I woke up confused on Sunday morning. The bedside clock read 6 a.m., but my iPhone said 7 a.m. I had forgotten it was Sunday. And I had definitely forgotten that in this part of Europe the clocks had “sprung forward” at midnight on March 29.
In previous years my family has relied on the semiannual reminder in church to reset our clocks so as not to be late (or early) for the following Sunday’s services. But this year there was no local church service the week before, nor helpful reminders of the time change on the TV news the night before. Coronavirus has consumed the TV headlines just as it has almost every other aspect of daily life. Each day during the global lockdown has seemed like any other. No routine. No rhythm. No normal.
One of life’s joys as a missionary is the many opportunities we have to see, almost daily, how faithfully God provides, when our skills, education, professional knowledge and language abilities are inadequate. Although painful, we have been able to count it a blessing to be brought low and we find ourselves thankful. We’re thankful to God and we’re thankful for the ways He is using you.
As our family and millions of others around the world adjust to many more weeks or months of a new home-based “normal,” we need to find innovative ways to connect with family, friends, work colleagues, fellow local believers and ministry contacts. Our circumstances challenge us to look outside our familiar patterns of life and to see opportunities to do things differently. We can let God use this global crisis to stretch and shape us. We can look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. In our weakness and loss of control over our daily lives we can put into practice the words of Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
During this pandemic, we are forced to trust God like never before and to live the truth of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Sunday started out in confusion, but quickly became memorable for the right reasons. We see how God is using you—our fellow Southern Baptist believers—to provide exactly the kind of encouragement and practical help that Paul writes about in Philippians 4.
The coronavirus has caused our stateside home church to move to a live webcast format. So, for the first time in our 16 years of field service, we have been able to join our stateside home church for online Sunday morning worship services (evening where we are), complete with a shared Lord’s Supper. The familiar faces and voices of these friends give us the spiritual refreshment and encouragement that we so desperately need right now. Like Paul we can say, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly. You were indeed concerned for me” (v.10).
And even though your families are also suffering during this time of global fear and uncertainty, you continue to bless us in many practical ways by your generosity of spirit and your sacrificial gifts. Again, Paul’s words speak for us: “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble (v.14)” and “…you sent me help for my needs once and again” (v.16).
Living far from family in troubling times like these, it is reassuring and affirming for missionary families to know that we can say, “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (v.18). And knowing that so many of you are praying for us truly helps us to sense “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” (v.7)
To our 15 million fellow believers in more than 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, and from my family to yours, I want to say “thank you!” May these challenging days become an opportunity for each of you to know God’s peace as, with thanksgiving, you make your needs known to Him.
Hugh Johnson is an IMB writer and photographer in Europe.