“And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: A certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6-10 NASB).
In 1991 two Americans traveled to a south Asian country to spend several weeks preaching the gospel. During the two days of their travel the first Gulf War began, so that when they arrived at their destination (an Islamic country) they discovered it was not safe for them to enter it. One of the men had contacts in a nearby, non-Islamic nation, and suggested they spend their allotted time there, which they did with much success. That unplanned visit was the beginning of a highly successful ongoing mission work, resulting in many conversions and new church plantings.
Sometimes the unexpected occurs, upsetting carefully laid plans. Many react to those upsets with postponement or abandonment of the project. The result is inactivity, which can be a failure of any worthwhile accomplishment. The two Americans mentioned above could have simply returned home when denied entry to their intended destination. They thought better of that, however, and found another place to use their resources and accomplish their mission.
The reader of the New Testament might immediately think of Paul’s and Silas’ journey to Asia Minor. Not once, but twice, they sought access to particular audiences but were denied by the Spirit of God. Did they call their trip finished and return to Syria or Israel? They did not. Rather, they continued westward until a door opened in ancient Macedonia. That was the first time, to our knowledge, that the Gospel was preached in Europe, and Macedonia became the first of many regions of that continent to which Christianity spread within its first generation of existence.
Many today are frustrated by the quarantines and isolation imposed by governments because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are asked (often required) to forego our normal activities, separate from others, and in many cases refrain from work, recreation, and other activities which might expose us to infection. How can we be productive? How can Christians do the work of God? Must we defy the law of the land? Are we compelled to cease Christian activity? What are we to do?
Those questions may be difficult and there are often no easy solutions. But the principle of the Macedonian call is helpful. Whatever Paul and Silas thought about God’s refusal to let them go where they wished, they remained open to opportunity and recognized it when it was presented to them. They did not give up and return home convinced that no further evangelism was possible. They continued to press onward, waiting for a better reception. And they found it.
With modern technology many are working productively from home. If one can do that in secular occupations, why can those pursuing God’s work not do the same? Whether it be by internet, mobile phone, traditional mailings or other methods, there are people who need our encouragement, students asking for help understanding the Bible, and may distressed souls seeking salvation. Let us “go over and help them” in whatever ways are available to us.