“Pandemic Perspectives” is a two-part post from members of the TGCA South Australia board (See Part 1 here). In this second episode, we feature COVID-19 perspectives from three more Christian leaders working with AFES, BSF and BCSA.
A View From an Off-and-On-line University Ministry
(Geoffrey Lin, AFES Regional Director, SA/NT)
Over the last few months we’ve had cause both to give thanks to God for his goodness to us in Adelaide and reflect on the ongoing challenges and privilege of university ministry. Around Australia, AFES groups are the extension of local churches on campuses, seeking to reach the lost at a critical decision-making and identify-forming stage of life.
Our transition was relatively straightforward. Students were able to Zoom from Day One because it was required for their courses, so we’ve been spared the struggles of many local churches trying to learn to connect with members “virtually”. Most of our “equipping” ministries have continued well in this new medium (Bible Talks, Bible Study Groups, Evangelistic Training Courses) and in fact have been more accessible to students who now have less-full diaries. We’ve seen members innovate in this new format in the way only undergraduates can (from on-line games to costume-dress-up-parties)!
Of course there have been significant costs: residential conferences—the hallmark of any campus ministries—have been cancelled and the opportunity to “share life and share Christ” with unbelieving classmates has been severely curtailed. Nevertheless, many of our members have capitalised on existing relationships: one leader told how her non-Christian classmate, after a year of unanswered invitations, finally attended an outreach event, confessing that—as the pandemic struck—she needed hope in a hopeless situation. And we attracted significant interest in an on-line evangelistic Q&A on the topic of “suffering, death and COVID-19” between a Chaplain, a Philosopher Professor, and a doctor with paediatric palliative care experience.
Her non-Christian classmate, after a year of unanswered invitations, finally attended an outreach event, confessing that—as the pandemic struck—she needed hope in a hopeless situation.
Ultimately, Christ’s plan to build His church continues unabated, and nothing—not even COVID-19 will prevail against it. Please pray that Christian university students will continue to “be prepared to give an answer for the reason for the hope we have” (1 Pet 3:15) in both the off-line and on-line worlds we now straddle. Universities set the long-term trajectory for wider society—not just intellectually, but culturally—so please encourage every student you know to join their local AFES group, because it’s much easier to witness “to the ends of the earth” in company, rather than going free solo.
A View From a Mum leading a Parachurch Ministry
(Tamra Purton, Bible Study Fellowship)
Making the decision and facilitating the move of over 800 women and children to Zoom was hugely energising and exhausting. In theory, it should have been straightforward—BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) has had online groups meeting globally for years.
To begin with, I was so enthused. I was determined not to lose anyone, believing this was just what everyone needed. I thrived on troubleshooting and advocating for Zoom and convincing everyone to get on board. But weariness and discouragement soon set in. Numbers took a dive; small group leaders said they needed to step down; our screens and minds became filled with all things Corona! What was happening?
Life was changing rapidly. I suddenly had two kids at home needing my support with schooling. My husband, an AFES staff worker, was also home finding his new normal and now all four of us were trying to coordinate our Internet access in our two bedroom unit. The reality of the impact of COVID-19 was starting to sink in and I was fatigued. Zoom-fatigued, yes, but also fatigued from the lack of structure and routine. And so were others.
By God’s grace, BSF continued—even with kids running around in the background. Older women found blessing in persevering with technology. Mandarin groups grew. Stories came in of unbelieving family members hearing the gospel through unedited videos from the children’s programme. Many people have experienced huge personal loss but God has continued to be magnified and his people matured.
Stories came in of unbelieving family members hearing the gospel through the children’s programme. Many people have experienced huge personal loss but God has continued to be magnified and his people matured.
During this time, God has given me opportunity to reflect on my life BC (before Corona)—hectic, busy, rushed and full and I was energised by it. But in this unique season, I have realised how much I have actually come to enjoy the extra time with family and, slowly, to value the less complex nature of my life. Time will tell what Post-Corona will look like, but I do know, as Acts 12:24 reminds me, that our unstoppable God is at work and His Word will continue to spread and flourish.
A View From a Theological College
(Tim Patrick Principal, Bible College of South Australia)
As with most educational institutions around the country, the lockdown measures meant that Bible College SA needed to jump all of our classes and operations online at relatively short notice. In God’s mercy, we were able to do this quickly and smoothly, thanks to a well-prepared Business Manager, and also a staff team and student body who have been full of grace and good-will throughout.
Under God, we have made a good fist of it all, with all staff Zooming in for our regular weekly meetings, plus a couple of social catch ups each week at morning tea time. The students have also been very proactive in trying to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interactions, including—most significantly for us—the necessary hiatus in the cut-throat table tennis tournaments that ritually take place at every College break time. They have worked to maintain a sense of community by organising things like wear-a-tie-to-Zoom-lecture day, ‘Theology Thursday’ parody videos, and a synchronised together-apart movie night—to say nothing of their great service in running our live-streamed chapel services and keeping up with each other one-to-one.
One of our College’s core values is training within a strong web of close relationships, and we are so encouraged that our students also see the importance of this. It seems that—as much as we are grateful for the ability to run online classes—face-to-face training is not only better for face-to-face ministry, it also offers a markedly better student experience.
As much as we are grateful for the ability to run online classes—face-to-face training is not only better for face-to-face ministry, it also offers a markedly better student experience.
As we now come to the close of this strange semester, it is fair to say that we are all itching to get back on campus as soon as possible. And because South Australia has all-but eradicated the virus (as of the time of writing), there is a good chance that we will be allowed to return to near-normal formation programs from the start of second semester. It is also exciting to see some new applications for semester two study coming in too.
Normally, we get the bulk of new students coming to us in first semester, but the pandemic may be changing things. Some people may be finding themselves in unexpected new circumstances that allow them to consider taking a course of study now. Others may have reassessed their priorities in light of the huge impact of the coronavirus and resolved to explore the possibility of preparing themselves for more ministry service. It would be great if one of the silver linings to the current global situation was a new wave of women and men taking up the charge to serve Christ in the cause of the gospel.
As they come, we will be very much looking forward to welcoming them and folding them in to the life of our formation community.