In UEM there are several groups in the Social Networks, who communicate with each other across the whole globe. One of them is the Whatsapp group of the Alumni of the MA Diaconic Management („International Community of Diaconic Management“). For several years the members share their personal concerns, but also challenges, Hints and experiences from their work in diaconia. During these days, a lively exchange is ongoing about questions how to deal practically with the present Corona-crisis: Practical advice is given between members in all three regions. Good ideas are being exchanged and passed on, and then developed further and applied also in other regions.
A few examples:
From Indonesia the question is asked: „How do you respond to people in your congregations, who say „God will protect us and disregard all protective and preventive measures. This is one of the big struggles in our ministry: pastors and people who believe in God “too much”, as if they are out of this earth. I say that because they believe that God will protect them, our life is in HIM, even when we are shaking hands in church, not using disinfectant. There are still many people, even pastors, who think this way.”
An answer comes from Pematangsiantar: “In my church all pastors have a common Whatsapp group, and the Church Headquarters is always present to discuss and share about our ministry and strategy to serve God's people. There are some pastors who still think that prayer and faith is enough in dealing with the situation, but we try to open their mind.”
In a second answer the letter is being passed on, which the Bishop of the Eastern and Coastal Diocese, Alex Malasusa, has written now to all congregations of the diocese. In this letter, Malasusa asks all pastors and all church members to listen to the explanations and the precautions which come from the medical experts, not from dubious sources: “During the past days each morning has brought unexpected news about the spread of a new disease that can cause doubt and fear among us. In this ongoing situation my advice to all is not to panic and to let yourself not be governed by fear. We will have to take precautions and follow the advice of our experts from the health sector when they tell us to avoid unnecessary gatherings and to keep our hands clean. The leadership of the diocese has issued guidance and we will continue to pass on reports and advice concerning the spread of this disease. I wish to remind also our pastors and our Christians to be open for all necessary changes in the ways we express our devotion to God in this demanding time.”
Similarly, the President of the Methodist Church Sri Lanka, Rev. Asiri Perera, writes to all congregations: „Please adhere to the direction given by me not to gather people in churches for Sunday or Lent Services. Please don't blame people for not attending church services. Holding or calling people to gather in churches is an offence at this time when there is a curfew imposed Island wide. Last Sunday when some churches went ahead with public worship services, the Police has come and stopped the services. This is not good in God's sight and for the witness before the nation…”
A detailed explanation is sent into the group from Hongkong, how the electronic „Zoom“ program can be used in congregations for talks, Bible Studies, for exchanges of music or for church services with up to 100 persons – all via Internet: „We had the same situation as you now have in Europe. Therefore, we have held church services only online, via Facebook Live oder YouTube Live. Some congregations have pre-recorded whole services and sent them on Sunday. It was important for us to continue meeting. Via Internet we have been together live and have prayed together, sung hymns, exchanged our situations. We even celebrated the Lord´s Supper via Internet. We had a step-by-step explanation of what you need and how to prepare yourself. During the celebration all were connected via Internet. This was not easy for many congregation members, though, but many of us felt strengthened.”
From Duisburg/Germany comes a report, that since last Friday, every day at 7 p.m. the call for prayers sounds from the minaret of the Merkez-Mosque, while at the same time the church bells are ringing. This is done as a joint sign of solidarity.
Taking up traditions from Italy, many churches in Germany invite people to sing a traditional evening song which is very popular in Germany each evening at 7 pm singing together, but in physical distance, standing on balconies being at home. The song ends with the words „Grant us a peaceful sleep, God – us and our sick neighbor, too.”
And from Sumatra the report is received that young adults – Christians and Muslims – will start activities together in their communities from today to clean and disinfect public buildings and spaces.
From Jakarta the question is sent: „How do you organize Sunday School in your places?“ And an answer is received immediately from Pematangsiantar, on Saturday afternoon: „Now, me and some Sunday school teachers are preparing live streaming for the Sunday School ministry tomorrow.” The pastor promises to send videos of how it has worked.
The Ephorus of GBKP reports that the church meets regularly with the regional government representatives, so that the church with her structures of congregations can be fully involved in the prevention and information campaigns: „We coordinate with the government and the governor of North Sumatera, building cooperation to face the pandemic of Covid 19”. The church participates in activities for disinfecting public spaces and in sharing and spreading information.
An alumna from Bethel writes: "Today I was also thinking of the many poor families whose daily life depends on their daily income. I don't know....is church charity needed this time? Besides asking the congregation to hold devotions, and also Sunday services at home, can churches share to provide the basic needs for the poor families?”
Many people worry about the question how people can be reached who do not have any access to the Internet. An alumnus from Jakarta writes: “I proposed to my church leadership a new model called "Sunday service from home". It is not only done by live-streaming or online, but the members who are not connected to the Internet can do the Sunday service by themselves or within their families. We provide soft copy (paper- prints) of the liturgy and sermon (text and video) and send these before Sundays to all members.
Others admonish their colleagues to remember that social distancing is not the only act of solidarity required in this situation, and that the people in the refugee camps in Lesbos/Greece, the people living on the streets o those in prisons must not be forgotten now.
In many congregations in Germany the young people offer services for the elderly who are much more vulnerable to the virus. They help by calling on the phone, offering to go shopping or to do other errands.
Many alumni underline, how important the close relationships and friendships across the globe are for them. One quotation out of many:
“I hold personal prayers every evening at 19:30 as invited and suggested by my church. We hold prayers and sometimes also sing, and we always conclude with the Lord's Prayer. In this prayer time, the spiritual connection with people in different part of this world is very strong. God have mercy!”
Organizations, companies and churches all over the world find different contextual answers to diaconal tasks. The offers of health care, the educational possibilities for social professions or also financing concepts of the Diakonie differ within the UEM members in part considerably. This is precisely why the different experiences can enrich the view of one's own context and shed new light on questions such as the relationship between deaconry and the church or provide innovative impulses for one's own work by getting to know one another. The International Diaconia of the UEM promotes the exchange of lecturers at universities, sends experts for training and advice and makes new impulses possible through visiting programmes.
The Master's programme in Diakonie Management has created an international network of graduates, some of whom now hold leading positions in shaping the diaconal mission of their churches, are active in teaching or have completed a further course of study or doctorate. Every year, the nearly 40 alumni from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Ghana and Cameroon meet. In 2018, the annual meeting sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia. The network serves the collegial counselling, the continuous exchange of local development and challenges, the support of the diaconal work of UEM and the continuous further education. The VEM supports the network in an advisory and administrative capacity as well as in the organisation of the annual alumni meetings.
IBAN: DE45 3506 0190 0009 0909 08