In uncertain times like the one we’re currently in, it can be easy to lose hope or to give in to fear. No one knows when this COVID-19 crisis will be over, or what lasting impacts it will have on our world. A majority of our global population have had to isolate and learn new social-distancing rules for engaging others, making it a difficult time for community. Yet despite it all, we can take hope in the knowledge that God is bigger and that He has a plan for all of us.
Over the last several days, we’ve heard countless stories of TWU alumni around the world, shining brightly in this dark time as they share their hope with neighbors and show love to those at greatest risk. From things as simple as alumni in chapters around the country are offering support their neighbors by picking up groceries, to families getting together to write letters to seniors, to meetings over video chats to help fight loneliness for those alone in isolation.
Please take a moment to read some stories of alumni impact around the globe and learn a bit more about what actions your community is taking to make the world a better place during this season.
At the epicenter of this global pandemic, our Chinese alumni were the first to take action. About 240 alumni, faculty, and staff of the MA Lead Mandarin program were able to work together and utilize their connections to raise roughly $54,000 in one day to help purchase medical supplies for a hospital in need.
“I am truly grateful,” says alumna Clare (Jing) Chen. “I feel that love is the most prominent no matter what circumstances we are in. I also see that our MA Lead Mandarin program is like a big tree, deeply rooted, and has started to blossom and bear fruits.”
Our alumni community in China have also been offering a series of public lectures / seminars on the psychological wellbeing and role of leaders during a crisis. Michelle Xiong (’18), a graduate of the MAL program and renowned business/leadership consultant in China, delivered an online public seminar called “The Psychological Roles of Leaders in Volatile and Uncertain Times” on March 14, 2020. More than 60 alumni and external friends attended this presentation.
Michelle later shared this thank you to those who attended: “I would like to thank our alumni community for giving me this opportunity to share and learn with each other, empower each other, and support each other [as we] march along. I am thankful for all of our alumni and your friends who were online with me tonight. Every small ending is the beginning of something miraculous. Let’s live out servant leadership together.”
One of the key people involved in helping organize these alumni connections in China is Jane Zhang, Program Manager, MA in Leadership (Business Stream) in Mandarin, TWU Global.
“It is truly such an honor and privilege for me to able to serve our Mandarin-speaking community,” says Jane. “This is a community of life-long learners, whose passion for learning and growth, has inspired me to become better each day. This is also a community of servant leaders, whose exemplary leadership and humble services in their work and daily life and toward each other in the community has let me see what we teach in action. Their trust in our team and what we do, as evidenced by their referrals and sending their children to TWU, and their love for us, as shown in all the caring messages and prayers when COVID-19 started to affect more people in Canada, have made me so proud as an TWU employee.”
Mike Sprenger (’87) and his family say this is such a great time to be a follower of Jesus, and that they have used this crisis to share the hope they have in Christ with locals in Thailand, where they currently work. Mike recounted one story, where he went into a coffee shop owned by a married couple who he’s become good friends with. They are practicing Buddhists and have a daughter. When Mike asked how they feel about the COVID-19 situation, the family shared their fears and anxiety. The conversation went something like this:
Mike: “So what are you thinking about this whole virus situation?”
Apo: “I’m quite scared, and it seems everyone else is scared too. What about you? Are you afraid?”
Mike: “No… I’m not afraid” (and hoping for that next question from Apo).
Apo: (with surprise) “You’re not? Why?”
Mike: (in his heart, immediately thankful to God for asking this question) “Well, let me tell you about Jesus…”
Mike says the rest of the conversation went so well. “It was very life-giving. As Apo asked questions, I showed her a few really cool Bible verses about anxiety/fear and joy/peace.”
This is just one example of many conversations Mike is having with locals in the country every day.
CANADA AND GUATEMALA
Dave MacDonald (’98) is currently in Canada with his family where he leads operations for long-term care and retirement homes. He also spends a significant part of his time working in Guatemala with children at English House, a leadership training program that focuses on helping teenagers break the cycle of poverty and achieve their goals. Although it’s hard being away from the kids during this crisis, Dave says he and his wife Danaya (Erickson, ’00) are doing what they can from a distance.
“In Guatemala, our students are all under shelter-in-place orders at home,” says Dave. “No school, no public transport. We are working on how to support them, with internet sticks for online learning, and also money to help their families buy food, since they can’t go to work. And yet those students are praying for me, and our seniors. Their families have survived war, hunger, and oppression. They know that God will get them through this too.”
Back in Canada, Dave says his team is working hard every day to support the residents of several senior care homes.
“We are putting iPads into long-term-care, so that families can call their grandparents. Those grandparents went through wars, recessions, uncertainties, and more. We are proud to be able to help them now.”
When asked if he has any words of encouragement for this facing a lot of fear and uncertainty, Dave said the following:
“Christians are called to run towards a crisis, not away from it. We are not slaves to fear. Think about what you can do for others in this time, not for yourself. ‘No Longer Slaves’ by Bethel Music, and ‘Whom Shall I Fear’ by Chris Tomlin are great reminders of this. When you tell your grandkids how you acted in this crisis, what story do you want to tell?
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
Elie Pritz (’03, ’12), Project Director of Paxology (a program that develops a curriculum based on peace), is currently based in Jerusalem. Like many countries in the world, they are in complete lockdown, but she says they’re doing well, all things considered.
“We are supposed to stay home, except for going out for essentials,” says Ellie. “There is a relatively high rate of coronavirus here, and it is spreading rapidly. The West Bank is also in complete lockdown, with Bethlehem having been hit with the most cases of coronavirus, brought in by a few groups of tourist pilgrims.”
One of the biggest concerns for Elie is for those in the most vulnerable places, like the Gaza Strip.
“People [in the Gaza Strip] live in refugee camps, mostly without electricity or running water, and where the healthcare system is virtually nonexistent. If the virus were to hit such a community, it would be devastating. Let up hope and pray that somehow these kinds of vulnerable communities will be spared. Let us not forget those who are in a more difficult and frightening situation than we are.”
When asked about her current work situation, Elie explained that it’s a strange time to be involved in education.
“With most of the schools around the world now being shut down, we now have to find new and creative ways to navigate this challenge. Interestingly, since schools began to close we have received many requests from people to share some of our Peace Heroes stories with them and their families. The stories we listen to and the stories we tell ourselves matter. They shape our perspectives and our values, and they give us new storylines to live by.”
In this time of isolation around the world, Elie and her team hope to support parents who are home with their children by offering some simple activities and resources to go with the Peace Heroes stories. If interested in receiving this content, sign up here.
JoBen Barkey (’01) is just one of many alumni entrepreneurs who have had to innovate as we practice social and physical distancing techniques. In order to try and make his classes available online to kids stuck at home, he’s started to livestream sessions of Soccer Shots.
When asked how he’s doing and if he has any message of encouragement to alumni in this time, he shared the following:
“Friends, when the days and nights merge together and the darkness creeps in closer and closer around us, that is when our light has the opportunity to shine its brightest. For my Entrepreneur friends, we will not fail for lack of trying, and while there is no guarantee that we will be successful in saving our businesses, as long as we don’t quit we can look ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day and know that we did our best.”
Kendall (’92) and Bev Kauffeldt (’93, ’03) have worked at the Samaritan’s Purse for many years, serving on the frontlines where help is need most. Recently, Bev went with a team from Samaritans Purse to lead a 68-bed field hospital in a parking lot of a hospital in Cremona, Italy.