A dictionary definition of “substitute” is a person or thing acting or serving in place of another. Most of the time, substitutes are supposed to be about equal with the regular or “real” thing, but we’ve all experienced times when that didn’t pan out.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, most of us have had to deal with substitutes for things we never thought would be unavailable. Zoom meetings with friends and family, live-streamed church, and working from home are things for which we can be grateful. Our technology prevents us from being isolated intellectually and socially, but the distinct lack of physical human interaction makes them poor substitutes for in-person meetings.
We are all grateful for the technology that allows us to reach places unattainable by flesh-and-blood missionaries. Websites, online seminars and Bible studies are wonderful methods of outreach. However, we should not underestimate the impact of real person-to-person ministry. Just as Internet hugs are no substitute for real hugs, and singing along with a live stream lacks the luster of participating with the whole congregation in the closing hymn, reading or hearing someone talk over the Internet about Christianity is no substitute for having a real, live Christian demonstrate God’s power to change lives.
We see examples in the Bible of this. While Paul wrote many letters, he often spoke about his desire to visit in person. Philip was miraculously called to personally explain scripture to the Ethiopian. Jonah was not allowed simply to write the Assyrians in Nineveh a letter from the safety of his home. But the most compelling of all was Jesus’ ministry. God came to earth and lived among us, providing a human example of how His love is supposed to be practiced in life. We can probably all think of people who have shown us examples of God’s transformative, freeing power in their lives. Truly, there is no substitute for these simple yet powerful witnesses. Many people are living in places where there are no Christians—no one to show them God’s love. Many thousands have little or no way of finding this love for themselves, and no one to point them in the right direction. These people desperately need to hear and experience the incredible gift of God. Will you be the one to share with them?