By Ashleigh Bugg
It wasn’t your typical Bible study. Six children and several adults stared into their respective webcams as they chatted, played games and asked questions about one another. Through the use of the video-call platform, Zoom, the children were able to cross cultural and geographical lines to form together, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
Kelly Settlemyre, the minister of music and education at Spencer Baptist Church, regularly picks CBF personnel to pray for at church worship services in Spindale, North Carolina.
“I had seen something come up about a field personnel who worked with the Persian-speaking community,” Settlemyre said. Due to security reasons, Settlemyre did not have an address to which to send her church’s standard encouraging card. However, she was able to get the field personnel’s number and called her the same day.
After an initial conversation about the field personnel’s work and needs, Settlemyre asked for prayer requests. The field personnel responded, “I have a zoom Bible study with some of our Persian-speaking children on Sundays. There is one little girl who is praying for more kids to come. She is lonely during this social distancing time.”
Settlemyre shared amazingly that she too was zooming on Sunday afternoons with a small group of children from her church. “We can combine our classes,” Settlemyre said. And the prayer request was answered in that moment of connection.
The two planned an initial meeting, hoping to create bonds between Settlemyre’s students, who live in North Carolina, and the Persian-speaking students, many of whom are refugees and immigrants in a transitional period as they start new lives in the United States. Most of these students currently live in Maryland and Northern Virginia. The ministry includes Persian-speaking people from Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, with one coming from Turkey and one in eastern N.C.
“We just hit it off,” Settlemyre explained. “It was extremely spontaneous to work out so well.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Persian-speaking ministry was regularly hosting programs and events online. Persian worship services on Sundays are broadcast on Facebook and the Persian Bible study on Thursday nights takes place in a conference call format. When the pandemic began, and members could no longer meet face-to-face, they added ESL Classes and a weekly children’s Bible class on Zoom.
During the combined Zoom meeting, the kids answered questions about their new lives in the pandemic and heard a brief Bible story about Elijah. They sang songs and watched a video from YouTube.
“The kids were amazed that they were so alike,” Settlemyre said. “One of the Persian kids pulled out a recorder and played, and then one of my kids played a song, and they shared that music.”
The children ranged in age from six-years-old to seventh graders. According to Settlemyre, the young students offered great insight. “We had decided to let the kids share the best thing about their week. As we were talking, one of the little boys who was six said, ‘When are we going to stop talking and learn something’’”
Madison, a seventh grader from North Carolina, wanted to know how the field personnel was able to help people when no one could go anywhere. The field personnel shared what she was doing, and the children were surprised that their church did many of the same things at home.
“And Madison said, ‘Well, we are also doing that!’”
“She realized that she was participating in missions already. We want to teach kids that sharing God’s love isn’t confined to someone who is paid to do so,” Settlemyre said.
Both groups of children were excited to make new friends in quarantine, and they have plans to meet again over Zoom.
“We have a list of stories and lessons we will share separately and then we will come back and play a game about the stories and lessons. We want them to share with each other. It’s a challenge because their attention span is limited, but everyone really hung together,” Settlemyre said.
They were also able to put a virtual white board on the screen on which the kids could draw. “It was so neat to see them drawing things together,” Settlemyre said. “I hope that we can continue to stay in contact.”
Settlemyre shared that she hopes to have a Zoom call with the group at least once a month, even after quarantine. She says the experience has been a way for her kids to learn with students who come from different places but who share common goals.
“They were amazed that they had a similar experience,” Settlemyre said. “I hope this opens their eyes to the fact that even though we may be a little different, God created us all.”