I posted earlier this week about my difficulties getting my phone and internet to work, but what I didn't mention was that my main concern was to be able to hold church on Sunday. Our church is very well organized with formal congregations that are overseen by a very well organized leadership. Here in China, members of the church are so scattered about that we can't all meet together for church. So the church organized a "virtual" congregation here. Ours is a small congregation that we call a "branch".
Our branch has about 130 members in it, but we are scattered all over China. Imagine if this were in the United States, there being one member in New York, one in Florida, one in Texas, one in Montana, and so forth. In some locations there are groups of teachers, so they have more people in attendance in their location. We just got some new english teachers in, and one location had 32 people in attendance today. But we even have a family that lives in Karamay, that is situated in Northern China near Kazakhstan. So you can see that we are really spread out. Having "virtual church" allows all the members to particpate, even though they may be physically separated by many miles.
Typically, our group participates via Skype. We have large screen television that was left here by the apartment owners. We hook our computer up to it, and in the past have been able to use the tv as our sound system. Currently we are having difficulties with figuring out how to enable to microphone/speakers through skype, so have used external speakers to listen to church each week. But today we had a problem that makes me think that our speakers may be what has been causing some of our branch feedback problems lately. So I need to figure out how to change my skype/computer sound system settings. If we can't log in using skype, we usually just call in to the conference call using our home phone.
So you can see why this week I was nervous about not having internet and telephone. In addition, I was asked to substitute teach the Sunday school lesson today. I have a lot of experience teaching, so wasn't really nervous about the teaching aspect, but I was REALLY nervous about the problems that could happen with our conference call technology!
I do have to admit that I was a little worried about one aspect of teaching. Usually, I require a lot of class participation. I ask a question, and I expect an answer. If people don't answer, I sit and wait. I have all the time in the world. The silence usually pushes people to answer the question. But teaching via skype is a different scenario. People can sit in anonymity and not see me standing at the front of the room waiting for an answer. I was a little concerned about how I was going to get participation. Luckily, one of the recent teachers started the practice of asking each city group to answer questions. I tried this today and it worked really well. For example, today I would say, "I want to ask the group in Ji Nan to think about this question, and then give us an answer. While you are thinking about what you want to say, I want to read a quote." Then I would read a scripture our quote to give them time to think. Then I would ask them to give an answer.
Each week, after our main sacrament meeting, we take a "virtual roll call". The Branch President calls out the names of each city, and someone from that city speaks up and tells how many people were in attendance in that city. As they were doing roll call today, I kept a record of which cities had the most people in attendance. Then when I had a question to ask, I would ask those cities to respond. I did also open it up for anyone else who wanted to respond.
So today things went well, but we did hit a few snags. First of all, for some reason our microphone wasn't working through Skype, so when it came time for me to teach, they couldn't hear me. I immediately turned to my telephone and dialed in. But as I started talking, I could hear that there was a lot of feedback. So we ended our Skype conference call, and just used the telephone. At first I just talked, but when people answered questions, my group couldn't hear their reply. So I put the phone on speaker phone whenever someone else was talking. But in the process, I accidentally hung up one time. I quickly dialed back in. Luckily, a person had been answering a question then, so there was no "dead air".
I actually like to teach in church because I get the most out of the lesson. And I did really feel inspired as I prepared the lesson for today. But I have to admit that I sure heaved a sigh of relief when it was over. And I have been thanking God for helping me with the technology today!