A global pandemic brought many changes to how we carry out our international ministry, but it hasn’t changed our mission.
By Jeff Metzger
The international mission sending agency I lead had lots of crisis plans. We prepared for many emergencies.
We had a plan for hurricanes. We had a plan for kidnappings and political unrest. We had a plan for emergency evacuation. We had a plan for sudden illness or death.
But we didn’t have a plan for a global pandemic or its ongoing consequences.
Now we do!
Our plan continues to grow and evolve. By God’s grace, we are a better community for it.
What effect is COVID-19 having on New International (formerly known as New Mission Systems International)? Three areas stand out.
We’ve Faced Increased Anxiety and Uncertainty
When COVID-19 began to spread globally, the risk was obvious but, at the same time, unknown. Health agencies gave evolving, confusing, and sometimes contradictory advice. Infections were growing globally, and with it came stress, fear, and questions.
How much risk are our missionaries facing? Should our affiliates relocate, come home, or stay in place? How can children and family members be protected? What happens if I get the virus?
One question came to dominate our concern as leaders: How do we best protect the life and health of our missionaries?
To answer that question, Jim Vogel, our chief international officer, and I activated our Global Crisis Response Team (GCRT). This team of two missionaries and two board members is led by missionary Adam Hunt, who has corporate training and experience in crisis response. The GCRT invested hundreds of hours planning and creating systems to assess reality and help reduce risk. Their work goes on.
Every New International missionary has now completed a quantitative, numerical risk assessment. This includes a general assessment of personal and family health risk and a personal needs assessment. Every missionary has an emergency health care plan (in case of infection) and multiple emergency evacuation plans. Every missionary is in regular contact with their regional director for encouragement and support. Every missionary can ask their regional director and GCRT for counsel and advice.
All of these efforts designed to reduce anxiety and uncertainty are working. Affiliates are in closer contact with the organization and are developing new relationships with one another. The encouragement factor is higher. Human resources is providing a mental health self-assessment to all our affiliates. Check-ins are higher. Prayer has increased by all and for all.
People are being forced to learn new ways to do things, but they also are learning they can change and grow. Our missionaries are in a better place, but stressful situations continue.
Phil Hudson, a veteran missionary and one of our regional directors, has reported several ongoing challenges in the regions he serves.
Suffering people. Much of our work is in countries that have little in the way of social support structures. In many places, the people we are working with are deeply suffering and the economy is struggling. Too often there is no food. Missionaries see people around them in pain and can do little to help. The psychological impact is real. Hearts are broken.
Being stuck at home. At NI, we are committed to obeying laws in the countries where we work. Some countries still have strict quarantine rules. We can continue ministry in more developed countries, but opportunities are limited in less developed places. Missionaries who are stuck at home can’t carry out their normal ministry plans.
No international travel. This is by far the most common ongoing frustration. We have missionaries living in 33 nations and working regularly in 43 countries among 640 different people groups. That requires travel, but countries are closed. That’s tough when International is part of your name!
We have fully funded missionaries ready to deploy who cannot leave the United States. Others had to evacuate to the U.S. to reunite with family members. They can’t return to their place of service. Others on the field have delayed furloughs because they have no guarantee of being able to return. Hard choices are being made and plans are massively changed.
Our Youth Hope team normally travels 100-plus days a year to train leaders for global youth ministry. As I write this, they have no idea when they will be able to resume that part of their work. Our mobilization team has canceled all internships and short-term trips. Jayson Simonson, our chief resource officer, is frustrated our child sponsor team can’t engage with local churches as desired.
Economic uncertainty. COVID-19 is clearly having a negative impact on the global economy. Our missionaries live by faith and the generous gifts of their partners. Will partners be able to continue their support? Will ministry funds be available? How do we engage and find new donors/partners?
Some missionaries operate businesses for mission that are generating no income. But local laws require that staff and government fees still be paid. How long can this be sustained?
Recruitment uncertainty. How do we engage and recruit new missionaries? Amazingly, we’ve affiliated 24 new missionaries at New International since March, but the pipeline of future recruits is pretty empty. How do we will fill it up?
In spite of this pandemic-related adversity, New International is strong and healthy.
We’ve Become a Better Organization
Mark Michael, our chief people officer, leads the teams that take care of human resources and recruiting. He says New International is better now than it was prior to the pandemic. Under stress, we’ve discovered and addressed some hidden weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
We are taking better care of people. We are even more willing to listen to and empower our missionaries. The Global Crisis Response Team is not just theoretical in nature; rather, it is functioning, guiding, blessing, and helping to protect all of our affiliates. We are better prepared for the future.
Increased networking is happening. Missionaries are networking widely with other missionaries. They are sharpening spiritual skills, reading, and praying together. They are learning new skills in disciplines like strategic planning, business development, and leadership.
Innovation is increasing. Trying new things to carry out the mission of Jesus is part of who we are. New is part of our name. In response to the pandemic, I see missionaries around the world becoming even more innovative, flexible, and creative.
Our missionaries are engaged. “COVID-19 has affected everyone in different ways,” writes Rachael Pillard, who serves in media and communications. “As a global organization, we especially have seen how that is true.”
Abigail Alter, director of our media team, says creative engagement is producing positive results. For example:
- Our video team began doing Facebook Live interviews with several of our missionaries.
- Our Ends of the Earth Cycling team produces biking events to disciple riders and raise money for youth ministries around the world. When one of their tours was shut down by the virus, they hosted their first virtual tour. Participation tripled!
- To help increase food security, some missionaries shifted focus to provide food to families facing extreme hunger.
- Some have shifted to digital disciple-making activities, doubling their groups and impact.
- One of our teams in Asia began delivering “sunshine boxes” to local students. The boxes were filled with fun yellow things including snacks, necessities, and a devotional booklet.
- Advancement and media are providing new tools to our missionaries to help them stay connected and communicate with their partners/donors.
This partial list of innovations demonstrates our missionaries are engaged and God is still at work. You can check out more encouraging stories on our website at newinternational.org and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pg/NewInternational.org/videos/.
All these things are happening for the sake of the gospel. How do we keep the gospel moving?
We Are Staying on Mission
Susan Caple, our chief financial officer, understands our missionaries. She counsels that this is the time for perseverance . . . don’t lose faith in the call . . . seize the moment . . . find the silver lining.
Jesus clearly has an agenda for this world. What does Jesus consider Job 1 for those who follow him? Disciple-making! Jesus clearly wants disciple-making to live foremost in the heart of every one of us in the Lord’s church. Disciple-making is the goal, the purpose, the reason, the why, the No. 1 job of our stewardship. Much has changed for us, but this will never change.
At New International, we are staying on mission. We won’t stop until Jesus returns. We continue to proclaim Christ and make disciples globally. At New International, that is always Job 1.
The unique advantage of our organization is our diversity of approach and unity of purpose. Our commitment is clear. We will always make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
Jeff Metzger serves as lead pastor at River Hills Christian Church in Loveland, Ohio, and as CEO/president of New International, a community of global missionaries based in Fort Myers, Florida, and working in 43 countries.