View from the room in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, where Austin Roberts was in isolation following international travel for Youth With a Mission. Photo by Austin Roberts.
Rostrevor, Ireland

A hope beyond unexpected chaos in Northern Ireland

By Austin Roberts
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Austin Roberts, serving through Mennonite Mission Network, has been part of Youth With a Mission's Discipleship Training School staff based in Northern Ireland since 2016. Here, he shares about coming to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic.

ROSTREVOR, Northern Ireland (Mennonite Mission Network) — A colleague and I discussed a teaching assignment she needed to do for me since I was self-isolating upstairs in our team house after travel from ministry in the Netherlands. In our Youth With a Mission discipleship schools, we have a "Bible Hour" each week. We needed to scrap the teaching I had prepared. (I hope I'll get to teach that class someday.) My colleague and I went back to the drawing board. We wanted to invite our trainees into the bigger story of God's kingdom moving in the world.

At a certain point, we stopped talking about the assignment and discussed how each of us was doing. Both of us confessed we were stressed, worried, and needing to adjust to the new expectations brought about by this COVID-19 season. As I shared about how I was trying to make sense of everything, I related my experience to the Acts narrative.

In the book of Acts, the good news spreads. The people sharing it are thoughtful, brave and strategic. Alongside the strategic planning, we see God working through all kinds of circumstances — the questionable, or perhaps downright bad circumstances, like persecution, shipwrecks and earthquakes. Things change. Expectations are thwarted. But God's people stay true to who they are and behave as a people grounded in hope that extends beyond present circumstances.

As in Acts, life happens. Life offers us good things, as well as things that are messy and painful, things that seem dramatic and bigger than us. Amid the waves of history crashing down around them, God's people in Acts made deliberate choices to be the people of God, and blessing came out of it. We, as the readers, can look back on the story arc and see how good came of difficulty. However, if we're not careful, we can overlook what these biblical figures might have been feeling at the time — doubt, uncertainty and confusion, even fear.

As we navigate these new waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, we realize that the early Christians in Acts were troubled, too. They probably didn't know what good might come out of the brokenness in which they found themselves. While we don't really know what the coming weeks and months will bring, our invitation is to be a people of hope. Our hope goes deeper than the circumstances we face and beyond the models to which we are now needing to adapt. We find ourselves needing to choose to have a faith that says, "God is indeed with us," even when the way seems uncertain.

The next few months promise to be different from what we expect, and it's easy to feel the uncertainty. We're canceling and postponing events that are important to us. And yet, God is with us, reminding us who we are, and inviting us to keep walking. Jesus said in John 16:33: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."





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