COVID-19 and Missions: What I’ve learned so Far

As a freelance author, I’ve felt led to tackle the issue of COVID-19’s effect on missionary work overseas, particularly in Japan, Italy, and Spain. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to write about missionary work and glad for the editors who are taking a chance on this subject.

I will say that I’m surprised that Christianity Today is not writing more about this (I’m available, if you’re curious, Andy Olsen). CT is the go-to resource for Christian news and this is a topic that is severely underserved. I hope that gets rectified.

At any rate, I want to share a few things that I’ve learned so far in my research:

  1. In many ways, missionaries are facing the same issues we’re facing in North America. I know a college teacher in South Korea and another in Lithuania. Both have had to move online and some courses are just not available right now. This is the same thing facing San Diego State University, UCSD, and just about every other school in America.
  2. In some countries, it really is that bad. Near Madrid, Spain, they really are using a mall ice skating rink for body storage, and the missionaries I’ve met there really are locked down in ways that we haven’t seen in the USA, even in California where I live.
  3. One of the biggest areas where missionaries are being impacted is in funding. Because they had to shutter their English classes at a local café (that they manage), Dale and Karen Viljoen have had to turn to other funding sources (supporters) to keep the ministry alive until the classes can resume. Another family, hoping to start a ministry in Italy this summer, now finds themselves stuck at 80% funding because they can’t travel to churches to find new supporters.
  4. Glimmers of hope abound, but it might be awhile before we hear about them in the hardest hit areas of the globe. People are really struggling in Italy and Spain. These are places that don’t have evangelical churches to serve as a reference point, not that they can do that at the moment at any rate. Still, in Japan, Dale and Karen have found reasons to be hopeful, and we should look for those reasons too, whatever our situation. I just saw a post from some missionary friends in Lithuania that was full of gratitude despite a recent decision to extend that country’s lockdown until at least Easter Monday.
  5. Everyone overseas right now needs our prayer. I know…you need prayer for your family’s well-being too. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Even still, we are blessed beyond comprehension as believers by the sheer fact of our belief. People are dying in neighborhoods that have no evangelical gospel witness, and I hope that breaks your heart like it’s breaking mine. Pray.

As I get word that my articles are being published in the various news outlets, I’ll share them out on Facebook, Twitter, etc. In the meantime, please pray, and if you give, try to continue doing so if at all possible. Give more if you can. Keep overseas work going.

You can read more about why I chose this topic on THIS BLOG POST.

Until the next update…

 

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Why I choose to write about COVID-19

I am commissioned to write two articles on COVID-19 and missionary work in Asia and Europe. As I write those articles and others, I wanted to give you an idea about why I chose this topic.

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Beautiful little stream near our hotel in Su’ao, Taiwan.

Around the first of March 2020, as the world was learning just how bad COVID-19 was getting, I was struggling to find a vision for my writing. I had a great nonfiction project going with my church’s teaching pastor (still going, actually), but my fiction writing was dying on the vine and I hadn’t written an article that sold since May 2018. I’d lost my original focus somewhere.

Which led to my first reason for writing about COVID-19. I needed to calm down, get back to writing what I love, and find people to serve. While the world is awash in competing claims about the virus, I felt that maybe missionaries were not being written about as much as they should be, so I focused on that. That has led to two article projects as of this writing, and I have plans for more (hopefully).

Another reason is that the writer in me is still skeptical that we’re getting the whole picture. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, and I’m certainly not going to be the person who breaks it open. I don’t know if it’s the “liberal media” stirring things up, or the Chinese Communist Party trying to keep their economy intact while blowing it out of proportion to drive competing western economies down, or what it is, but I just feel something in my gut that isn’t square.

Again, I don’t expect to be the person who will figure it all out. Nevertheless, it’s spurred me to do what I can in a situation like this, which is to look for stories to tell that might help people understand the overall situation better. That’s one of the reasons I picked to specifically talk about missionary work in light of COVID-19.

Finally, but certainly not least, I need to be humbled about my writing. I keep having grand visions for my work, and I keep having to be reminded that God gives success and failure, and that I need to just do the next indicated step. I’m his servant, so I need to focus on being that. COVID-19 reporting will not make me famous. Plenty of bigger names are already covering that. But it is a way for me to serve.

I look forward to what I will learn as I write about this interesting situation as it continues to unfold.

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Taiwan Visit (Photo Blog)

I was blessed to be part of a trip to Taiwan recently, my third trip in twelve months. I’ve grown to love that island and the people that comprise its population. In two of the visits, God has blessed me further by letting me meet with believers. On my first trip, I got to visit an international congregation on Easter Morning while on my most recent trip, I worshipped with a Taiwan congregation.

My travels have taken me to Taipei, Su’ao, Kaohsiung, and a few other main cities near Taipei and the airport that serves that city. Su’ao, in particular, has become to me like my hometown of Girard, KS. It is small, quaint even, but I have grown to love it for that simplicity. In all three visits to the village, situated in Yilan County, I’ve run most days.

After a few days in Su’ao, we moved on to Kaohsiung, which I’ve been to once before, on my first trip to the country. This time, I got to worship in Mandarin with a church there.

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David Ullstrom, OMF missionary to Taiwan, preaching in the native language.

I’ve written at length in my monthly newsletter about the church, but I’ll say a little snippet here: “This is what I love about the people of God. When I arrived at the church, David (the missionary) confessed that he probably wouldn’t be able to offer a translation because, well, it was a church ministering to Taiwan people, not English speakers. Much to my surprise, a retired Taiwan Air Force technician, who also led the singing for Qiaotou God’s Love Church, sat down next to me after the worship and personally translated everything David preached, just so I could follow along. He then translated everything for me during the little Sunday School time after, and of course translated my words back to the congregation when David asked me to share about why I was there.”

 

I was also blessed to be in town during the annual Lantern Festival. Please enjoy the photos!

 

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Sunday Morning Doesn’t Count (at least not like you think it does)

My writing partner, teaching pastor Todd Molter of Legacy Church in San Diego, likes to point out that a person passionately pursuing Jesus Christ will exhibit a public attitude of discipleship and a private attitude of Loving God by spending time with him.

I can hear some Christians, the ones who think that going to church on Sunday morning equals a solid effort at expressing their faith, suggest that Sunday morning is where they get their discipleship and where they spend time with Jesus.

Here’s the rub though…Sunday morning doesn’t count. At least not like you think it does. Now, before some of you say, “Well, smarty pants author, fine. I won’t go on Sunday mornings anymore,” let me say that Sunday is indeed important. We should never shun meeting together. In fact, we should do it way more often that you do (speaking to those who would say the previous quote).

But Sunday morning was never designed for you to check off the block marked: “Weekly Opportunity to Pursue One’s Relationship with Jesus Christ.” It was never meant to sign off the discipleship block either. In fact, I suspect you’d be hard pressed to prove that you’re being discipled much at all on Sunday morning.

Yes, the Bible tells us to gather corporately (Hebrews 10:25). We were meant for community. But counting for your week of pursuing Jesus? Hardly.

More like passive participation.

You can do better. So can I. Work to find real discipleship. Work to spend real time with Jesus Christ through personal Bible study and prayer.

 

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When New Year’s Resolutions Fail

So…one month down in the New Year. How are your resolutions going? Losing that weight? Getting your Bible reading on track? Exercising at least “X” times a week?

No?

You’re not alone. Upwards of 80%* of all New Year’s Resolutions fail before the 1st of February. Not that failure is good, but at least you’re not alone, right?

That probably doesn’t make you feel better, does it? It doesn’t make me feel better about the donut I had for breakfast this morning either, or the fact that I didn’t go to the gym. It really doesn’t make me feel ok about the fact that I was 19 days into January before starting my daily Bible reading plan

I’m disappointed in myself. In the win-loss struggle of life, January was a big loss in every aspect except my writing, which I managed to do every day of the month (a first for me). If I’m not careful, my weight and Bible reading will never get better, all because I’ve “lost” several times this year already.

All that failure can really weigh on a person.

Which is why Todd Molter, teaching pastor at Legacy Church, believes that my life is more about growing in my relationship with Jesus as I passionately pursue him than it is about setting and keeping resolutions or checkboxes. Yours is too, and that’s good news!

Relationships are messy, whether it’s a spouse, a child, a parent, or God. What does two steps forward and one step back look like for a Christian? What does a steady state spiritual growth look like?

For Pastor Molter, it’s more about practicing daily disciplines, such as Bible study, expanding prayer life, love of your neighbor, and others, and rejecting peripheral issues, Biblical illiteracy, etc. Focusing on the former allows me to absorb periodic defeats because I’m thinking in the bigger terms of developing my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sure, 80% of people blow their New Year’s Resolutions before they even get into February. But what’s the big picture? What does it mean for a person’s overall health? Their family? And most importantly, their relationship with Jesus?

I’m very pleased to be working with Pastor Molter on a project that will help you in your struggle for victories without relying on them for your well-being. In truth, if you’re only out for checkmarks in the win column, your progress will disappoint you. The good news is, we’re not really going to do that with this project.

However, if you want to know how to stop worrying about wins and losses, and instead start passionately pursuing Jesus Christ, you’re in the right place. If you want to have that “aha” moment someday, where you look back and think, “Wow, that was the best prayer time I’ve ever had!” then this is the project for you.

 

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Book Review: Blind Justice

Blind Justice* was the first Sir John Fielding novel written by American Author Bruce Alexander Cook (pen name: Bruce Alexander). The series is eleven books long, and I look forward to happily reading them all. Unfortunately, Mr. Cook is no longer with us, having died of a stroke in 2003.

The book starts with a murder, which looked like suicide, and a non-grieving widow, who is adamant that the suicide is, in fact, a murder. When the recently orphaned Jeremy Proctor mentions the lack of gunpowder residue on the victim’s hands, Sir John Fielding realizes that the widow is right. There has been a murder. What ensues is a very fun series of events that don’t reveal the answer until the very end. Very, very good plot lines, with clues added in periodically. Some of them, so well placed, that they don’t become important until the story is all tied up.

It’s not all fun and games, of course. Jeremy’s father is killed in the early pages, leaving him homeless orphan. He runs off to London to escape those who would mistreat him in his hometown. Then there is the matter of Meg, who was sexually assaulted by the murder victim when he was alive. For much of the book, I had hoped that Meg was the murderer, just so she could get her revenge. She does get it, but not in a way one might think. Finally, Sir John Fielding faces the pain of losing his wife to cancer.

I really liked all of the characters. Alexander took time to develop all of them throughout the story, giving us a reason to pull for the ones we liked, and hate the ones we didn’t. All of this done, mind you, through one POV (Jeremy Proctor). One of my favorite characters is Meg, who was treated very badly by Lord Goodhope while he was alive. I love how Bruce fixed her circumstances and let her get her revenge. Of all the characters, save Jeremy, I felt most invested in Meg and wanted her to get her revenge.

In addition to being a good mystery, the book is also a well-researched reference for the language and customs at the time, as well as medical and court procedures.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I look forward to getting to know Sir John Fielding and Jeremy Proctor better through the novels. It’s a series I will dabble in from time to time, like visiting old friends. I only wish the author were still around to bless us with more of his work. Easily a 4 out of 5 review.

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Book Review: Emmanuel

I liked the book, first and foremost. I think it’s a great start for a dystopian America book series where faith seems dead, humanity might just be at its worst, and nothing seems hopeful on the horizon. Even there, as the author suggests, there is hope, and that hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I like that idea a lot.

The story begins with a boy named Ezekiel, or EZ, who is lives in a domed slave world in a very bad part of the broken country. We are then introduced to Reese, who isn’t related to EZ in any way but seems to play a sort of parental role. The book details Reese, who has some knowledge of Christmas and its Biblical story, as he tries to teach the story to Ezekiel.

As it is a novelette, it needed to move quickly, and it does. We meet the supporting cast early on, understand the reasons for Reese’s hesitation to believe the Christmas story (or to have hope, for that matter), and learn how the little boy helps God break down Reese’s hard heart. Really good.

I was a little confused a little at the end, when Ezekiel talks about seeing Jesus, but it’s not something that will ruin the story for anyone. Certainly didn’t ruin it for me.

While the writing is good, I must point out that it could use a little tightening. Like, just a little bit. That’s the only thing it could use though. Great plot, great characters, great story. I was happy to give it four stars.

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Book Review: Runaway Saint

Runaway Saint was a great book overall. I liked that the author didn’t force me to suspend belief in order to make the plot work (as in, the plot was plausible). I also liked that there was a happy ending, without having everything happily ever after. Finally, I liked that it was Christian fiction, but not dry or overly safe.

One issue I had with the book, and this might seem minor, but it bothered me. On page 51, the author talked about the great missionary to China, “Judson” Taylor. However, the missionary’s name was Hudson Taylor. I find it hard to believe that a publisher would have allowed a serious mistake like that, so I’m assuming that this was a typo that made it through. The “J” and the “H” are very close on the keyboard. Just to make sure I wasn’t wrong, I googled Judson Taylor and didn’t come up with anything useful, certainly not someone who was famous for being a missionary to the Chinese like Hudson Taylor was. As a student of Taylor’s (via research), I was kind of put off by this mistake and almost stopped reading the book. I’m glad I kept going though. It was a good book.

Three stars because the ending was good, but I was really unnerved by the crucial mistake in editing.

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Book Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

** spoiler alert ** Let’s start with the title. I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you that there aren’t a hundred lies, or even a hint at lies. We learn that Lizzie Lovett wasn’t as happy as she pretended to be. That’s not even a story, much less the title of a book.

It got preachy at the end. The last twenty pages or so was supposedly internal monologue with a few scenes in it, but the reality is that it was a thinly veiled sermon. I did like that the main character seemed to find love in the end. I did want that for her, just like I want it for my own daughters.

Spoiler: For Christians, I would say this book is not an option. There is a description of sex in one of the latter chapter. It’s not overly dramatic, but for believers, I believe it’s a non-starter.

Spoiler: One of the only things I really appreciated from the book was on page 340, when it talks about a list of suicidal warning signs, even though Lizzie hadn’t had any. That’s true in so many cases. We talk about what we might have missed, but the simple fact is that we often don’t see any warning signs. It sucks, but it’s also true.

The biggest takeaway, and the biggest negative, is that I kept reading the book, hoping that there would be some positivity at some point, but there just wasn’t. Even in tying up loose ends, Sedoti left me depressed. I get it, teenage angst is tough. As a human, I went through it too. Unfortunately, all I felt at the end of this book was depression. It was technically sound, so I give it 3 stars, but nothing more.

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Saving Ebenezer is Coming to Girard!

Contact Name: S. Daniel Smith

Phone: 858-309-2306

Email: dan@navychristian.org

Website: http://www.sdanielsmith.com

            FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

First Christian Church, Girard, to Host Author

Girard Native to present his Christmas Novella

 

front-2[GIRARD, KANSAS, October 22—] Sheldon Smith, Girard native and 1996 GHS graduate, will present from his Christmas novella, Saving Ebenezer: The Continuing Saga of a Man Named Scrooge, at First Christian Church, Girard, on 10 November 2019 at 2:00pm. Sheldon writes under the pen named S. Daniel Smith and wrote the holiday novella to offer hope and a Christian message during the holiday season.

Saving Ebenezer: The Continuing Saga of a Man Named Scrooge begins with Tiny Tim’s death and seeks to answer questions about tragedy, faith, and relationships as the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, struggles with his loss. Fans of A Christmas Carol will note Smith’s use of Dickens’ writing style and his respect for the original characters.

First Christian Church of Girard, located at 119 North Summit in Girard, meets weekly at 9:30am for singing and Sunday School and 10:45am for worship. Cristine Warring serves as pastor.

Daniel Smith is an author and career Navy officer living in San Diego, CA. He has authored articles in over a dozen periodicals, both online and in print. Saving Ebenezer: The Continuing Saga of a man named Scrooge, is available at Amazon.com. More information is available at his website: www.sdanielsmith.com.

Additional information about the book is available at AMAZON and at THIS LINK.