In the last blog I looked at some of the questions and issues that have been part of my daily life over the last month or so as Coronavirus has spread; using the idea of this pandemic as a blizzard, leading onto winter and an ice age.
So now the blizzard is clearing it is time to look ahead.
The coronavirus response isn’t a normal crisis event; which has a clearly defined risk and goal. Rather it is a season that we are living through.
Many of the things mission organisations normally do can’t happen. The events we organise or attend to engage with people are not happening. So how can we maintain good relationships with our supporters, how can we encourage people to serve with us? Digitalisation and making full use of digital and social technologies will become even more important in the months ahead; engagement will change and become more communal even as it remains virtual, personal even if physically distant.
Yet not being able to do the normal things means we have a chance to ask some questions about it.
An article in the Christian Post suggested some of the ways that Coronavirus will impact global mission and what might change in the next few months. Although from the perspective of the US, two key items were the reduction in income and the way short term mission trips have been halted. Now we have a chance to reflect on what those mission trips have been achieving? Do the justifications about this leading to long term service actually hold true? If they are meeting a need in another country, is sending short term volunteers the best way to meet this need? And as this stretches into the future it isn’t just about short term mission but about the ability to be sending anyone…… what’s the role of a mission agency that doesn’t send people and whose income is falling?
The slowdown won’t answer the question or create time to do more reflecting but it will open the conversation. My own conviction is that STM has a place in building relationships, understanding, deepening discipleship, and cross-cultural learning. Hopefully we will be able to better structure what we do when we are able to restart.
There is a tendency in winter to want to hibernate. But hibernation isn’t a strategy; it may be a short term tactic for 2020 but things are changing and organisations that hibernate will probably die.
Meanwhile, all the people we have who work with us in the UK and around the world are going to be adjusting to the changes and the traumas they are experiencing so Mental Health and wellbeing will be one of the biggest challenges. Simon Barrington has created a series of videos using the response, recovery, restoration model that comes from disaster and development organisations. In this video, he highlights how organisations need to be prepared to respond to these human factors.
Many voices are now starting to talk about the longer term. Aviation will not get back to 2019 levels of activity till 2023 if not longer. Tensions between China and the US, the retreat of globalisation and the huge financial shocks to economies all around the world mean that this is not a passing phase. What might that mean for mission agencies?
My main guess is that we will see an acceleration of existing trends. Overall there will be less money from Christians and Churches going towards global mission. So far I’ve seen no sign of income reducing but in the long term it seems inevitable; some organisations will grow, others will hold steady and others will close. All of us will have to adjust to fewer resources and new ways of doing things as well as people’s changed priorities.
There will be more questions about the place of Global Mission in the church; especially in those who currently have little direct engagement. Alongside this, there will be more discussion of the place of agencies in this. Younger folk are less keen on structure, while they are happy to commit to a cause, agencies are only part of that if they clearly help that cause.
All these changes might not really be considered an ice age though. Through this period of restoration, God’s mission will continue; the structures we are used to will evolve or die and innovation will see fresh expressions of mission. These might be good, exciting and Godly developments leading to both a more holistic view of mission and a more global understanding of the church.