Technology has changed the nature of war in more ways than one.
My younger brother is an Army captain currently serving in Afghanistan. I was with his wife recently when they were video chatting — a daily ritual that is making his third military tour less distant and yet, more emotionally difficult at the same time.
On a recent Sunday morning, she carried her smartphone around with Daddy on the screen as she helped her three little boys get ready for church. Then they all gathered for a prayer and watched as he prepared for his own worship service.
When it was my turn to talk to my brother, I asked about his upcoming two-week leave in which he’ll make the long journey to Salt Lake City to reconnect with family. I asked if his soldiers would be lost without him, to which he replied, “If you’re a good leader, then they do just fine when you’re gone.”
My thoughts immediately turned to my Sunday School class in Montana. That morning, my students would be led by a substitute teacher and I had another surge of appreciation for the new youth curriculum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Come, Follow Me,” because I knew they would be fine without me. And by fine, I mean they would have a productive, educational, scripture-based lesson that made the most of their hour together.
Before I left town, I prepared my materials as I always do and asked an 83-year-old sister in my ward to lead the group of teenagers. She was more than thrilled at a teaching opportunity since she’s still very young at heart.
She took my bag filled with the kids’ Sunday School journals and the lesson materials she would distribute. I explained that the students would take it from there as they had all year long and that she should prepare to share her testimony on the topic in whatever fashion she chose.
The next Sunday turned out atypical as well. As we gathered in my corner classroom, my Sunday School president appeared, reminding me that our quarterly in-service meeting for youth teachers was happening during that hour. Since I had been gone the week before, I didn’t know about the meeting. He suggested my teen students attend the adult gospel doctrine class instead.
Immediately, a chorus of students responded, “We’ll teach each other.” “Pass around your cards.” “We can do this without you.” “Do you have all our stuff?” “We know what to do.”
So I trusted them and warned that Sunday School “hangman” was not an acceptable form of sharing testimony. One girl jumped up to write our “deep thought” on the chalkboard; another passed around the journals; another distributed teaching materials; and another started cutting the brownie treats I’d baked and brought.
The priests, who had been cleaning sacrament trays, were arriving to class as I was leaving and were gobbled up by bossy girls giving assignments, which gave me just enough confidence to shut the door behind me.
Our in-service meeting went well and we spent most of our time problem-solving various issues related to using video clips during lessons. We determined it was better to download rather than rely on the building’s Internet connection for live steaming; we decided that it wasn’t tragic if students were watching the same video clip during the same month in different classes; we agreed that as teachers, we would have more plan Bs if the kids said, “We watched that last week in Young Women"; and we decided that it was more important to pray for inspiration when preparing the lesson rather than plan, calendar and coordinate video offerings between teachers.
Our Sunday School presidency projected on the wall all the paths to various online resources with helpful suggestions on apps, websites, channels and the new flat-screen television in our library that we could attach our devices to. By the time we finished, the teacher with her Kindle was as comfortable as the one with a laptop or iPad in accessing online resources and sharing with students.
Our Sunday School president, who is an old-school Montana cowboy and doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer, leaned back with a boot across his knee and a big smile as if he were watching an entertaining foreign film without subtitles. He was satisfied that we were “fine” without him.
I learned that my students were “fine” without me too for that one hour. They taught; they testified; and they did sneak a round of hangman as a final test on the lesson topic.
Yes, technology is changing war in the world and Sunday School as well. Together, under the roofs of our churches and homes, we are more effective in spiritual battles against fierce opposition that would love to bring our youths down. The battle is on and I believe, like my soldier brother, that leadership, delegation, compensation for emotional downturns and inspiration are key along the path to victory.