Overcoming technology limitations in remote areas with socioeconomic challenges

Using technology for stake conferences — or any other similar Church meeting — requires unit and member access to the necessary digital devices, equipment and services. And that’s difficult in areas worldwide, where some — because of socioeconomic limitations or remote locations — don’t have the technological means to receive streamed meetings, during a pandemic or at other times.

Those who have access to virtual conference sessions will invite others into their homes to watch or to listen; others will meet in chapels, following COVID-19 protocols.

Following are three international examples of Church areas working to overcoming technology limitations.

Elder Gary B. Sabin, president of the Europe Area, said leaders there felt impressed to purchase small, high-resolution cameras for meetinghouses in January and February 2020, so that bishops could broadcast sacrament meetings to those who were unable to attend because of distance or disability.

Read more: How stake conferences and stake presidency reorganizations have carried on during the pandemic

“This proved providential,” Elder Sabin said, “for when COVID hit in March (2020), we were prepared to broadcast services by sharing a link with everyone, as opposed to a select few.”

Stakes in the Europe Area used the cameras to broadcast stake conferences and devotionals.

The Africa South Area faces a mix of restrictions and opportunities for holding stake conferences — from no meetings or gatherings permitted in the country of Mauritius to other nations that allow maximum of 50 to 100 in a meetinghouse, where Wi-Fi is available.

The Tepeyac Branch meetinghouse in the Sierre Madre Mountains of Mexico's Chiapas has a bank of batteries to store power from the rooftop solar panel..
The Tepeyac Branch meetinghouse in the Sierre Madre Mountains of Mexico’s Chiapas has a bank of batteries to store power from the rooftop solar panel.. Credit: Mexico Area, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Because the cost of data for video calls such as Zoom is prohibitive for many members,” said Elder S. Mark Palmer, Africa South Area president, “we are constantly looking for ways to ease that burden so members can also watch from home.”

In South Africa, the Church has contracted with a provider named Veedo for such conference broadcasts, similar to a toll-free call or a 1-800 number in the United States, he added. “We are actively exploring similar options in other countries in our area to try and make stake conferences available to as many of our members as possible.”

In Mexico, an estimated 15% of the population lives in difficult socioeconomic areas or rural regions that don’t have access to quality internet or telecommunications services. Elder John C. Pingree Jr., a counselor in the Church’s Mexico Area, believes membership in the country is roughly aligned with that percentage.

Most of Mexico’s 222 stakes and 47 districts have been able to use internet capabilities to broadcast stake conferences and Sunday meetings during the pandemic. However, a small number of rural, distant locations didn’t have the infrastructure to support video and audio transmissions, making them even more isolated, Elder Pingree said.

The Chojolhó District is located in the Sierra Madre mountain range of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The region remains rather isolated, accessed by four-wheel drive vehicles and lacking dependable power and internet capabilities. The Mexico Area equipped the district’s small branch buildings with solar-power panels, batteries for power storage and satellite capabilities to have dependable access to the internet.

“As a result, these small, rural, hard-to-reach mountain communities now have access during the pandemic to district conferences via technology,” Elder Pingree said. “However, in the future the leaders can take advantage of this technology to improve leadership training and to offer local broadcasts of district, area and even worldwide conferences, devotionals and Face to Face events.”