On Thursday 30 April, ICI held an online Consultative Dialogue on the Theme: The implications of COVID-19 pandemic for Christian Witness in the Public Sphere. As part of our discussion, we asked veteran missionary and National Director for SIM Ghana, Penny Bakewell to share with us some thoughts on how COVID – 19 was affecting the mission field and what some of the implications might be as we move into the future. Below are her comments.
What have been 1 or 2 of the implications of COVID-19 for you as a missionary both financially and in terms of your Christian witness in the public Arena?
I have been asked to share firstly about 1-2 implications in terms of my Christian witness and also financially of this COVID 19 pandemic and then to share some thoughts about implications for the future.
The vision of SIM Ghana is to see a witness to Christ’s love where He is least known in Ghana, disciples of Jesus expressing God’s love in their communities and Christ-centred churches spreading the Gospel in Ghana and beyond.
What have been the implications for me as missionary as a result of COVID 19. I find myself seeking to lead a team whose usual activities have been restricted, and to lead that team through a time that is likely to last for many months. We can no longer continue to serve as we used to. Our key strategies for outreach and discipleship include language and culture learning and then one to one and small group outreach and discipling relationships. Face to face contact.
In these beginning days of COVID 19 in Ghana, this scaling down of our people contact for the sake of the people has been vital. We needed to take a lead in this, even in places – especially in places where the virus has not yet hit. This scaling down has been hard. I called our missionaries, yes to pray, but actually to be still in these early days. Missionaries are people of action. We are do-ers and we have found this time difficult. But I believe that in this time, God had called us to examine ourselves. We love serving the Lord. We can get very busy serving the Lord. When the ability to serve is taken away, we find that actually, (and this is uncomfortable) our identity has become wrapped up in our serving rather than in our Lord. Oswald Chambers said it well when he said, ‘the greatest threat to our relationship with Jesus is our service for Jesus.’ And so, in these early days, we have come aside to be with Jesus, to rest, to reflect and to listen to God in this time. Who does He want us to be and then and only then, what does He want us to do? Having had this time, we are meeting next week to look at our strategy in these next months and to hear what God has been saying to us in this time.
Financially, we are already seeing an impact on our missionaries from the majority world and it will impact our ministry projects. 14 of our 26 missionaries come from non-western countries. With churches closed across the world, support is no longer being collected and therefore no longer coming to Ghana to enable our missionaries to live. This pandemic is going to lead to famine and food shortages and health care needs across the globe. Donors will rightly and prayerfully consider their giving to mission in the light of those needs. So yes, we are already beginning to feel the financial impact of this pandemic and will continue to do so. God is sovereign – He knows – I have already had prayerful people asking after these missionaries who are struggling financially.
What do I believe will be some of the implications for the future that Christians in this arena and in general need to be aware of?
Wow – this is a huge question early on in this time. I want to share some thoughts – I pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to discern His voice and what is not His voice.
God is not limited by lockdown. The Apostle Paul is proof of that!
I heard a phrase the other day – “A divided world united at last, by fear.” This virus is not nationalistic. It is not a respecter of borders. In the UK yesterday, 4,419 people died of COVID 19 bringing the total to over 26,000 people. I have friends in the west who love me but have no interest in what I do or why I do it. They have no concept of sin, nor do they want to hear about sin – but they all fear death. In this dark time, surely this is a time when the Gospel will shine even more brightly. Surely this is a time when a divided church needs to unite. We have an opportunity to reach out across the globe to those places that are badly affected, and to ask our friends in this time of lockdown, who do not yet know Jesus, ‘how are you feeling in these times?’, ‘What are you anxious about today?’ In times like these, people welcome prayer. They are seeing that life and death is bigger than themselves, and they are not (as they believed they were) in control. A simple prayer opens their minds to Someone greater than themselves and it opens a door of opportunity to share the good news of God. God is challenging me to connect with people at home. Connect too with supporters across the world in places where COVID 19 is ravaging their nation and ask them, ‘How can I pray for you today? How can I support you?’
Covid 19 is a global pandemic, God’s Church is a Global Church and God’s good news is good news for the world. So, what are the implications for the future, for Christians in this arena – Ghana? How can the Church in Ghana pray for the nations of the world? How can the Church in Ghana support now their brothers and sisters across the globe? I have only ever heard a Ghanaian church pray for the UK once – and that was during Brexit – and we wondered what there would be to talk about after Brexit! Well now we know. God’s vision is global, is ours? God’s arena is global – is ours?
What can the Church in Ghana do and be to the suffering nations so badly hit?
What is the church in Ghana doing to model and teach preventative measures so vital if Ghana is not to become the next tragedy of COVID 19?
Could the Church in Ghana become a powerhouse of prayer for the nations who have turned their back on God and are reeling to find meaning in the horror of this pandemic? – not to pray for nations as a collective group but to read about and to research the spiritual state of Spain, of France, Italy, the UK – so many countries in Europe are dark countries spiritually. And then there is China, and India and the list goes on. There is reportedly so much light In Ghana. Is God calling this nation of Ghana to prayer, to deep searching of His Word and to pray His Word into these nations? During this lockdown, my heart looked at Ghana and then to the world and I asked ‘Lord what are we doing here when the world out there is dying, and dying without you? Well God has closed the borders because otherwise we might think that ‘going’ is the answer. He is calling us to ‘be’, to be firstly at his feet, because He is the answer. And what should we pray as thousands are dying? Yes, that He would save them from COVID 19 but more – that He would save them for eternity. And then after being at His feet, to be His feet. Is God calling the Church in Ghana to BE His feet? “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news.” I believe this time is a call to mobilise the church in Ghana to unite and send – to send workers out to a world that is dying without Christ. My prayer is that God would call us to be the answer to our prayers and that the Church in Ghana would unite and then mobilise and then send. May this time be a time of preparation, of repentance of our desire to go out and make a name for ourselves, to build our own denominational kingdoms. May this begin a time where we work together to send out workers so that Christ is known, and His Kingdom built across the nations. This pandemic is huge. I cannot believe that God has anything but huge implications for His Church in this.
What do I pray are the implications of the future for this arena Ghana? – I pray that this arena would spread out to the global arena that God sent His Son to die for.
These are my thoughts – God bless you.