For local missionaries in remote areas of Southeast Asia, use of social media and Zoom as solutions to COVID-19 restrictions is not always possible and can sometimes be dangerous.
Ministry through social media posts in Indonesia or the Philippines can trigger hostilities from religious extremists or rebel militants, local ministry leaders said.
“We have to communicate with social media, but that can be a very big risk and dangerous for us as ministers, because there can be many sensitive things on it,” the leader of a local ministry in Indonesia said. “This is a very hard situation for the minister.”
As a local missionary familiar with his culture, the leader knows how to temper language on social media posts. He can speak more freely in church services via Zoom or teaching via WhatsApp messaging.
“We are now very accustomed to this situation – I use Zoom in Sunday services and WhatsApp in sending training modules and syllabuses, discipling and teaching people,” the leader said.
Poor villagers do not always have access to smart phones, laptops or Internet connectivity, but local missionaries help them find access, from those who can safely pool resources or otherwise. Ministries seek assistance to help remote people obtain wi-fi equipment and upgraded communications equipment.
In the Philippines, a ministry leader said there are several places where area leaders have no Internet or Zoom, but that they plan to obtain state-of-the-art equipment to communicate with them and others if new funding becomes available.
“Since this is now the new normal, the focus will be on providing means and opportunity for larger majority of brethren to be able to take advantage of technology so that communication with them will be continuous,” the leader said. “We are planning to provide the brethren in the mountains state-of the-art communication equipment so that we can communicate with them.”
Adapting Traditional Methods
For evangelism, church services and training in Indonesia, local missionaries have the cultural awareness and understanding of when and how to use technologies in the face of limitations from lockdowns to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
They also know how to adapt traditional methods for coronavirus challenges, the Indonesian ministry leader said.
“For evangelism, we are not visiting people in their homes or preaching to crowds,” he said. “We are meeting with people in the village one by one, or in the rice fields, or under a tree, or in a garden. Sometimes I go to the river and read the Bible to people before they wash there.”
One of the ministry’s biggest challenges is providing food to the increasingly desperate poor.
“Villagers and local people now lack food – they’re not working and need food to eat,” the leader said.
Taking appropriate precautions, team members are providing food bags containing rice, cooking oil, sugar and noodles, as well as protective items such as masks and hand sanitizer, he said. Team members have been able to find the food and other items in cities or by buying directly from the companies that produce them.
“By loving the people affected by COVID-19, we have a chance to share the love of God by bringing them the Bread of Life and Living Water as well as the staple items for physical survival,” he said.
As many villagers do not understand the effects of the novel coronavirus or the measures designed to contain its spread, local missionaries are also teaching them not to gather in groups of more than 10 and basic hygiene.
“We’re teaching that COVID-19 is the truth and is real, because some of them still think that it’s from the angry gods,” the leader said.
In the Philippines, ministry directors are ramping up use of email, Facebook and Zoom to stay connected with area leaders and the people they are serving, and in the process they are re-connecting with those who have gone to other parts of the world.
“For the first time, we expanded our Zoom fellowship not only by ministry areas but worldwide,” one ministry director said, noting that Sunday worship has expanded to include former Bible study participants who are now in countries such as Australia, Indonesia, Qatar, the United States and Europe states. “This is a big blessing since many of us haven’t seen these people for quite some time, and now we can hear the Word together shared by our leaders, exchange prayer requests and greet each other.”
The director uses Facebook to give urgent instructions to area leaders, and he also passes discipleship materials electronically to them for sharing with people without connectivity.
“For areas that cannot be reached by Internet and have no Web access yet, we regularly provide a one-to-two-page exposition of the Word, printed by their respective leaders and given to members,” he said. “Each household holds their Sunday worship, with husbands leading their families. Bonding and openness inside the family are heightened.”
Church members have been challenged to read the entire Bible while under shelter-in orders, and occasionally leaders send them videotaped messages to encourage them from God’s Word, he said. Several areas are fasting and sharing prayer items electronically, and some offer an hour of prayer as part of a 24-hour prayer team, especially for nations to return to the Lord amid the pandemic.
“At this time when there is social distancing and many are not allowed to go out unnecessarily, it occurred to us to write letters to friends and neighbors citing the COVID-19 crisis and what to prepare and how to handle fear, sickness and death,” the leader said. “The letter offered hope, and the gospel was the climax. Many responded via phones and Internet. We are excited that we have a captive audience for the gospel, people quarantined in their homes. We believe God allowed difficult times to make His love known to a lost world.”
Local missionaries are carrying out such work throughout Southeast Asia. Please consider a donation today to help them bring the love of Christ to hurting people.