of the Apostle John. He wrote 2 John to a church that he knew well. His third letter encouraged an influential Christian whom he knew well. Each letter ends with similar statements:
Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
2 John 1:12 (ESV)
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
3 John 1:13–14 (ESV)
John wanted to say more to this church and this man. But he resisted doing it through writing. Instead, he expressed his desire to see each in the near future to continue the conversation personally.
I too prefer to discuss important spiritual matters in person. Being together allows us to connect in ways that foster significant conversation. In his second letter, John mentioned that one of the results of such fellowship is complete joy.
Communicating “finger tips to eyes” is not the same as communicating face to face. However, it can allow the sharing of news which fills the heart with thanksgiving and joy. The following report illustrates this possibility.
Forcing a rethink
Pastor James* is planting a church in an agricultural town in the Philippines. It’s the kind of place where few adults did anything online and where internet connections are too weak for platforms such as Zoom.
Before the pandemic, twenty-five people attended the congregation’s activities. The virus led to the cancellation of all religious gatherings, forcing James to rethink its ministry. Through Facebook Messenger, he began discipling five families and a few individuals. He also trained them to lead their household in devotions, prayer times, and worship services. As a result, these believers are growing deeper in faith, their families are enduring the lockdown better, and the church’s ministry now reaches eighty people. He testifies that the change in approach required by the pandemic has led to more fruit in one year than in the previous several years of normal activities.
Longing for the day
As you can imagine, I would love to visit that town and talk to James. I am eager to see with my own eyes what God is doing. But, for now, that remains impossible. So I will continue to use keyboards and screens to communicate with him. And I will keep longing for the day when I can again visit churches and church planters.
Will you pray for the Philippines?
Give thanks for Pastor James and church leaders across the Philippines who have adapted so well to the changes of the last year and helped their congregations remain strong in the Lord.
Praise God for all the new people connected with Pastor James’ church, pray that they will continue to grow as followers of Jesus.
Pray for the joy of renewed face to face fellowship soon, and for wisdom around how the lessons from doing church in the pandemic can be taken forward so the church can continue to grow.
Andy Smith has served as the International Coordinator for Evangelization since 2015. Prior to this role, he spent 26 years planting churches, providing field leadership, and training other church planters in the Philippines. In 2003, he has also been facilitating training events throughout East Asia.