Peer Learning During a Global Crisis

The BGU family of students, alumni, and faculty are doers. During this COVID-19 crisis many are heads-down: focused on getting resources to the poor, sick, suddenly unemployed, and communities who don’t have the margin to “socially distance.” Others are in positions of influence making decisions that affect thousands with little time to reflect.

One BGU graduate writes: “I remember the phrase BGU used so often about “action-reflection” learning. BGU was a much-needed break for me from decades of frenetic doing. I became free of activity as my identity. I became free to serve alongside the poor out of love and compassion rather than my own need. Now, during this crisis, I have no time to stop and reflect on motives, but I can feel a drastic difference as a result of the gift of reflection that my time with BGU provided.”

Another graduate writes, “We don’t have time to pray before we act anymore. So we just pray as we act, out loud. People don’t care if we sound crazy. They are just glad we are there. Yet the praying makes all the difference for me.”

Our hope is the action-reflection habits shaped during the years of study become normal life habits after graduation. When a crisis hits, these habits are tested the most, and needed the most.

God has also given BGU fifteen years of intensive experience applying relational peer-learning and mentoring on a global scope through online technologies. While BGU canceled the May 2020 city immersion in Nairobi, most courses have continued with online activity. By the grace of God, BGU has as many graduate students in classes this spring as ever.

Whether onsite or online, the values that drive BGU courses are the same. The emphasis has never been downloading content through lectures or watching talking heads. “Teaching is out. Learning is in.” Professors see their role as facilitating a learning environment utilizing global relationships and experiences, not serving as the primary “teachers.” The online tools allow the experiences to be curated without geographic restraints. The BGU global relationships provide a unique global palette of experts to draw from.

It is encouraging to hear how many BGU graduates are being asked by local schools and universities to help them learn how to do online learning utilizing their BGU experiences. Graduates are sharing the frustration of how hard it is to explain the principle that effective online learning is less about technology, and more about humility, curiosity, listening, and relationships. That journey is much more difficult, profound, and enjoyable than just learning how to use Zoom.

This past year I have particularly enjoyed working closely with WEA Global Ambassador Brian Stiller. In his recent blog, Brian provides a historical perspective from Rodney Stark about how Christians responded to two massive pandemics in the second and third centuries. In summary:

While pagan religions and various forms of Greek philosophy provided a means of soliciting and appealing to various gods, Christians “offered a much more satisfactory account of why these terrible times had fallen upon their societies. And they projected a hopeful and even enthusiastic portrait of the future.”  … Christians bolstered by their faith seemed to endure hardships better than others.

So, when disasters struck, the Christians were better able to cope, and this resulted in “substantially higher rates of survival.” This meant that in the aftermath of each epidemic, Christians made up a larger percentage of the population, even without new converts.

During this COVID-19 global crisis, we are called to serve, cry, pray, suffer, protect, and hope in front of others in a way that reflects the God we know is more powerful than we can comprehend, and more good than we can imagine.

- Brad Smith, BGU President