Keeping in touch

Jamie Read

In lockdown, our ability to connect is developing quickly. Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp - the options are endless. Could you make the most of your newfound skills in video calling? Find out how social distancing could increase your closeness with your mission partners. Or read on below to see how mission partners in other places are faring.

Spain: Julian Milson pastors a church in Valencia. 

On the public mood:
There seems to be a mixture of resignation and fear. Talking to people from our church family, everyone seems pretty upbeat. But on the streets there is definitely an air of fear. People are actively avoiding others by crossing the street and there is little in the way of friendly greetings. People seem to be accepting of the increased powers of the police and they themselves are taking their new powers seriously. I was walking the dog with my daughter and we were stopped by the police because we were together. I explained Jemima's disability and her need to be with the dog and they were happy with that and waved us on.

On the opportunities:
We've been in daily communication with our church family via a WhatsApp group and in reality this is much more contact with many than I would usually have. Attendance at our virtual ‘Life Groups’ has also increased. As people have been sharing their hopes and fears with me (and others in the church) it really feels as if our relationships are growing stronger more quickly. I’m planning to wear my dog collar to go food shopping in the hope of provoking spiritual conversations - I’m just working up the courage to do it…!

An item for prayer:
Our biggest prayer request would be that we might be useful for the growth of the gospel during this time of confinement. Last night we had a really encouraging bible study meeting - for the first time since I’ve been leading it everybody prayed out loud.

Uganda: Chris Howles is Head of Theology at Uganda Martyrs Seminary, Namugongo. 

On the public mood:
In Uganda, the mood is calm, concerned and frustrated. Low numbers of cases and rapid action from the president give people a sense of peace. However, news is full of stories from China, Europe and South Africa so Ugandans are concerned about what is to come. Clearly health facilities here are far below those places (55 ICU beds for 43 million people). ‘Fake news’ is beyond description in its gravity and spread, including: fake cures for coronavirus; conspiracy theories about the virus being a western invention to kill off Africans; prosperity preachers saying that the blood of Jesus means corona cannot touch the truly saved; government officials bribing their way out of quarantine rules... Just this morning some news came in of low-level looting in downtown Kampala. 

On the opportunities: 
The closure of church meetings is making Church of Uganda clergy reassess what church is and how dependent we are on buildings, musical instruments and large gatherings that win converts by looking powerful and blessed, at the cost of true fellowship. Many are having to think carefully whether God really does promise us perfect health and protection against all disease now. We’ve had opportunities with the remaining on-site staff to discuss God’s sovereignty and the brokenness of our world even in the good times. We’ve also been able to encourage students and alumni in increasingly hard contexts across the region by phone.

An item for prayer:
Please pray that Christians recognise that where two or three are gathered Jesus is there with his people. 

Hungary: Andy Oatridge leads Acorn Camps in Hungary.

On the public mood:
The mood is subdued but with a ‘let’s carry on with life at home’ attitude. The general feeling seems to be positive towards the government and I think we are all now grateful that they acted quicker than most countries in closing schools and asking people to stay at home. The numbers are currently low, 10 deaths as I write, but I was sad to hear about the latest death of Stephen Dick, the deputy ambassador, at the young age of 37. 

On the opportunities:
Our CORE Training has now gone online, which has its challenges, but we praise God for technology that allows things to continue from our ‘home-offices’. Our churches have done a number of different things and I do wonder whether more ‘interested people’ have been secretly watching online services, people who perhaps didn’t have the courage to go through the church door. I think this situation has brought some people more together as people have more time or have realised that life might be shorter than they thought. My biggest delights have been joining our UK church family with their online services and our Chapeltown church now doing morning prayer online - something I always suggested as it allows those who are house-bound to be able to participate. 

An item for prayer:
Pray for our online CORE Training course and for wisdom on how to adapt to new teaching methods. And pray for us as we think about how to develop some online bible reading materials for our youth group. 

Chile: Luke Foster is a theology lecturer at CEP in Santiago. 

On the public mood:
As March and April approached, the main preoccupation was the civil unrest. It had died down over the summer months but was beginning to intensify as a referendum on a new constitution was due at the end of April. Into this context, fear about coronavirus has seemed to suddenly take hold. The backdrop of social unrest has given the current uncertainty an extra edge. 

Interestingly, because there are far fewer people out and about because of quarantine, a puma wandered down from the mountains and into our neighbourhood …!

On the opportunities:
There does seem to be a willingness to consider the gospel. People seem more willing to tune into a livestream - and even join an online bible study - than drop into church or go to someone’s house. 

An item for prayer:
Pray that we would make the most of these opportunities and grow in our dependence on the Lord as he shows us the folly and vanity of our idols.