Most of what we in EPC World Outreach planned to do in 2020, we didn’t. But everything God planned to do, he did.
After an initial period of postponing events and waiting for things to return to normal, we started scrapping our plans and trying things we had previously dismissed as impossible. When Covid prevented WO workers in Asia and the Middle East from carrying out vital ministries, they rejoiced to find young Christian brothers and sisters stepping into the void and organizing themselves to deliver food and medicine. The WO candidate assessment and orientation program we were convinced could only be done face-to-face turned out to work pretty well (and in some ways even better) via Zoom. And for the first time candidates from outside the US were able to participate.
When WO trainers could not travel to a Southeast Asian country, they retooled their course to teach remotely with less lecture time and more student-driven learning and application. Within the following month, a third of the participants had already passed on what they had learned to 185 other leaders in their regions. Some of our workers feared a sharp drop-off when small group Bible studies were forced onto video platforms. Instead, they were thrilled to find that members who had previously been timid and quiet (many of whom were brand-new Christians) seemed liberated by the new format and blossomed into very active and growing participants.
Looking back on 2020, we have so much to thank God for. We’ve seen in many ways how his plans were better than ours. Covid distancing forced many of us into more solitude, more quiet reflection, more listening to and enjoying our families. It wasn’t what we were aiming for in our goals, but God aimed us there anyway, and we discovered how badly we needed it. Our thanks also go out to the financial supporters of our global workers. Many prognosticators predicted that mission agencies’ contribution income would drop by 25% in 2020. That was not our experience, as contributions remained steady.
Almost 30 years ago, Janet and I spent our first Christmas overseas, far from familiar surroundings and family. The OM ship, Logos, docked near the town where we were living, and invited us aboard. There we met Akira, a Japanese Christian who told us about a young countryman of his who had come to know Christ after a childhood fever had left him totally paralyzed. Limited to communicating by a system of blinks, he dictated poetry to his mother. Akira paraphrased one of those poems for us, and my Christmas closing to you is his poem of praise to the One whose gifts to us are so often not what we would have chosen, but exactly what we need.
I’ve never sent a Christmas card,
never said the Name
Of my Lord who gave up heaven
and to a barnyard came
Yet my heart is filled with praise,
on the Spirit’s wings it flies.
I have written, “Merry Christmas”
on the inside of my eyes.