Taking the Ministry Online: The rough and the smooth of moving international student ministry online.
Monday morning. The alarm rings. We get up, get ready for work… and of course stay at home. Ministry has changed since the lockdown: some events have been cancelled, but much is happening through Zoom, the online video-calling software. So, we spend large chunks of time in front of our screens. Some of us adapt to this better; others long to see international student friends and colleagues face-to-face.
It can be hard, but ministry now can also be encouraging. Three international cafés, an English conversation group and one-to-one Bible studies continue online, where we rejoice in seeing the faces of old and new friends. We play games such as Hangman and Pictionary or create our own, and we’re even experimenting with café baking sessions via Zoom – without flour (unless you can find it in the supermarket)!
We chat about our lives and discuss the difficulties we and others face. We look for opportunities to have meaningful discussions; never has it been more important to share the assurance and peace we have in Jesus. We find that in the midst of lockdown, with students confined largely to their rooms, what we do fills a need. One student from Hong Kong recently said: “International Café is one of the most important things in my week – life is so boring!”
We may have tired eyes, and get frustrated with technology, but we’re glad we’re able to continue in ministry, and even more glad that while life has changed so much, God has stayed the same.
– Kate Pearce and the Glasgow Team
How to shift your regular weekly programme to an online programme? That’s the question we’re all figuring out.
We started with the weekly structure we already had – a couple of international cafés and some English practise classes. We then added a couple of Bible discussions replacing other courses we were running.
For our Zoom Cafés we try to have an interactive game each week, whether as a big group or in smaller groups. Forming those groups is a challenge. In a real café setting our students can move from table to table and chat with people they choose, either in a larger group or a one-to-one conversation. That is much harder to emulate at a Zoom Café.
We have replaced our optional café Bible discussion with some shorter optional reflections toward the end of the evening, and these have so far have seen some good engagement with particular individuals.
To our regular structure we have in mind to add one ‘fun’ thing per week – so far, it’s been “Baking with Matt”. Matt chooses a recipe and sends the ingredients list out in advance and whoever joins bakes simultaneously.
Our concern with an online programme is how to engage students as individuals. Zoom events can be fun and encouraging but don’t provide the chance for heart-to-hearts. So, alongside having an online programme we are seeking to make sure the students we know of are linked personally with a volunteer in some way and being looked out for.
We are so grateful for our volunteers for graciously and boldly embracing so much change so quickly.