Updates from an Alumnus who served in Central Asia

EAST News caught up with our alumnus Jonathan and his wife Michelle (not their real names) who have been serving in an adopted country within Central Asia for over 5 years. Jonathan had graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry. Last year, he and his wife returned to Singapore due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Below is an interview with them in regards to how Covid-19 has changed their lives.

  1.  How has Covid affected your work in missions?

Our cell phones beeped!  A message from the Singapore Embassy came into our WhatsApp chat group for Singaporeans in the creative access country where we served.  What caught our eyes was this sentence, “I would strongly urge all Singapore Residents on non-essential business to seriously consider returning home expeditiously.”  Something does not feel right and our antennas went up!  That was back in March 2020.

Further reading of the text indicated Singapore will be closing its borders soon. Flights into Singapore are being restricted and there are now only two flights scheduled to leave the country, all other flights have been cancelled. Oh! Suddenly, the Covid-19 situation seemed to be escalating into something fast and furious!

A flurry of activities followed: From the airlines websites we checked, it was confirmed there were only two flights out of the country – one on the next day (Monday) and the other on Friday.  But the ticket price was exceptionally high.

Sometime later, we received the “go ahead” from our local team leader to exit the country and work from our Singapore home. When we checked the Singapore Airlines website again, the ticket prices had dropped by almost 50%! We quickly booked our tickets for Monday’s flight back to Singapore.  It was 6.30pm local time, 4 hours after receiving the text from the embassy. Praise God!

Amidst packing to leave, we received another message from our Embassy at about 9pm local time… “I have been notified that Singapore Airlines (SIA) has cancelled the flight to Singapore on 27 March 2020. SIA is contacting all Singapore Resident passengers to switch to SQxx departing on 23 March 2020 at 2pm. Thereafter, all SIA flights to Singapore will be temporarily suspended.” Wow! If we had booked our flight for 27 March, we would be scrambling to rebook the flights at 9pm, leaving at 2pm the next day. It would have been a mad rush. The next day we were safely on the last flight out of the country. Thank You Lord!

  1.  How have you continued missions work while based in Singapore?

Currently, the virus situation in the creative access country does not look good.  As of mid-March, the country reintroduced movement restrictions as the weather turns colder and the infection rates rises. We will thus remain in Singapore for the time being but still reaching out to our target audience from Singapore.

Is it even possible to bring the Message of Hope remotely from Singapore to the rest of the world? Reaching out via the online world – it is a new phenomenon and becoming a “new normal” for us.

Initially, it was not easy. Together with our local disciples, we had to overcome obstacles and learn new ways of doing digital outreach. One challenge was starting a conversation with a foreigner who is learning to speak English over a not-so-stable internet link. It took us much effort, a lot of creativity, and a mindset change. Fortunately, we were still able to build bridges and sow seeds.

Another challenge was the difference in time zone – we are wide awake while most of Singapore is asleep. For example, our Young Adult Coffeehouse went online and has been going strong; about 11 to 15 young adults join us on Zoom every Friday from 11.30pm to 1.00 am Singapore time.

Going virtual has also open the doors for us to minister in both our adopted city and in Singapore. A double blessing for us. We had the opportunity to share “Working Together in the Same Company” to a group from our Singapore church.  Jonathan had the privilege to share our financial stewardship experience with a young adult home group from Singapore.

In the area of finance, Michelle is helping our countries assess the impact of lockdowns and movement restrictions on our financial standings and ability to make payments. Our normal way of disbursing salaries in-person at the office is no longer possible. Creativity within the bound of regulations is needed to ensure funding reaches our staff in the field.

  1. What thanksgiving / inspiring stories do you have while doing missions work during the season of Covid?

We are thankful – the disciples we have been equipping and mentoring for the past years have arisen and taken up the mantle of leadership during this pandemic season. Some of our disciples have taken up the challenge to lead various portions of the Coffeehouse program. A disciple volunteered to design the e-invitation and posted it on social media and chat groups. Another would be the emcee for an evening, and another would address a topic relevant to the needs of the Young Adults. Thanks to Zoom’s breakout room feature, we could continue with smaller focus groups addressing felt needs.

In over five years we have served as part of our Area Operations Team and was able to contribute towards building up the technology and financial systems in the region. We now have tools in the “cloud.” This allows dispersed teams from all the countries that our team serves to access resources online through a secure virtual private network (VPN). We have taught our staff about maintaining security over the internet. All our end point devices and data are also encrypted. Our teams are thus able to communicate via secure channels, access share digital resources, and pray for one another as if meeting face-to-face. During this pandemic, we are certainly reaping the huge benefits of using the “cloud.”

Although we are all practicing safe distancing and remaining safe in our homes, our teams are still able to continue their Kingdom work via the virtual spaces. We remain socially connected with the ability to support one another. Face-to-face connections are still happening but online. Coronavirus or no virus, we are still proclaiming the Good News to a world so desperate for hope.

  1. What are some plans you have for missions next year?

We are planning to return to our adopted country as soon as the infection numbers is significantly reduced. It is not our timing, but the Father’s timing. It is not our plan, but the Father’s plan for us.

In the meantime, we continue to operate in this “new normal”. We will connect with the lost by working remotely or tele-commuting and continue to equip and mentor our disciples. Adapt, adopt and apply creative new ways of reaching out is the triple “A” strategy forward for us.

  1. What is a personal takeaway for you from the disruption this year?

Less than a year ago, nobody imagined our world will be shaken by a tiny virus.  This unexpected “disruption” forced us to hit the “pause” button and evaluate our priorities. We learn to focus on the important relationships in our lives and investing our time and effort on things of eternal value. There is a heightened sense of urgency to share the Good News.

This verse has been guiding us these past months:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15 and 16

We are reminded to use our time wisely even if the days are unfavorable: we focus on building relationships, take every opportunity and make every moment count for His Glory!

#EASTAlumni    #EASTLifestyle  #WorldMissions #Covid-19  #Disruption

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