By Jon and Mindy Hirst
This article is a conversation between four people. Throughout the article, you will see initials in parentheses. These identify the contributor who shared that particular thought.
The streets are quiet except for the distant sound of sirens echoing through the rows of high-rises (CW), across the rice fields, through the villages, and resonating across the waves as jumbo jets soar in the sky above. Those sirens ominously represent the darkness of a day when disease would quiet the voices of the saints those who are usually joyfully vocal. On the day when a pandemic darkens the door of this world and threatens the work of God’s people on every continent, will the only sound be the sound of sirens?
Who will be singing songs, who will be writing poems, and who will be telling the stories of faith? (SN) This is not a philosophical question, it is all too practical. At the same time, it is not the question that appears on our agenda as we consider the potential of a global pandemic on our work for the Kingdom. We are talking a lot about education and we are making our emergency plans. These things are important, but it is easy to reduce our preparation to a list of medicines to buy and emails to send.
The deeper question to ask is, “How do we remain a strong light if indeed the darkness looms in the form of disease?” This is really a question of resolve and effectiveness under circumstances that are above and beyond what our world would expect us to endure. But God has different expectations than this world, and we must ask him what things He would have us do to prepare for the possibility of Avian Flu or other global diseases that could impact every facet of our ministry.
And we do need to prepare! Everyone in global ministry is only a few people away from the center of a pandemic. We travel on planes, we attend conferences, we visit remote villages, and we interact with all levels of society. Unless we are willing to consider what the world would look like in the grip of a global pandemic, we are not being realistic about our lives in ministry. So let us look together at the impact a pandemic would have on our relationship with God, our relationship with others and our relationship to our ministry.
Our Relationship with God
Strength and resilience in the crisis of a pandemic do not simply appear. The crisis is a test of what should already exist in our spirits. So how do we settle our spirits (CW) and engage our God about an issue as catastrophic as this? James 1:2-6 gives us some powerful insights into what we must do to have a settled spirit. James starts out with the goal to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .” Then he gives some valuable insight into how we can be in a state of mind to do something that sounds ridiculous from a human perspective. Is he referring to asking for trials? No, the meaning in James 1:5 is many times obscured because it is often quoted in isolation, “If any of you lack wisdom . . .” James wasn’t talking about generic wisdom. He was talking specifically about the kind of practical “wisdom” (insight or good sense about what to do, think and feel) it takes to cope successfully with an attack or crisis. (SN) He says that we must ask God for the wisdom necessary to persevere in the situation that confronts us.
Our close walk with God, our willingness to face trials and our desire to ask God for wisdom and understanding will produce a settled spirit in the face of fear, isolation, sorrow and doubt. Yes, doubt is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons in a time of crisis, working through the heart into the mind and ruining the whole person.
If we really believe James chapter 1, then we must come to grips with the fact that God uses physical illness and tragedy to bring spiritual healing (DD) and even growth! In fact, another key to settling our spirit in the midst of a global pandemic is our dynamic relationship with God through prayer. During the 1918 flu pandemic, millions died in one of the earth’s most violent health emergencies. But while death was surrounding the people, God used the crisis to raise up movements of prayer and revivals of faith. Many powerful movements, dynamic organizations and vibrant churches sprouted out of this seedbed of prayer. (SN) Those movements did not just ignite out of dead relationships with God. The prayer lives of faithful, focused believers helped settle their spirits and prepare them to ignite their faith into action as the crisis descended around them.
We must ask ourselves some simple questions about our relationship to God:
1. Do we have a James 1 faith that seeks wisdom in the face of trials?
2. Is our life full of doubts now, in a time of relative security and safety?
3. Do we have a vibrant life of prayer that is seeking wisdom from God?
4. Would God find our hearts ready and available if such a health crisis were to occur?
5. Do we believe that God can bring spiritual growth out of physical devastation?
To be continued…
About the Authors
(CW) and her husband have served with TEAM in Asia for 26 years. The first 14 years they were involved in church planting. In 1993 they moved with their children to another East Asian location where they work with an international team reaching out with the Gospel through discipleship efforts.
Brent Lindquist, Ph.D., (BL) is a Psychologist, and the President of Link Care Center. He works with international membercare leaders, consults with organizations regarding membercare issues, and develops programs and services in the same arena.
Richard (Dick) Douce (DD) is an internist sub-specialized in infectious diseases, who works as a medical missionary in Hospital Vozandes Quito. Over the past 15 years he has participated in treating epidemics of Cholera, Rabies, Diphtheria, Yellow Fever, Meningococcal meningitis, and Influenza as they passed through Ecuador and West Nile Fever, Influenza, and AIDS as they passed through the United States.
Stan Nussbaum (SN) is the staff missiologist at GMI Research Services (Global Mapping International) in Colorado Springs. A researcher and writer, in 2005 he coordinated a major study on the churches’ response to AIDS in seven countries. He has long experience in southern Africa and England as well as growing involvements in India and Central Asia.
Jon and Mindy Hirst (editors) are the creators of the Generous Mind Conversation and own a think tank called Generous Mind. Jon is also the Director of Communications for HCJB World Radio in Colorado Springs, CO. Jon and Mindy have three children: Isa, Adin and Emilia. You can visit www.generousmind.com to interact with the editors and authors on this topic.
*This article was previously published in The Network for Strategic Missions.