We are in unchartered territory at the moment. For most people, we have never lived through times where we are being asked to isolate from our friends, family and community. For many it’s a great worry, and the thought of not seeing people for an extended period of time can bring great anxiety. Mix this in with the worries of catching a virus which could, for some people, have serious consequences. However, this may be the greatest opportunity for evangelism that we have seen in our lifetimes.
We are involved in an evangelistic organisation called United Beach Missions, and I can remember being told that Beach Missions are effective in many cases because people are on holiday, they’re away from their daily work, the stresses and strains of the daily grind, and they have the time to think through spiritual things.
While this may not be a relaxing holiday setting, people are going to be away from work or daily tasks. They will, inevitably, have more time on their hands to read and think through spiritual things. Add to this the uncertainty about how seriously they will be affected if they do indeed contract the coronavirus, and people will have an increased appetite to hear about spiritual things.
So the big question is how, in this time of being socially isolated from others, do we communicate the gospel with our friends, families, neighbours and wider community?
Here are just a few thoughts for you.
Actions Speak Volumes
We are all aware of the panic buying and selfish behaviour that is being displayed around the country, and the world. Just weeks after a movement of ‘Be Kind’, we see exactly the opposite behaviour on display. People fighting in shops, arguing with pharmacists and ignoring the advice to self–quarantine are just the start, and no doubt we will see these behaviours increase.
Matthew 12 v 28–34 sees Jesus being asked about the greatest commandment, and His response is this:
29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus isn’t asked about the second most important command, but he shares it anyway.
How we treat our neighbours (read as anyone other than yourself!), is important to God. We are called to love them as ourselves. Will that mean sharing our own items with them? Well it might do.
We are in the early stages of this in the UK. We are not, yet, on lockdown, although that could come quickly. We are still able to move freely if we aren’t isolating due to symptoms. This means we can post a note through a neighbours door, or drop off supplies at our friends’ houses.
We may feel that we hear lots of doom and gloom, but already we see glimpses of great acts of kindness, and great opportunities for us to build relationships with those we may pass on the street every day.
So what are practical things we can do?
Post a note through your neighbours doors asking for them to contact you if they need anything, or just a friendly phone call. Some people have set up What’s App groups with their neighbours so they can chat and offer help.
Check on your family and friends who are self–isolating. A quick message or phone call or, if you have the technology, a video call. If you aren’t self–isolating could you drop round some essentials, or even a meal? A magazine, puzzle book, or a good book to read? (See further down for some suggestions).
Those who have friends or neighbours who work in healthcare and emergency service roles may well offer to help with childcare when schools and nurseries close.
If you have neighbours who don’t want to bother you with their shopping, but don’t know how to do an online order, could you help them to navigate their first order, or set it up for them?
Arrange online chats with friends, either on platforms like What’s App or Discord, where you can schedule a time you get together and chat. Perhaps set up a list of people who you’d like to reach out to and make 1 or 2 calls a day.
Perhaps you can co–ordinate with your church leaders how you might mobilise a team to help reach out to the vulnerable in your community who might not have neighbours or family who can help them. This may be the elderly, the vulnerable, or those in poverty.
It may be that you are needing to self–isolate, through symptoms, or due to your own health concerns. How can you offer practical help you may be asking? Well you can hopefully still drop people a friendly phone call, text or email, you could give advice or moral support to those who are anxious, and perhaps you could help them with their biggest need. And of course we can pray.
See the Biggest Need
As much as we want to be reaching out practically to people and showing Jesus’ love and care for others we need to be aware that their biggest need isn’t, dare I say it, toilet roll. It isn’t even food, medicine, or a friendly chat.
We need to acknowledge that all these things, whilst very important, are not of eternal importance. The biggest need our friends, neighbours and communities have is Jesus.
This is an exceptional time, and they may not have all the same distractions and entertainment to occupy them, so a card, tract or book to help them think about what the Bible teaches is a great way to start a conversation.
For those we know better, a magazine or book may be a good choice, and there are many easy to read testimonial books which tell the stories of people who have come to know Jesus. There is a book to suit everyone of every age.
If you have a friend who is quite opposed to your faith perhaps a book which answers some questions about what Christians believe would be well placed.
Many people will be asking how God can allow this to happen, and so books which point to a loving God amongst suffering will be helpful.
Most of all we can share our own faith with people, this can be done in person where appropriate, or via whatever means you use to communicate. We can share the hope we have, the peace we can experience through our trust in Gods sovereignty and his hand on our lives, and how others can come to know Jesus personally. If you’re not sure exactly how to do that then here are some great books on evangelism which may help you out.
You can share Christian articles and videos from trusted sources which may be helpful and invite them to listen to your churches live–cast. You could even do a bible study by Skype or Facetime, and why not offer to pray for people, most are happy for that to happen, and pleased to be prayed for.
When we look back on this time in years to come, will we remember all the good that was done? All the opportunities we took to share the gospel with those around us? Or will we remember we watched a lot of TV and hoarded toilet roll?