IMB temporarily relocates personnel due to COVID-19

“God’s mission will continue to advance, not in spite of these challenges, but because of them,” Chitwood says

May 8th, 2020 / By: Joshua Owens | Managing Editor / comments

IMB temporarily relocates personnel due to COVID-19

As airlines cut flights and around the world countries went into lockdown due to COVID-19, some IMB missionaries found themselves unexpectedly back in the States.

In an early April email to all overseas missionaries, International Mission Board president Paul Chitwood wrote if any personnel 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 60 days” after their return stateside.

Chitwood told the TEXAN, “Expiring visas, closed borders and special health or family circumstances are necessitating some missionaries to grudgingly leave their places of assignment. 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.”

An unexpected relocation

As repercussions from COVID-19 reverberated around the world, 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 Globalization Catalyst for the European Peoples Affinity. In that role, he networks with missionaries, 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, 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 recounted, and 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.

Missionary work, via FaceTime

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 … 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” she has “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.”

Dalese is reading Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter with another woman, and discussing it with her online.

During their unexpected stay in the States, the Stockwells have been able take care of some necessary dental and medical situations which they could not have done in Prague due to coronavirus restrictions there, and to spend time with their families.

“It has been a sweet time,” Dalese said. “We’ve gotten to see our children. … I’ve gotten to visit with my mom—well, visit with her through phone because she’s in independent living and we can’t see her.”

Still, they miss being close to their friends and neighbors in Prague. “Missionary work is typically relational, face-to-face,” Mick said, pointing to the “ongoing witness with our neighbors, [and] our work with our national partners.”

Recalling their neighbors in their apartment building, Dalese said, “I think that if I was there right now we could really have a lot more time together. … That has been kind of sad, not to be there for that.”

“With the people that we have in our lives, we’ve been able to stay connected,” Dalese said, but she pointed out it’s often difficult to meet new people via social media. “You have to have relationships before you can connect on Facebook.”

‘We will go back as soon as we can’

The IMB told the TEXAN that on May 6 missionaries received a follow-up message saying the IMB, having weathered the initial storm of the pandemic, would now shift to its longstanding process of approval for personnel evacuation and relocation, which is for field personnel to address those requests directly with their field leadership.

For the Stockwells and other missionaries like them, they’ll return to their overseas assignments as quickly as allowed. And much of that will depend on country and region. “Right now, we’re just starting to see a little bit of action with flights starting to resume in Europe,” Mick said. “When they lift the state of emergency and allow foreigners to fly in, we will go back as soon as we can. … We’re hoping to hear something in the next couple weeks about that.”

In written comments for this story, Chitwood pointed out, “When Moses was placed in a basket, when Paul climbed in a basket, and when Mary and Joseph fled for Egypt, God’s mission was advanced, not thwarted.”

Chitwood expressed hope that, “Just so, we fully expect to hear testimonies in the near future of how God has worked through our currently displaced personnel to expand his kingdom, for his glory, in ways only he could orchestrate.”

‘I am rooted in a very strong sending church’

While missionaries find themselves temporarily and unexpectedly in the States, the IMB has asked them to try to connect with Southern Baptist churches. For the Stockwells, they credit a longstanding partnership with their sending church as a significant part of their ministry.

“In my 25-plus years with the IMB,” Mick said, “we’ve had the opportunity first of all to have an incredible sending church from Texas, called Houston Northwest Church.

“We have had an awesome relationship even through the pastoral changes,” Mick added.

Houston Northwest’s pastor, Steve Bezner, told the TEXAN, “Mick and Dalese are longtime members of HNW” and, although they hadn’t so far voiced a specific need due to the coronavirus, “We love them dearly, and we help them as they ask for it.”

Mick noted, “I am rooted in a very strong sending church that has stayed in touch with us for 25-plus years, and still welcomes us and still puts us in front of them. That’s important to say.”

Editor’s Note: Any SBTC churches with temporary missionary housing available may contact info@imb.org