Life has changed dramatically since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world unawares. In a time of restricted air travel when mission teams are grounded, how can we continue to be involved in reaching the nations?
Exploring how digital missions could work, Rev Dr Lorna Khoo of Holland Village Methodist Church (HVMC) recruited volunteers from different churches in Singapore to tutor students of St Paul Methodist School (SPMS) in Timor-Leste. In March 2021, the eight volunteers began meeting with their student once or twice weekly for an hour and a half over Zoom or WhatsApp video call to coach them individually in English or Mathematics. Today, the pool of tutors has expanded to 26 volunteers, which translates to having 80 per cent of the SPMS Grade 10 to 12 SPMS students engaged in one-on-one personalised learning.
Some volunteers are retired educators. Ebenazer from St Paul’s Church wanted to use her years of teaching experience “to help children who do not have the same chances as our children” in Singapore. Other volunteers have full-time studies or jobs but choose to give their time to be involved in this new home-based approach to missions. As Hannah, 17, from HVMC said, “I decided to volunteer because God prompted me to share my time and knowledge with underprivileged kids. Although schoolwork is piling up, I think this is a very good way for me to develop the habit of giving with a cheerful heart.”
With a heart to serve, many volunteers just want to “help someone to be able to do better in their studies,” as Boon Hwee, a senior manager worshipping at Wesley Methodist Church, puts it. With God’s help, all these humble heartfelt intentions can go a long way in helping build a young nation through sowing into each individual student.
In a time of school closures in Timor-Leste to manage the spread of COVID-19, the digital tuition programme also complements and reinforces the students’ home-based learning with a coach who can provide timely feedback on their work. SPMS Principal David Chan believes that the personalised coaching stretches and challenges his students academically in ways that would not be possible in a large classroom setting. In addition to the increased exposure of speaking and learning in English, students are also practising values and life skills of being responsible and diligent, and taking ownership over their learning by keeping their virtual appointments with their tutors.
Christian education and mentoring also take place as most sessions begin with prayer and a short devotion. The tutors exemplify Christian values in their interactions with the students. Some tutors, like Peter from Aldersgate Methodist Church, use the Bible as a text to teach English. Peter, who at 83 is the most senior volunteer, hopes this approach can help his student to learn the language and “better understand the Christian way of life, grow spiritually, and understand the teachings of Christ”.
However, digital missions has its challenges too. Unstable internet connections and the lack of smart IT devices are part of the inherent infrastructure issues. Most Timorese do not have laptop computers and often one mobile phone is shared among a family, which limits students’ access to online learning. Yet, as Suat Khoh from Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church shares, the “poorer communication and limitations in explanation due to distance learning” has helped “shake us out of Singapore comfort zones to bear fruits of patience and perseverance”.
Home-based missions might sound paradoxical but loving our neighbour is still possible with the help of technology and a willing heart. If you would like to volunteer as a tutor, donate a pre-loved device (laptop, tablet, smart phone) or contribute your time and expertise in any way, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how you can be involved in home-based missions!
- for the SPMS students who are in the digital tuition programme. May they continue to be keen to learn.
- for the serving volunteers to persevere in their good work.
- for more volunteer tutors.
- for God’s provision of the resources for this digital tuition programme.
Cheryl Chen is currently a home-based missionary with the Methodist Mission Society (MMS). She worships at Aldersgate Methodist Church with her husband, Rudy. Together, they seek to live out God’s great adventure wherever He calls, and dream of building a rock-climbing wall in their home someday. / Photos courtesy of Cheryl Chen