Early mornings for Sister Patience Mastny, a seminary teacher in the Middle East, used to involve gathering around her dining room table with 12 students and their scriptures. Nowadays, however, because of social distancing and isolation practices due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sister Mastny starts her day by sending her students a lesson document via email and then waiting for their individual responses via WhatsApp voice messages or text.
“My country doesn’t allow real-time video conferencing,” Sister Mastny said. “And not having face-to-face contact with my students is hard.”
But compensatory blessings can be found even in times of difficulty, Sister Mastny explained.
“The feedback from my students as they share their testimonies and insights from the doctrine and scriptural text we are studying has been so incredible,” she said. “This virtual space has become a spiritual haven for everyone.”
Even her students who were reluctant to share their thoughts and participate in face-to-face discussions are opening their mouths and engaging the Spirit, she explained, and students are digging deeper to really learn from the Spirit.
“Ultimately, they are finding comfort in their new best friend, the Holy Ghost, while they navigate the isolating world of COVID-19,” she said. “It’s been a huge blessing and the spiritual growth of these kids is exponential. It’s like supercharging God’s Army in this part of the world.”
Sister Mastny’s experience of switching to online learning for seminary is one many Latter-day Saints around the world are now familiar with.
As the lockdowns and shelter-at-home orders enter their third and fourth weeks in many places around the world, some have begun to feel the emotional strains of social distancing and isolation. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the economy, health and lifestyles of many people, Seminary and Institute students, parents and teachers have continued to support one another in gospel studies through online classrooms and meetings.
Even with the new setting of cellphone and laptop screens instead of face-to-face gatherings, the objective and purpose of Seminary and Institute classes is the same as ever, and the dedicated examples of those who continue to participate demonstrate that the work of the Lord continues despite the current difficult circumstances.
Sister Amparito Oliva, a seminary teacher from Quito, Ecuador, teaches her son at home while another student joins their intimate class via video conferencing.
Similarly, Sister Dulce de Alarcon, a seminary teacher in Guyana, shared how impressed she has been with students and parents as they have continued to support the seminary program and teachers from home.
“This is supposed to be a hard time full of worries, but I feel optimistic,” she said. “It’s a time that will help us strengthen our spiritual self-reliance and to see the miracles of this wonderful work. I feel, more than ever, the love of my Heavenly Father for the youth in my class because I feel an impulse to be more diligent and to make sure that each one is part of the class.”
The Seminaries and Institutes Student Services Division has gathered responses from students around the world about how they have dealt with the transition to online learning over the last few weeks and how technology and the ability to continue learning online have blessed their lives during this difficult time.
Here are some examples of what students are saying about the transition. These responses have been edited for length and clarity:
Claudia Ruiz (Venezuela):
“[Online seminary] has been a good experience. This platform has more resources, videos and more interaction with other young people that help me to strengthen my testimony.”
Jenna Reidhead (United States):
“I love that seminary at home is allowing us to stay spiritually healthy, despite all of the health issues going around right now. It is giving me the opportunity to choose to learn more about Christ, and it gives Him a chance to see if I will choose Him.”
Amelia Tuha (United States):
“I feel grateful and blessed to take seminary online. It gives me the opportunity to learn more about Jesus, come closer to Him and discuss His gospel with my peers. It gives me hope that He is helping those around us come up solutions to the trials we’re all facing.
“Having seminary at home brings me peace to be able to tune out from the world and focus more on Jesus. Each lesson has a divine purpose to teach us and touch each of us.”
Gabriel Ramos (Brazil):
“The Lord created the institute for young adults. The institute was made for me. I am very grateful to be able to see that the gospel moves forward even when we’re in the midst of calamity and trials.”
Aubrey Larsen (United States):
“Doing this spiritual learning online has continued to help me set goals to come closer to my Heavenly Father and build my testimony. I’ve never really known how to study my scriptures, and in doing this I am really studying them personally, but still with a class. … All of this all has truly been a great experience, especially during this scary time of COVID-19.”
Roberto Xavier (Brazil):
“The Lord in His mercy has blessed us with technology that, in difficult times, keep us connected. What a wonderful thing that is.
“It gives me joy to know that I am a child of God, living in this great dispensation when the heavens are open and revelation flows and inspires prophets like President [Russell M.] Nelson, who prepares us through different means so we can face the trials that are a part of mortality.”
Rebeca Castro Alves (Brazil):
“The online classes have helped me to have sacred moments at home, with my family! It is helping me to increase my testimony that the Lord’s work will move forward no matter what happens. Our plans might be frustrated, but not the Lord’s. His plans will always be happening in His own ways, and that has been happening with the institute classes.”
Rafael Sanz Nascimento (Brazil):
“I am grateful that, even in the midst of trials, I can have contact with this weekly portion of the Spirit, and for being able to see and talk to my friends. We might be apart from each other, but we’re together in purpose.”