With borders closed for the past 18 months it might seem like missionary work must have stopped– or at least been treading water – over that time. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“Mission is never put on hold!” says the executive director of the Church Missionary Society NSW & ACT, the Rev Canon John Lovell.
He says missionary training at St Andrew’s Hall has been able to continue right through the pandemic, in various contexts – in masks as needed, sometimes onscreen and sometimes with staff living in community with the students in order to teach them face to face.
“We do have some missionaries who have been through St Andrew’s Hall, done home assignment and are still waiting to go to Southeast Asia,” he adds. “But people on location have continued their ministries, and there have been others... who have extended their terms rather than trying to travel back to Australia during the pandemic.
“So, the work has been continuing, whether training here or language learning or ministry on location. There have been disruptions and it has looked different, but we’re at the point now where there’s an excitement building – a real sense of optimism that borders currently closed will open in the very near future.”
Canon Lovell says getting missionaries back to Australia has been “an ongoing saga and it changes each week”, However, a number of families have been able to return over the past 18 months, even if those arriving more recently had the rude shock of returning to lockdown once they got here.
Despite all the work that has continued, there are some elements of CMS’s ministry that have not been possible during the pandemic: in-person pastoral visits with missionaries, catching up with local mission partners in-country and exploring new opportunities.
“Pastoral visits have only been possible online and it’s just not the same as staying with a family and being able to have that time with them,” Canon Lovell says. “When pastoral visits happen we also meet with our local ministry partners, and those relationships are much more difficult to maintain online because of the language and culture differences.
“There are also plans to visit new locations and seek out opportunities in places where we have not worked in the past, but where we have people keen to serve. We visit and establish local partnerships for our missionaries so a number of those visits are being planned.
“We look forward to 2022 being quite a busy year as we catch up with a lot of people and reconnect with our many gospel partners around the globe. We give thanks to God for sustaining his people through this challenging season and rejoice in the continued work of gospel mission.”