Missionary Diary: What do we do when we can't go back?

‘Bridget’ (name changed for security reasons) writes about being grounded in Australia due to COVID-19 – and how missionary life still goes on.

“Any news on when you might be able to return overseas?” It’s a common question and there’s good reason for it; we’re missionaries. Along with my husband and two young children, we’ve been overseas since 2009 serving in a variety of roles with Pioneers Australia – currently as field leaders serving a geographical area with more than one billion people; among them are unreached Muslim, Buddhist and Shamanist peoples.

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We returned to Australia for a few months of routine home assignment in March 2020 and the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic has seen us waylaid for 15 months and counting. We’ve preached in our home churches and bible colleges. We’ve joined in with lots of Zoom home groups. We’ve tried to visit supporters in other states but there seems to be an uncanny knack of Covid outbreaks occurring right before school holidays.

So, when will we be returning overseas? We … still… don’t … know …

After talking with our sending organisation and churches, we made a few decisions in the middle of 2020 when timelines kept getting pushed back.

We couldn’t keep living in a state of preparation to return. It’s a paralysing one – can you book in that speaking engagement? Should the kids be re-enrolled in school? Should we put that non-refundable visa application in? Do you think we can keep the borrowed car indefinitely? Can we stay in our current accommodation?

We made a decision – until the country we served in, and our home country, opened borders with clear policy on Covid-19, we were going to put off returning.

We decided to pursue our ministry right now, here. While everyone in Australia was discovering a new love/hate relationship with video calls, we had already been well acquainted with programs like Zoom, as we led teams and workers across nations. Also turning to this technology have been other people and churches in the countries we served, an opportunity fuelled by the pandemic’s travel restrictions.

The Scriptures are being accessed in heart languages in places no known missionary or smuggled Bible has ever been!

In 2008 when we surveyed our field of service, we walked through mountainous villages wondering how the Lord might use us to reach these remote communities of Muslims. “Lord, we are willing but we have no idea how we can be useful!” We never imagined that in 2021, we would be supporting the work of teams distributing the word of God in these unreached people groups’ heart language via their mobile phones, conversing with them about the hope of Jesus, seeing thousands and thousands of pages of Scripture being read in places where a missionary may never have set foot.

That’s worth saying again – the Scriptures are being accessed in heart languages in places no known missionary or smuggled Bible has ever been!

Covid-19, among other changing contexts in the world, has seen digital outreach efforts ramped up across the world. During this ‘waiting’, so many cross-cultural workers have been able to put their hand to the development of online trainings and resources – things that perhaps would otherwise have been relegated to the “important-but-not-urgent” quadrant in the light of pressing relational needs.

We may never know the harvest that these seeds will produce in the years to come but we have confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit drawing men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation to worship the Lord!

Of course, the daily grind is hard – the disconnect, the fatigue of online meetings and navigating various timezones, the spiritual sleepiness that can come when things are ‘comfortable’, and reminders of our daily dependence on God are less obvious. One thing we miss most is the ability to walk out our door and look into the faces of those who we long to see know Jesus, to see them, interact with them, pray for and with them. And yet, we can! In most cities, we can meet, eat with, converse with almost every culture on the planet – the last few decades has seen the largest movement of people in the history of humankind. The Lord has brought the unreached here, found in the hundreds of diaspora communities across Australia.

In just this last week, we have eaten and talked with people from East Asian nations, shared the gospel with someone from the Middle-East, and served a refugee from South Asia. These precious people have family and friends back in some of the most restrictive nations on earth. Nations that right now are served by workers like us with real, present risk to their lives.

As I ponder this reality, I can’t help but look around this city with different eyes. Christian brothers and sisters have given their lives to share the gospel with people from these nations and, in increasing number, they’re now moving into our neighbourhoods. What a gift to share about Jesus to these precious people seeking a new life in Australia.

So when will we return overseas? We don’t know, but this much is clear – What a privilege to be ‘stuck’ here in Australia, having opportunities to share Christ and serve him in new ways.

‘Bridget’ (name changed for security reasons), her husband and two children serve as a missionary family with Pioneers Australia.