Leading Your Church to Engage in an International Missions Experience in a Season of Social Distancing
How can we obey the command to “Go and make disciples of all nations” when it seems like all we can do right now is “stay at home”? That is one of many questions churches are wrestling with in light of Coronavirus, “social distancing”, and the cancelling of countless short-term Spring and Summer mission trips. The good news is the Great Commission has not changed and has not been put on hold, even if international travel is indefinitely restricted. Some of the means of pursuing the Great Commission, however, might just have to change for the time being — at least in regards to short-term trips.
A typical short-term missions experience will include some variation of (1) missions education, (2) prayer mobilization, (3) team development, (4) investing in partnerships, (5) experiencing a foreign culture, (6) ministering cross-culturally, (7) exiting strategically, and (8) debriefing with participants. While an in-person, on-the-field experience cannot be truly replicated, each of these elements can be accomplished to some degree while following “social distancing” guidelines or even participating through a virtual or remote environment.
Before you get started, choose a workable time frame. Many short-term mission trips are about a week long. This could be accomplished by devoting a couple hours each day over the course of a week, or spreading it out over several weeks. For example, you could have families or small groups hold “Foreign Mission Fridays” after work and school tasks are completed.
Next, choose a workable focus. Are you going to focus on particular people, places, or ministry projects? Or will you take a broader approach and attempt a trip “around the world” in just a few days? Keep in mind that each church should focus on and celebrate what they can actually do. For many this will mean investing all the more fervently in prayer for the nations and partner missionaries. Some will focus on investing more intentionally in missions education and training for future short-term trips. And for others there might still be opportunities to experience elements of a foreign culture without leaving town, and even opportunities to minister cross-culturally to immigrants, refugees, and international students.
Then, choose a workable delivery method or combination of methods. Will you conduct all of this via online platforms (i.e. Zoom, Facebook, etc.) or are you able to deliver printed materials to families and even visit certain places in-person? It might even be a good opportunity to invest in some tech-savvy teenagers or college students to help share materials, updates, stories, and team building activities on various social media platforms. If social distancing restrictions ease over time, there could be even further opportunities to meet and minister to various ethnic communities across the state.
1. Discover the missionary heart of God
- There are numerous online platforms and print resources that can be used for Missions Discipleship. Whatever you decide to use, passionately pursue God’s heart for the nations as revealed throughout Scripture.
- Utilize Sunday, Wednesday, or daily online teaching moments to cast vision for the Great Commission and God’s heart for the nations.
- Encourage members and small groups to walk together through various courses available at imb.org/training (especially Explore Missions and Missions Team Training).
- Download numerous free resources for Missions Discipleship and outreach ideas from WMU: (http://www.wmu.com/?q=article/national-wmu-news/wmu-blog/national-wmu/free-resources-you-and-your-church).
- For additional family resources, check out the free downloads at weavefamily.org/big-story-series, specifically the One Big Vision booklet, and free videos at world-views.com/videos. These resources will walk families through stories and family activities related to unreached people groups from Tribal/Animist, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim, and Buddhist backgrounds (THUMB), as well provide kid-friendly videos introducing them to the main beliefs of each.
2. Mobilize prayer for unreached peoples
Central to the work will be praying for unreached people groups. Establish a prayer focus, select and distribute common prayer resources, and challenge members to commit to praying together throughout your “trip”.
- If you already have missionary partners, pray for them and their focus people groups. - Pray for any known immigrant, refugee, or international student populations in your area. You can download or request printed copies of prayer guides for unreached peoples of Arkansas here: absc.org/articles/how-every-member-can-be-involved-in-reaching-every-nation-in-arkansas.
- Additional prayer resources can be found at imb.org/pray, peoplegroups.info, and prayercast.com.
3. Develop a “team” through training and shared experiences
Two essential components to any international missions experience are training and team-building. Decide what training is necessary for participants on this particular “trip”, or use this time to invest in training for future trips:
- What do they need to know about the culture(s) you are “engaging”?
- What evangelism/ministry training would be appropriate?
- How will you address follow-up with any ministry opportunities that take place?
- In addition to imb.org/training, there are numerous IMB reading plans on the YouVersion Bible App that could be completed as a group.
- Online platforms like https://zume.training (which already includes various languages if you have interaction with internationals) can also be helpful for quickly and remotely training participants in personal disciple-making.
For team building and shared experiences, utilize activities that many families and small groups are already using on social media like:
- Photo scavenger hunts (find details on how to do that in this document)
- Variations of Bingo
- Games like “This or That”
These could be shared in social media platforms, Zoom type meetings, or through text and phone calls. You could also simply have a list of “get to know you” questions for people to ask through phone calls or video-conferencing such as:
- Their testimony
- Why they are interested in an international missions experience
- Where they would go and what they would do if social distancing guideline were not in place
Another option for creating shared experiences among your team is to lead them through a refugee simulation using one of two resources from WMU: (https://www.wmustore.com/displaced-seeking-home) and (https://www.wmustore.com/seeking-refuge-a-refugee-simulation).
4. Invest in missionary partners
One of the greatest things churches can do right now is connect with and care for their missionary partners. We hope all of our international experiences benefit the strategies and needs of those who are serving on the field long-term. If you have existing missionary partners, this is also a great opportunity for letting them speak into your training, team-building, and ministry opportunities.
- Ask partners to send videos or participate in video interviews with your church or small groups.
- Invite them to take you on a virtual tour of their homes or culture.
- Ask them what benefits them the most during this time to discern ways you can still minister from a distance.
- Bless them with care packages, encouraging notes, or experiences they might not usually get to enjoy.
- If you do not have existing partnerships, the ABSC Missions Team can help you partner with IMB missionaries.
- Consider these thoughts from the IMB: https://www.imb.org/2020/04/21/five-practical-ways-support-missionaries/.
For some church planters serving among unreached peoples in NYC, other US gateway cities, and even around Arkansas there is an opportunity for blessing ethnic businesses.
- Provide a care package with sanitation/cleaning supplies (wipes, gloves, and other materials that could be used for distribution and conversation starters among small business owners).
- Purchase gift cards/certificates from ethnic restaurants and give them to your neighbors. This gives them much needed business, and it blesses your American neighbors.
5. Experience foreign cultures
One of the most impactful aspects of an international experience is the immersion in a foreign culture. Depending on your context and focus, this could be accomplished through virtual “tours” on the internet of different countries and points of interest, or visiting certain places around Arkansas.
- The imb.org/video-gallery has numerous video resources.
- prayercast.com/world-religions.html and prayercast.com/nations.html have numerous videos that give a glimpse into foreign cultures while simultaneously praying for them.
- If you have any connection to international students, invite them to share about their culture, homes, and daily routines through social media or video conferencing.
- Ask a missionary partner to take you on a virtual tour of their home and culture.
- Use Google Earth to take virtual tours around the world.
- Consult with the ABSC Missions Team about possible virtual interviews and tours with area religious leaders at Hindu temples, Islamic mosques, and Jewish synagogues.
- Have a cultural meal and movie night based on available ingredients at your local supermarket. Find a recipe online and let your family try their hand at an authentic dish!
- Discover what ethnic restaurants are in your area offering take-out. This will bless your immigrant neighbor as much as it will you.
- Watch IMB recommended foreign films for movie night: https://www.imb.org/2019/02/18/best-foreign-films-family-movie-night/.
- Watch the Insanity of God (insanityofgodmovie.com) or Free Burma Rangers (fbrmovie.com) to learn about global persecution.
- Lead your group through a refugee simulation using one of two resources from WMU: (https://www.wmustore.com/displaced-seeking-home) and (https://www.wmustore.com/seeking-refuge-a-refugee-simulation).
- If you are in driving distance to Central or Northwest Arkansas, drive by various places of worship and ethnic points of interest and use this as an opportunity to pray for the unreached among us. Though not exhaustive, click here to get a glimpse of possible places: https://www.peoplegroups.info/FrontMap/index/loadfilters/kubrXYHW.
6. Minister cross-culturally
How you actually minister will be largely dictated by your location, partnerships, focus, and hands-on opportunities in respect to social-distancing. Consider these ideas:
- Virtual Prayer-walking: Use the Explore tabs at peoplegroups.org and peoplegroups.info, or visit joshuaproject.net. Select various people groups and locations to learn about and pray for.
- Prayer-walk/ Prayer-ride around ethnic Points of Interest (i.e. businesses, restaurants, places of worship, college campuses, neighborhoods).
- Deliver care packages and/or bless ethnic Points of Interest (i.e. sanitation/cleaning supplies, purchase gift cards to distribute to neighbors, etc.).
- Provide a “pantry pounding”, temporary housing, or transportation for missionaries staying stateside.
- Support the needs of missionary partners and their projects overseas.
- Partner with existing ministries to international students such as Baptist Collegiate Ministries.
- Reach out to existing relationships with internationals, such as peers and co-workers, through phone, text, etc.
- Ask people how you can be praying for them, and follow-up with God stories.
- Challenge members to share the Gospel in day-to-day conversations and through social media. There is no better training for future evangelism among unreached peoples than practicing evangelism right now where you are.
- Engage in “digital neighborhoods”. For those who are interested in continuing “digital evangelism and discipleship”, there are existing ministries that equip people for sharing the Gospel through online platforms and chat rooms. These are intended for those who can commit time each week (approx. 1 hour) building relationships remotely with people all over the world. For security reasons, please contact the ABSC Missions Team directly for these opportunities.
7. Ask God, “What’s next?”
All international mission experiences should incorporate a strategic exit. Simply put, what happens when you “leave” or are “done”? For example, if you plan on delivering care packages to a local restaurant, make sure there is a process to follow-up with them. If you prayed for a particular group “from a distance”, explore ways you can engage them “in-person” in the future. If your work was in any way connected to the work of missionary partners, make sure they know what you were able to do.
Finally, provide a way for your team to debrief their experiences. This could be a simple survey shared through email, or it could be a video conference with participants. Ask people how God moved in their lives and the lives of others. Ask them to share how God wants them to change as a result, or what they feel God wants to do next. You could end up with a group of prayer warriors this summer that would consider forming a team that travels internationally next summer. And last, but not least, celebrate the experience with the broader congregation just as you would for a team returning from an actual trip.
These are just ideas. Below you will also find a link to download sample schedules for those who already have particular places and people in mind (“Virtual Mission Trip”) and for those who are looking for a more broad introduction to various people, places, and belief systems (“Global Missions Week”). If you need assistance crafting an experience that fits your context, or if you have ideas that could be shared with others, please do not hesitate contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.