Bound to home during COVID-19 and still connecting with youth stretched and surprised us in a life and ministry-altering way we never imagined.
Ministry had to go online. My co-workers and I from the analog era grappled to keep up. Almost overnight, we had to pick up some level of digital literacy while younger staff who took to apps and techy stuff were unsure if they could capture and hold young people’s interest online. “Will ministry momentum break? How to contact them without physical meetings?” It was scary.
It has been nearly a year. All praise to God – we have made some progress in the new normal! While we still have much to learn to be more relevant online and digitally literate, we are not locked in the past. How did we get through 2020 reaching more youth online with the gospel than if we had relied on offline activities?
We struggled at first.
Suddenly Or Lee Hwa, 54, could not meet young people and volunteers face-to-face. She found it mentally trying to pick up Zoom for meetings and teaching sessions straightaway. “As an extrovert, it was emotionally challenging to maintain relationships in contactless ways.”
“During Circuit Breaker, I could not meet youth physically and I’m IT-illiterate,” recalls Wang Yurui, 47, from Youth Guidance. For Wang Qiu Yue, 43, who reaches preteens, the problem was “which online platform to use, how to use the different functions and would parents let their children come online with us?”
The Lord provided solutions.
As co-workers patiently guided and created opportunities for Lee Hwa to pick up new digital skills, she made sense of how to meet youth onscreen. They lifted her into “this new era of ministry work”.
After quickly investing in a laptop, Yurui’s colleagues guided her from scratch till she could create Powerpoint slides, record songs and download videos on Zoom for Bible studies with youths. Learning Zoom and video sharing was also a “game changer” for Tan Meng Kim, 65, who initially thought he could only engage meaningfully with students in person. While waiting to enter university, a group of young people offered their skills, ideas and technical knowledge of Zoom for Qiu Yue and her team to quickly connect with their preteens. Parents supported our online programmes.
For Victor Lum, 42, Ministry Coordinator of the Secondary School and Junior College Ministry, “meeting on Zoom makes it hard to understand fully the other person and to share my thoughts.” To remember what everyone was saying, he wrote and ended up with stacks of paper. When restrictions were relaxed, he befriended young people through cycling, teaching bike repair and helping them choose bikes online.
Eric Teo, 40, also shifted his mindset swiftly to move our administration and accounts work from conventional paperwork to digital during Circuit Breaker. By mid-April, the staff from both departments could work from home.
Within two weeks, a team led by Eric came up with the ‘Global Pandemic Organisation’, a virtual quest that traces the ‘coronavirus’ situations in four countries. When the June school holidays was unexpectedly moved to May, we were ready. We ran it for our groups, a few churches and Thailand YFC. A Christian student felt the evangelistic virtual quest provided her “a slow and steady step towards telling friends about Christ.”
No one knows if the COVID-19 situation will improve but we are pressing on and looking for new ways to reach youth online and offline.
Qiu Yue sums it up well for us: “COVID-19 has fast-tracked the learning and use of technology for me though there is a lot of room for improvement! Moving forward, I need to keep abreast of some technological platforms – not something that comes naturally to me. Slowly, but surely, with the Lord’s help.”