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01.04.2020

Covid-19: Our Digital Mission

Picture left: Simon Grobe organises UEM's Young Adults Network in his Home Office. Picture above: Ute Mruck, assistant to the Secretary General, organizes the video conferences with the members of UEM's governing bodies in Africa, Asia and Germany. Picture below: smartphone & Co. for the worldwide networking via social media (photos: UEM).

Since 17 March 2020, we at UEM have been in a state of emergency due to Covid-19. Our international and national conferences such as the staff conference in North Sumatra, seminars such as the Tanzania country seminar and meetings such as the meeting of former UEM co-workers have been cancelled on a daily and later hourly basis. Perplexity initially spread. All our plans were put on hold.

To this day, the quarantine regulations of the state and federal governments in Germany have been further tightened. There is no end in sight to the measures to protect against the spread of the Coronoa pandemic.

Making a (Digital) Virtue out of Necessity

After some brainstorming it quickly became clear in the Mission House that we had to remain capable of action and that at the moment this is only possible digitally. "Home Office" is also the magic word at the UEM. In these days, the purchase of numerous service laptops and the provision of the technical facilities by the IT department to be able to access the UEM servers and to the e-mails remotely via VPN tunnels has proven to be a success. The telephone is within reach on the desk at home anyway. To date, more than half of the UEM staff work at home. Anyone who wants to can still come to work in the mission house, but only if the strict distance rules and hygiene recommendations are observed.

Nevertheless, these measures are not sufficient for us. As an internationally active organisation, we are not only networked within Germany, but also across continents. Our two regional offices in Dar-es-Salaam and Pematangsiantar and the internationally composed council require stable and secure communication at all times. This is why more than ever before, video conferences with several participants from all three regions are now being convened via the cloud-based Zoom software. And here, too, the technology already available and the experience with video conferences has proven its worth in-house. Interregional meetings and international job interviews have already been held frequently via Skype in the past.

Our Online Mission

On 23 March, the church year campaign #kirchefeiert was to be launched during an event in the Mission House. The singer Judy Bailey was already booked, all participants were already briefed. However, due to the increased number of corona infections, it quickly became clear that the event could not take place in Wuppertal as planned. So on Monday, March 16th, it was decided to cancel the in-house event and shift the campaign launch to the social media channels instead - after all, upcoming Good Friday and Easter are not cancelled because of Corona. The very next day, Judy Bailey and the other contributors came to the Mission House to record the event in a conference room. Through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the website www.kirche-feiert.de, the campaign was then presented online as a video on March 23rd at 11am, as planned. We reached over 4,000 people - more than the Mission House could accommodate.

Ideally, we also put e-learning material about Good Friday and Easter on the website for download as a handout for religious education. #kirchefeiert was thus opened as a real digital open source campaign and now lives on in the web.

Our electronic newsletters about news from our community and the Young Adult Network are also being sent as usual to over a thousand addresses.

Our international Prayer Alert is also proving to be a proven form of communication. It will be sent daily to hundreds of subscribers until Easter by the Evangelism Department. This shows one of the main advantages of digital channels: they are dialogical. On Facebook and by e-mail we receive very different prayer requests from all member churches, which we are happy to pass on, as they offer comfort and support to many people.

Our newly established sermon podcast published by the Germany region also takes on a special significance during this time. For a few weeks now, we have been uploading a new sermon from an ecumenical perspective every month, delivered by colleagues with different cultural backgrounds. Access is provided via our website www.vemission.org.

But also our daily devotions in the Mission House have undergone a metamorphosis that is certainly unique in the history of UEM. While in the first days we still held our morning devotions in the courtyard with the prescribed distance between people, the daily mediations have been sent out exclusively as email devotions for a few days now. Punctually at 9:45 a.m., an email is sent to the co-workers with the daily meditation and teaching text, a short meditation, the names of the birthday children, an intercessory prayer as well as a song text, occasionally with a YouTube link to sing along; the Our Father and the final blessing give us as staff the necessary spiritual strength to cope with the daily tasks in these difficult times.

International Network Gives Comfort and Tangible Support

When it comes to information about the current corona situation in individual countries and member churches, the alumni network of the Master's Course in Diaconal Management has proven to be a reliable source of information. In doing so we look with increasing concern to our sisters and brothers in our African and Asian member churches. Will the health care in their respective countries and their personal constitutions be sufficient to fight the virus?

This does not stop at the mutual exchange of information, but, as in the case of protective masks for the Rhenish Church in Hong Kong, concrete measures for support in the form of donations in kind or money will be raised. And even several German congregations can learn from committed Christians in Indonesia's North Sumatra how church services can be celebrated digitally via Facebook & Co.

We receive regular information from many members about the current state of their life and work in the Corona time, but not from all of them. Therefore we have now once again specifically written to the churches in Asia and Africa and asked for further information and ideas.

In addition to the many aspects of communication, other departments also face challenges, for example the colleagues in our volunteer's programme. With a lot of effort, patience and commitment, they made sure that all the volunteers from north-south and almost all from south-north arrived safely at their families in their home countries. The first meeting of the returned North-South volunteers already took place in a digital network cafĂ©.

For them and all of us, the question arises daily: How will things continue? The answer: While we continue to work on digital solutions to the challenges of our mission, we are not giving up hope for medical progress and trust in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Martina Pauly (Head of Communications & Media)

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