Over the past year and a half, Covid has shifted our perception of normal. Our regular rhythms of faith, school, work, and even rest have been compromised. Something as simple as going to the supermarket now revolves around a mental checklist of Covid precautions. Mask? Check. Hand Sanitizer? Check. Maintaining social distance? Check. All kinds of regular gatherings have been replaced with Zoom calls. Classes? Work? Church? All “zoomed.”
However, with the recent rollout of vaccines and the promise that life will soon start returning back to “normal,” it begs the question of what is normal? Or better yet, what should be normal? Does normal mean that we should revert everything back to the way it was? Or maybe, we could create a better “normal.”
Below, I reflect upon some of the lessons God has recently taught me over this season of Covid through this year’s P2C-Student’s Digital Mission Trip (DMT). While some of them are quite obvious, some of them surprised me.
One of the biggest challenges for me during Covid has been the difficulty in connecting with a community of Christians.
It has been painstakingly hard to meet new people and grow established relationships, whether in my local church or P2C-Students’ group. The inability to talk to someone casually—outside the options of a public announcement or a private DM—has made it difficult to know people personally. Over the past year it’s been so easy to isolate myself! Even when I do show up for online group calls, the temptation to mute and hide under a white name on a black box is enormous. I am then not only free from accountability, but also free to be distracted!
Overall, my faith struggled. Pre-Covid, the inability to hide encouraged me to engage with people often and openly, allowing for accountability, bonding, and deeper conversation. Yet, without being able to gather in person, I noticed that I’ve read my Bible and engaged with online church much less. Without these things, I haven’t learned or grown as much as I would’ve liked.
Fortunately, God hasn’t abandoned me. Through placing me in a unique online opportunity, he taught me about the importance of living and working with other Christians, even if it’s not in my “normal” way.
Over the four weeks of P2C-Student’s DMT, I spent five days a week with my teammates. To walk alongside people who love Jesus and his mission as much as I do challenged me to re-engage in my faith, after more than a year of being lazy and stagnant. In the busyness of the previous semester, I had a plethora of excuses on why I couldn’t do X or Y. Ironically, I could somehow find the time to dedicate a month to a virtual mission trip.
It was no coincidence that my disconnect from Christian community coincided with my struggles in devotions, church attendance, and outreach. Moving forward, I hope to prioritize Christian community. For now, that looks like making an effort to show up and engage with my church’s gatherings (with camera on!). But even as Covid restrictions lift, I hope I do not forget the vitalness of community for healthy Christian living.
Another huge lesson God taught me during the DMT was the importance of rest. I am a pretty hectic person. I’m always trying to finish things up in the shortest amount of time, always in an internal rush, even when there is absolutely no need. However, during the past year and a half of the pandemic, rest has become something that is not only accessible but necessary.
Everyone can attest to Zoom fatigue. Being on a camera all day every day is exhausting. Especially if you’re someone who prefers to be alone (SHOUTOUT TO THE INTROVERTS). And so, even if we’re not as out and about as we used to be, we still need to find time to take a break every once in a while.
Even prior to the pandemic, one thing that I really struggled with was taking “good” rest. I would tell people that there was simply no time for me to rest. Even when I did “rest,” it was often through video games or movies. However, such forms of “rest” do not really allow for me to slow down or learn to be still. Can I really say I’m resting if I’m going at my normal pace, doing something that still requires a bunch of energy, brainpower, and attention?
However, this year God drilled into me the importance of taking better rest. The big turning point was during the DMT when our team leader told us we were doing a “digital detox,” a.k.a. a screen-free day. It was only one Saturday, yet it seemed daunting. What was I supposed to do all day? So I had to ask:
Me: “Is this mandatory?”
Team Leader: “Yeah, it is.”
And so I thought of things I could do to get away from screens. I came up with two. Number one was reading. Number two was hiking. I asked if anyone wanted to go hiking that Saturday. Unfortunately, it never happened, so I just spent the day reading which was such a refreshing experience! It was nice to be in a space where I didn’t have to rush or finish things as soon as possible. Rather, I could slowly and quietly enjoy the time.
As I continue through this pandemic and beyond, I hope to implement better rhythms of rest. It’s not only good for my mental health, but it’s also a command from God. Although I’m still figuring out what that may look like exactly, I’m sure it’ll involve quite a bit of reading.
As I think about how missions might look in the upcoming years, one question came to my mind: Will there still be digital mission trips in the future?
Reflecting on the DMT, God has shown me the power of the internet. I was given the opportunity to meet with several Japanese missionaries and locals even while I was in Canada. We were able to join in on community tours, English cafes, and all sorts of other fun stuff. Despite being hundreds of kilometres away, we were still able to engage in overseas missions: learning from and partnering with local missionaries, while having opportunities to share our testimonies and make Japanese friends. Although not quite a perfect substitute for real, in-person ministry, realizing the possibilities of online ministry was quite interesting.
One was the possibility for mobilization. Virtual trips allow for the involvement of people who would not normally get involved. Going on a mission trip can be intimidating. Not only in giving up comfort and going to a far away place, but fundraising can be daunting. However, a virtual platform provides a unique experience: students can learn from missionaries and engage with locals without having to do some of the “scary parts” of missions (i.e. fundraising!).
The second possibility I noticed was how online ministry allows innovation in evangelism. Through applications such as Tandem, we can meet up with all sorts of new people—almost instantaneously—and start conversations. In a sense, we don’t have to “go” anywhere to reach the nations; they are at our very fingertips. Again, this is not to say that virtual outreach is a perfect substitute for in-person evangelism but it is a very good place to start.
Using technology as a way to engage in missions is something that has never been easier. Not only do we have the internet in general, and familiar platforms like Zoom, but there are a plethora of messaging applications which allow us to interact with people quickly and regularly. Bearing this in mind, I hope to continue being involved in online-based mission initiatives. Although it may not necessarily take the form of a mission trip, I can engage in God’s mission by going to online workshops, prayer meetings, and meeting international students through the web.
As I continue to reflect upon what it means to return to “normal” as we transition into a new season, I hope that you can reflect as well. Covid has flipped the table on what normal means. However, our mindset shouldn’t be to revert everything back the way that it was, but to lean into the things God has been trying to teach us through the pandemic.
For me, I came to recognize the importance of both Christian community and rest—and on top of that, to take notice of how God is at work, even in virtual spaces. So as Covid restrictions continue to lift in Canada, let’s think not only about how our new normal could look, but how it should look.