Covid-19 lessons from a British missionary to China

James O Fraser with Kachin believers(Photo: OMF)

God is often glorified in delay. We see that explicitly in John 11 when Jesus deliberately waits two full days before going to Lazarus who was seriously sick and then died. As we all know, Lazarus was subsequently raised from the dead to the glory of God.

And in a similar way, God is being glorified now. Even though we are stuck at home, can no longer meet with others at church, and our daily routines have been fundamentally altered. Jesus is still on His throne and is working everything together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Phil Moore, a teacher and evangelist at Everyday Church in London, calls this kind of spiritual season we are in, The Corona Virus Experiment. Moore refers to the early twentieth-century missionary, James O Fraser, who was the first to take the Gospel to the pagan Chinese of Lisuland. The Lisu are an immense, formerly unreached people group, originally located several hundred miles west of Wuhan. Although they are now spread throughout China, Myanmar, Thailand and beyond.

Last year I had the great privilege of travelling too Northern Myanmar and Thailand to meet with these now largely Christian people. Their love for Christ and His Gospel was inspiring. And their zeal for mission is something which would have made James O Fraser weep with joy, especially when one considers the many hardships he endured.

For instance, Fraser was often physically prevented from visiting the villages that he had brought the Gospel too because of the often-inclement weather. What the missionary decided to do during these times, though, was earnestly commit himself to prayer. As Eileen Crossman writes in her biography of Fraser, Mountain Rain:

If I were to think after the manner of men, I should be anxious about my Lisu converts - afraid for their falling back into demon worship. But God is enabling me to cast all my care upon Him. I am not anxious, not nervous. If I hugged my care to myself instead of casting it upon Him, I should never have persevered in the work so long - perhaps never even have started it. But if it has been begun in Him, it must be continued in Him.

What a great encouragement for us as Christians, especially during these difficult days of social isolation. But with our schedules being emptied there is much work to be done, chiefly on our knees. To be interceding for our world regarding Christ's purposes. To be casting all of our anxieties upon Him, because we know that He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6-7). What a wonderful privilege and promise!

This is especially challenging for those of us who are pastors of Christ's flock. All of a sudden our priorities have been exposed. And we no longer have the excuse that we are 'too busy', as if that was ever and acceptable, for our praylessness. Phil Moore puts his finger on the central issue when he writes:

As a Christian leader, I feel a little stressed right now that I am not going to be able to gather together in person with the people that I lead for the next few Sundays. I'm busy pastoring many of them via email and social media, and I'm busy preparing online services so that I can serve them well over the next few Sundays. But I'm challenged that I can do far more to serve them than to take my pastoral overbusyness online. God isn't just encouraging me to transfer my face-to-face meetings into Skype and Zoom conference calls for a season instead. He is inviting Christian leaders all across the Western world right now to rethink the whole of their ministry and to trust him that their inability to gather people to them for a season is an opportunity for them to gather themselves to God on behalf of the people.

Charles Spurgeon preached that "Prayer is the slender nerve which moves the muscle of omnipotence." By God's grace, let's therefore embrace the next few weeks as an opportunity to experiment together and discover how much this is true. Let's not fritter away these precious days of pastoral isolation. Let's use them in such a way that we can look back in days to come and recall the lessons of the Western Church's great Corona Virus Experiment in Prayer.

Amen! May the Lord God Almighty pour out His grace upon us at this time that we would re-commit ourselves to interceding before Him in prayer. That this will be a season of not only personal renewal and growth, but that the real, unseen work of prayer in God's perfect timing bring about true and lasting spiritual fruit.

Mark Powell is Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church in Strathfield, Australia.