Advance Magazine

Shutdown Survivors

We all have COVID-19 stories to share. Stories of how the difficulties and uncertainties of the last 18 months changed our lives. One group uniquely affected was missionary appointees. During our 2021 Launch Seminar (prefield training for missionaries who have reached 75 percent support), we asked our appointees how they saw God triumphing over the circumstances of 2020.

Bryan & Lisa Tanner: Missionary Acres

In March 2020, we bought a 32-foot trailer that our family of 12 could live and travel in during deputation. The next week COVID-19 hit. We never used the trailer once, and I recently sold it. God had another plan that ended up better. The biggest lesson we learned is “Get out of the way, and let God do it.”

The passage about Joseph in Genesis 50:20 comes to my mind a lot when I think about Covid: “You meant this for evil.” I’m sure Satan thought, “Ha ha, look what I’m going to do to you.” But God has used it for good, which isn’t to diminish from those that are hurting. I have talked to a lot of pastors who said it was the greatest thing that could ever have happened to their ministry because it woke people up to the importance and the need of salvation, the importance of a better, more personal walk in their relationship with God.

Jonathan & Priscilla Laase: France

We started full-time deputation in January 2020. We were doing really well in the first few months. We were excited! Then in mid-March it slammed us. We lost three months of meetings—a quarter of our first year of deputation. As all this was unfolding, we were hearing about companies going under, people losing their jobs. We were thinking, “Not only are we losing three months, but churches down the road are going to have lower budgets. They’ll probably cut their missions budgets.” We didn’t know how long deputation was going to last.

But when we went back on the road, we heard quite the opposite. Most pastors said their giving was up: “Come, we’ll take you on.” We ended up doing a whole lot better in our first year than we initially hoped without Covid. This might sound like a horrible thing to say, but Covid was actually a blessing in some ways. God used it for His purposes and surprised us. I believe there was a strengthened desire among churches to reach the world.

Luke & Anna Tanis: Malta

For us, the reality and rawness of COVID-19 was watching six months of meetings almost instantly evaporate. That was hard: It felt like a mistake, and it messed up all our plans. That was one of the things God had to teach us: Every second of Covid was part of His plan. You think you know how to trust God, and then He brings another situation along. I thought we’d been learning those lessons on deputation, and then Covid happened. When it really ramped up, we thought, “Okay, are we going to trust God?”

We had gone straight from full-time seminary/full-time teaching into deputation. When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden we went from the 100-miles-an-hour pace we’d been in since we were first married to—STOP! It really gave a chance to figure out who we were, to stop and reevaluate our family life and our goals for Malta. We could read and rest. We can’t necessarily recommend a 3-to-6-month sabbatical in the middle of deputation, but it was huge in that our deputation experience has been wonderful from beginning to end, even during Covid.

Ron & Terri Webber: Bibles International

COVID-19 was very unplanned except in the mind of God. When all our meetings were canceled out six months into the future, Ron was able to focus on linguistics classes he was going to have to take anyway. He got them for half price because the university wanted to keep support coming in. We didn’t have to relocate, because the university started teaching classes online that normally he had to be in residence for, so it was much cheaper—half price. We were able to keep moving forward with preparation for ministry.

We would compare deputation with how Paul described the Christian life: a fight to be fought, a race to be completed, and a war to be won. We don’t do those things without preparation. We’ve watched people surrender to missions through the years. We know they’re going to face challenges just getting ready to get there, because when they get there, they’re going to face more critical challenges. Whatever difficulties and challenges we face, that just builds endurance. Deputation prepares us to succeed when the trials get more escalated. We don’t look at it as a negative; we see it as a positive. It’s our ministry now.

A tremendous benefit of holding Candidate Seminar (training for our newest missionaries) and Launch Seminar together is the mutual encouragement our appointees can be to one another. Together they shared stories, asked questions, and saw that God is bigger than any challenge.

Photo from left to right: Bryan Tanner (his wife, Lisa, was unable to attend), Esdras Borges, Aaron and Rachel Houtz, Jonathan and Priscilla Laase, Matt and Holly Dretzka, Luke and Anna Tanis, Ron and Terri Webber, and Charity Shambaugh

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