'We should probably sign off there – thanks for giving up some time to chat!' With my mouse-pointer hovering over ‘end meeting’ Jirka suddenly piped up, 'Let me just tell you, tonight I’m running Christianity Explored on Zoom for the whole country and I’ve invited Slovakia too.'
I did a double-take and asked Jirka to confirm what he’d just said. That night he was indeed running the sole CE course on Zoom for the Czech Republic and he had invited some friends from neighbouring Slovakia to join them. He was hoping for 35 participants.
When 2020 began I wouldn’t have dreamt of hearing these words escape the mouth of a Crosslinks mission partner, let alone on a Zoom screen. Not only did it remind me how astonishingly well our mission partners have coped and adapted in 2020, it showed me three essential mission ingredients that have bubbled up to the surface this year.
Olomouc is a city you probably haven’t heard of. It lies in the east of the Czech Republic, about 120 kilometres from the border with Slovakia. 0.4% of the population are Christian believers. That explains Jirka’s comments about Christianity Explored. But in this spiritually dark corner of Eastern Europe, we're reminded that the gospel doesn’t respect state borders. 2020 has shown us that borders are not and should not be a barrier to our evangelism efforts and ambitions.
This is the pattern of the Christmas story. Jesus was born to a penniless teenager in an oppressed backwater under the thumb of mighty Rome, in the land of the shadow of death. 1 John 4:14 says that the ‘Father sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.’ Christmas shows us that God moved heaven and earth to bring the Son he loved into the world. What’s more, the very border cum sin-barrier between earth and heaven was smashed to pieces in the mission of the Son of God himself. It is this glorious good news that gives us hope for those in eastern Czech Republic. Only this good news will give you hope in the face of opposition and barriers.
Where there’s WiFi, there’s a way. That’s become something of a mantra for us all as we’ve connected more than ever with family, friends and colleagues at home and overseas this year. When people asked me what I’ve been up to, I’ve got into the habit of saying, ‘Today, I went to Chile’ or, ‘Yesterday, I dropped in on Italy’. In a job that I always assumed would require lots of travel in order for me to connect with mission partners, I’ve realised that virtual visits can bring us into their world in an instant. Sure, I don’t feel the sun, smell the air or taste the food – but most missionaries are adept at painting that picture for me. All you need are your questions and you’re away!
For the first time in history, we have been able to ‘go global’ in mission at barely any cost in time or money. Partnership across borders has felt more possible than ever. And no longer is the missionary the domain of a church committee or mission society. We can all get to know them and learn something from them.
It is tempting to think that, when we’ve had enough of the global or national news, the best thing to do is to retreat into our own little bubble and shut the world out. That’s fine to an extent but it won’t bring the perspective we need. If anything we’ll become more like Jonah, who struggled to see beyond his small world.
In a podcast, Gloria Furman speaks of ‘going cosmic’ when problems threaten to overwhelm. She says, ‘God has made all things for his own glory. Included in this creation is me. Thousands of years later here I come. He’s made me this way, in this context, with this people, in this time, to interact with all of these image bearers.'
It is also Paul’s advice to those who are losing heart. When threatened by overwhelming circumstances, he says, ‘Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ (Romans 8:18) Similarly 2 Corinthians 4:17, ‘for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.’
If you want to keep perspective on local and global affairs rather than retreat into a bubble that will inevitably burst, then ‘go cosmic’ and look at the world this Christmas in the light of our glorious future hope.
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