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Remember the Nations in Uncertain Times

It is an unusual time, to say the least, to be the director of a collegiate missions agency. Since the beginning of the school year, I have been praying about and evaluating what our recruiting process should look like this year. Honestly, it feels a bit risky.

I recently went back and looked at an email I sent on March 10th, 2020, to all the campus ministers we work with across the country. In the email, I stated my belief that, despite growing concern about the coronavirus, we still had plenty of time before the students went overseas and everything would probably be fine. 

Two weeks later I had a Zoom meeting with all those same campus ministers and I told them I was canceling all our trips and training events for the spring and summer. While everyone was very understanding, there was definitely some “humble pie” involved. Next, I had a Zoom meeting with all our students who had hoped to serve overseas this summer. It was not much fun to give them the bad news.

More than once this year, someone has asked me, “So, do you think we should pursue sending students overseas this summer?” I have to be honest, each time I am asked this question, I think about the disappointments of last spring. If I’m really honest, part of my concern is not wanting to look bad if I promise something I can’t deliver. I also don’t want to see any students disappointed. After all, they have already faced so many cancellations. The more important question, though, is, “What does God want me to do?” 

My email from last spring isn’t the only thing that has come to mind as I have thought about this dilemma. I have also thought about my friend Abdul*. I met Abdul while ministering to a Muslim people group in Central Asia. A mutual friend had recommended Abdul to me as a language tutor. During one of our early language sessions, I asked Abdul if he had ever read the Bible. When he said “no,” I grabbed a copy, in his language, from a nearby cabinet and handed it to him. 

As he held the Bible in his hands for the first time, Abdul began to share a story with me. He told me that his father had always wanted to find a copy of the Bible and that he also wanted his children to have the opportunity to read it. This was a very unusual desire for a Muslim man in this part of the world. From a young age, Abdul and his father would have heard that the Bible has been corrupted and should not be read. On top of this, it is illegal in this country to possess a copy of the Bible. Yet, despite this, Abdul’s father still wanted to obtain a copy of this book someday. 

Sadly, Abdul’s father passed away before that dream could be fulfilled and Abdul ended his story with a statement that I have never forgotten. “It took so long for this book to get here,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. I didn’t feel it in a matter-of-fact way. 

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful…” (Luke 10:2). I believe there are people all over the world whose hearts are open and ready to receive the Gospel message, if only someone would come and share it with them. Of course, the second half of Luke 10:2 is, “…but the workers are few.”  I don’t know what international travel will look like next year, but I want to do everything in my power to be ready to send out “workers into His harvest fields,” if the door is open this summer. When I think about others like Abdul in the world, moving forward with recruiting students and preparing trips is a risk worth taking. I would rather be disappointed a hundred times over, than not be prepared if there is the possibility of someone’s life being transformed by the gospel.

What about you? Perhaps you share my uncertainty as you think about sending your students on mission trips this year. Or maybe just keeping your head above water amidst the many COVID curveballs feels like more than enough to deal with this semester. Let me first say that I don’t think there is one right answer to this question for all campus ministries out there. Each of us is dealing with different restrictions and access to students. Furthermore, many of us answer to churches, supervisors, and conventions that will have varying degrees of input on this decision. So, my point here isn’t to influence you towards a certain conclusion about international trips. Rather, it is to remind you that, despite our current crisis, there is still a world out there that needs the gospel as much as ever…and many people, like Abdul’s father, don’t even have access to it. This should be a cause for much prayer and concern for all of us.

Wherever you land on the specific issue of sending students overseas this year, I want to encourage you to continue to make the gospel reaching the “ends of the earth” a priority in your ministry. Will you join me today in praying and advocating for the Unreached of the world? Challenging times provide the best opportunities to grow our faith. Let’s choose to believe, today, that nothing is impossible for our great God. 

Please also know that myself and my staff are praying for you as you pour out your life in the vital work of making disciples on college campuses across the country.