“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” -Philippians 1:12
As the world faces the fallout from this global pandemic, the future of missions may seem bleak. Many missionaries have been confined to their homes because of lockdown restrictions or have had to leave the mission field for health or family reasons. Some have contracted COVID-19.
The pandemic has presented obstacles many have not encountered before. It has made life on the mission field challenging, but the mission has never been without challenges. The earliest evangelists endured physical and spiritual threats that could have endangered the mission; yet the gospel still advanced.
The Apostle Paul—as well as the other apostles—endured a great deal of persecution. In the New Testament, he recounts how by God’s strength he was able to persevere through hardships and dangers for the sake of the gospel. His endurance has become a model for missionaries globally today.
Threat of harm
Paul suffered numerous violent acts as he preached the gospel. In 2 Corinthians, Paul lists how he had “been exposed to death again and again (2 Corinthians 11:23).” He was severely flogged, received lashes from the Jews, was beaten with rods, and was stoned nearly to death.
Besides violence from men, Paul had also been shipwrecked and was tormented from an unnamed “thorn” in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul was no superhuman; these attacks on his body almost killed him on multiple occasions. But Paul’s physical weaknesses allowed God’s perfect power to strengthen him in order to continue his ministry.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:10
Threat of imprisonment
Several years of Paul’s ministry were spent in prison, separating him from his fellow Christians. Paul was unable to visit the early churches to encourage and guide them while he was in captivity. But he did often write to the churches.
Paul’s letter to the Philippian church was written while he was imprisoned. Though prison is not where Paul wanted to be, he preached the gospel to the guards and anyone else who would listen.
“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” -Philippians 1:14
Prison introduced a new mission field for Paul, and it led many to Christ. Beyond prison, Paul’s letters became epistles that continue to encourage the Church today.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” -2 Timothy 2:8-9
Threat of a pandemic
The obstacles East-West missionaries face today are strikingly similar to those Paul faced, though they look a bit different. A virus threatens their health and safety, and lockdowns have separated many from the church body.
Yet, the gospel has advanced.
Missionaries have found renewed strength and peace in the power of Christ. Their confidence in the gospel has led many to accept Jesus as their Savior.
Letters have been replaced with video conferencing calls to encourage and train church leaders while being physically separated. Those in quarantine have had more opportunities than before to talk to their neighbors, opening up new mission fields.
Whether facing the threat of violence, imprisonment, or illness, missionaries are persevering to evangelize the lost and multiply followers of Christ. The gospel “is not chained” in the pandemic.