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Pacific Ponderings

To Be With and Strengthen Them

“A teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them.” D&C 20:53

I have often wondered how this verse about the duty of Aaronic Priesthood Teachers to “be with and strengthen” others might apply to distance education teachers. Today Susan and I are offering our first class by Zoom. So the question has suddenly become more urgent and personal. How can we “be with and strengthen” those we are now meeting with only virtually?

The question applies to all of us, whether we are formally teachers or not. In this period of pandemic-enforced social distancing, all of us must learn how to be with and strengthen those we cannot be with physically.

What a blessing to live at a time when multiple technologies afford various opportunities to interact with each other virtually. One way I hope to turn this crisis into an opportunity is to learn to use these technologies better.

I began on Sunday, when I held my first Zoom gathering with my family on the mainland. We gathered virtually for a post-sacrament “Come Follow Me” / family gather. It was not nearly as good as a physical gathering, but better than no gathering at all.

I was also encouraged on Sunday by a conversation with my sister Janet in Northern California, where they have been coping with the state-wide lockdown. Janet shared inspiring stories of how she and others were turning the crisis into opportunity.

Her ward met virtually on Sunday through Zoom. She gave one of the talks. It sounded like an inspiring virtual gathering, which preserved some sense of ward community, albeit without a communion—i.e., sacrament.

Janet also recounted how the stake responded to a request by her husband, the stake president, to contact and account for every member within 24 hours. Janet, who is Relief Society president, said that they were able to contact every sister in the ward, including some who never darken the door of the Church or open their own doors to ministering sisters. Yet even inactive sisters responded gratefully to text messages asking if they were okay.

Janet also told about a new sense of neighborliness in her neighborhood. Forced to stay home, neighbors see each other out walking. When they ask, “How are you?” the question elicits real answers and genuine conversations. Neighbors have gotten to know neighbors whom they have lived by for years.

Again, Crisis + Inspiration = Opportunity.

Janet has a master’s degree in online learning. So she was full of enthusiasm for the possibilities for our Zoom class. She talked about when to mute and how to use the chat function to provide enriching layers to class discussions and to involve students otherwise reluctant to participate.

I don’t share her enthusiasm yet, but maybe in time, I will. For now, I suspect that today’s class will be less rich and satisfying than our face-to-face classes have been, which have gotten better and better over the semester. I am determined, however, to use the crisis as an opportunity to grow as I try to make a virtue out of the necessity.

I invite us all to do the same. Seek for virtual ways to “be with and strengthen” those we can’t be with physically. Do this whether you are a teacher or not.

And, by the way, don’t forget one of the best technologies I know of for being with and strengthening people at a distance: the phone. There is something intimate and personal about connecting with each other through the human voice. The sound of a human voice constitutes one of our earliest and most intimate forms of human contact. It connects us in a deeply human way, even when mediated over the miles.

So, even if you can’t figure out all the latest technologies to be with others as you teach, or minister, or hold work meetings, you can always call.

P.S.--The class went a lot better than either Susan and I expected!