Samantha King, a Goer Care Associate at The Austin Stone, virtually met with representatives from The Stone’s Field Office in Europe to talk though how goers are doing, how the church can be partnering with them, and how we can be praying for them during the global pandemic.
How are you and our other goers viewing this pandemic?
It's interesting. As I’ve been reflecting on how I view this time, I’ve been tempted, as many of us have, to call these “unprecedented times.” Maybe that’s true during our lifetime, but we must also remember in the grand scheme of eternity and in the history of the church and what we read in the scriptures, that’s actually not true. The history of the church and the history of the scriptures are riddled with pandemics, plagues, refugee crises, and so on. I think it’s helpful for us to recognize that it is unprecedented for our lifetime, but it’s not unprecedented for the God who has already endured His people through all of those events. That same God is on the throne and is in control of today. That should be encouraging and grounding for us. That in the grand scheme of eternity, this was not a surprise to our Savior, nor is it unprecedented for Him. We can look back to His record and have faith that He is going to endure and persevere us through these days. I take great hope in that. One of the things that we must consider is that, if we’re grounded in eternity and grounded in the fact that God will be gloriously triumphant in these days, then we can properly see how we are to respond to our current reality. I’ve been so proud of our church and of our goers who have responded in their giving, through their care, through their support, and through their prayers. Through their initiatives, they are joining with God where He is working. That’s a beautiful thing to see. That gives me great hope for these days. A lot of us are sensing God is up to something. We don’t know what, but, man, it’s a joy to join Him in it. Even in the midst of trial, suffering, pain, and grief, He is on the throne and He is in control.
How have you seen goers affected by everything that’s happening?
I think we’ve seen goers affected in good and in difficult ways. It’s been cool to see families being able to regroup and refresh together. It’s also been good to see goers forced to become creative in what ministry looks like, and even in what their day-to-day looks like. There have been really positive benefits to how families, who homeschooled before this, now carry out educating their kids with new resources that have become available that they didn’t have before. It’s also allowing for different types of relationships and friendships to happen between neighbors, who under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t get the chance to know. The challenges have been, especially for goers in countries that have difficult medical care systems, that the pandemic has caused compounded anxiety and worries. We’ve seen people having to deal with the thought of, “what do we do when we no longer have hot water in our house?” “What do we do if our child breaks their arm in the middle of this, and we’re not allowed to leave our house?” So, just the challenges that come when there are restrictions that weren’t there before. It's also difficult when things are being cancelled. The opportunities to see family, connect with ministry partners, the things that people have looked forward to, they have to wait another year for. That’s difficult. Although, I think that, as many challenges have been presented, there are a lot of benefits and positive things that have impacted our goers.
For us, we’re now getting to know the names and faces of the people who live right next to us who we just hadn’t crossed paths with. It’s been neat to see the opportunities open for new relationships. Those relationships are coming from door to door and balcony to balcony interaction as we distance from each other, as well as through digital means. It’s been amazing to see how many of our goers have adapted and moved to digital communications, and how receptive their communities are to that technology. So it is a balance of these challenges and unexpected gifts God has given our goers in this season.
And, for a lot of our goers in countries where you can't talk freely about faith, there’s suddenly a scary event going on in the world and there’s a new security in talking online where people can ask questions they’d normally be afraid to ask in public. Where they normally wouldn’t come together in a closed country, all of a sudden, that world is being opened up. So it’s been a really beautiful thing to see how the Lord is working in that.
What are ways that goers have been able to continue in their ministries? Have you heard any stories of how God has been moving?
God’s eternal vision for the unreached and our goers hasn’t changed. That’s really encouraging! The fact is that He is still after brothers and sisters around the world and calling them to Himself. The means of which He’s doing it are a little different and are nothing like we expected. This pandemic has forced creative thinking. I know a number of our goers are moving to online platforms. We’ve seen an uptick in spiritual conversations happening among those in closed countries. I’ve heard reports of an 800% increase in these conversations. Think about that! It’s a really incredible time. With that comes the need for wisdom and discernment. How do you follow up? How do you engage? And so we’ve been encouraged by people finding ways to navigate that well. We’ve also seen a lot of people be able to spend more time moving to meet the physical needs of the people in their communities. It’s really incredible that this time has allowed the most vulnerable among the most unreached to be helped. That just blows my mind to think that some of the most vulnerable are being served in unique and meaningful ways by the hands of our brothers and sisters around the world.
How can we as a church be partnering with and praying for goers?
I think there are a couple of different ways that tangibly express love and care not just for our goers, but for the unreached. I’m asking that we would pray in unprecedented ways for our goers, for foreign believers, and for the unreached. Every single prayer matters in eternity. Not a single one of them has been wasted. One thing I believe God is doing, is helping us remember the incredible power and honor of praying in His name. We trust Him for it, so let’s seek Him for it. Another way we can respond in unprecedented ways is by financially giving. Right now, there are relief initiatives going on around the world that our goers are taken in, helping with, and initiating. We don’t know what the financial impact of our current situation will be, but we do know that as the Lord has given us, we should consider stewarding that to others as we are able.