South Asia (MNN) — So far, 2020 has been a memorable year for all the wrong reasons. Global events like the COVID-19 pandemic create an unpredictable atmosphere for ministry. More coronavirus coverage here.
But Joe Handley of Asian Access says there’s a bright spot amidst the chaos.
Asian Access equips national church leaders to multiply churches and make disciples. “We had been planning for several years to do a digital media initiative to equip younger generations, as well as where the persecuted Church lies” in South Asia, Handley explains.
“It just so happened that the pandemic opened that door for us to invest heavily in digital technology.”
Through a new digital approach, Asian Access is opening work in two new countries this summer. While he cannot name one country for security reasons, Handley says, “the leaders we’ve been talking to in Thailand for several years are very interested in this idea.”
COVID-19 can’t stop Gospel growth
Meetings began a few weeks ago in the closed nation. Typically, Asian Access begins its leadership development program in-person. “We meet on the ground face to face life on life; you’re growing together in community. But with digital technology advancing like it is, we’re able to create an online community, so to speak,” Handley says.
Through online video conferencing, Asian Access trainers met with a dozen national leaders for an orientation meeting and three days of “deep dive” discussions. Calling it a “soft launch,” Handley says his team plans to use this approach to navigate pandemic restrictions. “It’s about a one-year module until we can get in the country and be face to face with people,” he says.
Despite several connectivity and communication challenges, the program is off to a great start.
“The leaders were overjoyed. They just loved it; they were hungry for something like this, and the interaction was dynamic.”
It’s taken years of prayers and failed attempts to reach this point, Handley says. “[It] is a Muslim-dominant country where there’s a lot of persecution, and we have been challenged with trying to figure out how [to] serve the needs there,” he explains.
“We have been begged for many years by several leaders in the country to please come. And everything we’ve tried has [failed].”
Ministry leaders will use what they’ve learned so far to begin work in Thailand. “We’re in the process of selecting the 12 to 15 leaders that will be on [the orientation] call in two weeks. And then sometime in August, we’ll do the three-day opening week with them,” Handley says.
How to help
Use prompts listed alongside the article to guide your prayers. Become a financial partner here. “We have a matching grant of $200,000 to get this off the ground; I believe we’ve raised just over [half],” Handley says.
Pray for multiplied Gospel growth through this initiative.
“We change the few who change the many by investing in a few key leaders and going deep with them. They become catalysts for God’s Kingdom in their country.”
Although things changed in unexpected ways this year, praise God for giving leaders the creativity to adapt and overcome.
“We were hoping to be in 20 countries by the end of the year; we had big plans for the Olympic Games. Now with the pandemic, most of the countries we work in are either on some form of lockdown or at least shelter-in-place type orders, so that changed the landscape altogether,” Handley observes.
“Currently, we’re in 17 [countries]. It should be foreseeable that we can be easily in 20 by the end of the year, assuming we can continue in these online digital formats.”
Header image depicts video conferencing session organized by Asian Access and in-country leaders. (Photo courtesy of Asian Access)