RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — As airlines reduced flights and countries around the world went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries found themselves unexpectedly back in the United States.
In an early April email to all overseas personnel, IMB president Paul Chitwood wrote that if any felt God leading them to leave their current country due to COVID-19, “we will fully support you as you follow his direction. Moreover, [the IMB] will cover the expenses for you to evacuate your current location.”
Missionaries who temporarily relocated would “be on a temporary assignment” in the States, and the IMB would re-evaluate that status after 60 days.
“Expiring visas, closed borders and special health or family circumstances are necessitating some missionaries to grudgingly leave their places of assignment,” Chitwood said. “Trusting in the Spirit’s leading and the Father’s sovereign reign over every circumstance, we have faith that God’s mission will continue to advance, not in spite of these challenges, but because of them.”
Some missionaries were already in the States and have not been able to return overseas, while others took the IMB up on its offer to temporarily relocate.
For Mick and Dalese Stockwell, who work in Prague, Czech Republic, it was both. When the coronavirus closures began, Mick was in Prague, which was beginning to impose strict regulations, but Dalese was visiting family in the U.S., which at that point was not under restrictions.
“Toward the end of [her trip] is when all the lockdowns started happening,” said Mick, who is the IMB’s globalization catalyst for the European Peoples Affinity. In that role, he networks with missionaries and ministry partners across Europe and churches throughout the U.S.
“I already had a [work trip] planned back to the States in April, so I already had a ticket,” Mick said. “So we just decided — America hadn’t shut down at that point — why not try to get back there” to network with churches.
Like thousands of others trying to reschedule flights, getting home wasn’t simple.
“It took me several days to get a flight out of Prague,” Mick said, adding that when he did secure a flight with layovers in Amsterdam and New York, “those airports were empty — they were ghost towns.”
Since travel restrictions have continued, the Stockwells find themselves in America much longer than they expected.
Mick, who before the coronavirus had several “foundational events for rolling out a new strategy” with mission partnerships this spring, had to cancel those meetings.
“I’m doing what I can,” he said. “I’ve been in touch with some partners, churches and state conventions that I’m working with. We’re doing what everybody else is doing — we’re talking by Zoom or FaceTime.”
Through Facebook, Dalese has been able to stay in touch with some women back in Prague whom she is discipling. One of those women is a new mother, and Dalese said since “she has more time and I have more time at home, [I have] been able to share some messages, some Christian music for her to have playing around the house … just kind of being a mom to her a little bit, giving some encouragement.”
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Source: Baptist Press