Keeping a Missional Focus As A College Student During COVID-19
"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:4-14
University campuses across the United States have closed due to the Coronavirus epidemic. For college students, this means that you have left your mission field and most likely moved away from your university context. You may be frustrated that your classes have been cancelled along with social events, graduations, and summer mission plans and all you want to do is isolate yourself from the world. If this describes you, then you are in good company. In Jeremiah 29, the Israelite people found themselves living as refugees in Babylon which was not according to their original plan. Birthed out of frustration, the Israelites decided it would be best to live in isolation and just wait out this time of exile. However, God declares that they must keep a missional focus. With this in mind, here are five ways that we can keep a missional focus during the Coronavirus epidemic:
1. Recognize God’s Sovereignty by Rooting Yourself (v.4-6)
It is easy to assume that the Israelites were not happy with their current situation. Right before this, the Babylonians had just attacked Jerusalem, killing many Israelites and carrying the rest into captivity. It is a safe bet that the people were feeling abandoned and dismissed, but the chapter is filled with the phrase “I have sent you.” Nebuchadnezzar was not the one to take them into Babylon and the Coronavirus was not what ultimately removed you from your university. The Israelites were sent as missionaries by God and ultimately you are sent as missionaries wherever God has sent you. The Israelites were ultimately resident sojourners. They were sojourners because they were not living in the place they had been living previously, but they were residents because they were living exactly where God wanted. Ultimately, God is telling them to make Babylon their home. Like the Israelites, we must recognize that this is the place that God has called us to in this season of life. We love those who are around us and display the gospel of Jesus to them. This means displaying love to those in your home. This means serving family members. This means sharing the gospel with those who do not know Jesus in our home. We embrace our situation by rooting ourselves where God has placed us.
2. Seek the Peace by Loving Your Neighbor (v.7)
God commands the Israelites to do anything possible to further the public good. Seeking the peace means loving your neighbor. This means picking up groceries for the elderly in your neighborhood. This means passing out lunches at your local elementary school. This means cutting the neighbor’s grass while they are in quarantine. This means writing letters to lonely friends. However, it also means seeking to share the good news of Christ with those who are lost during this time knowing that the gospel is the only thing that brings true peace.
3. Pray for the City (v.7)
The last thing that the Israelites probably wanted to do was pray and it may be the last thing that you want to do. Prayer is essential for the Christian, so use this time to pray for others. Pray for your neighbors who don’t know Christ. Pray street by street, house by house. Pray for the safety of neighbors from sickness. Pray for government leaders to make wise decisions. Pray for the economy of the city. Simply pray!
4. Resist Temptation to Become Spiritually Lazy (v.8-9)
God makes it clear that the Israelites should not listen to the prophets among them because they were deceiving. What was deceitful about their message? The prophets were telling the people that God would only keep them in Babylon for 2 years so it would be natural to simply isolate themselves and bide time. God actually declares that they will be in Babylon for closer to 70 years so the people should root themselves there! It will be tempting to think that you are only at home for a short time, so you don’t need to establish spiritual disciplines such as reading the Bible daily or prayer. It will be tempting not to join your church’s small group on Zoom each week or share the gospel with your neighbor. It will be tempting not to live missionally by engaging your neighbors, but you will be home for much longer than usual. Use this time to establish spiritual disciplines so you can live missionally. Set a goal to share the gospel with a friend. Memorize Scripture that can be used in gospel conversations. Text non-believing friends what the Lord is teaching you during this crisis. Capitalize on this time to make much of Jesus!
5. Remember that We Foreshadow Christ’s Ultimate Restoration (v.10-14)
When we work towards restoration by living missionally where God has placed us, we are modeling the gospel in anticipation of Jesus’s establishment of the ultimate kingdom that will make everything right. The point of the famous verse Jeremiah 29:11 is not to confirm your personal plans and ambitions, but to push us to persevere as faithful missionaries in exile, trusting that Christ will return and restore all things. All things will be made right. Coronavirus will ultimately be eradicated. Peace will be restored to the city through the person of Jesus Christ, so we live on mission in light of this promise.
Campus Ministry Associate - Western Kentucky University