Virtual learning challenges students’ spiritual formation

The online semester brings about difficulties and triumphs alike for students.

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Zachary Devane

With Biola going online, our community experience of spiritual formation has drastically changed.

We are no longer on campus for chapel in Sutherland Hall or Chase Gymnasium, and our professors and mentors are no longer a five minute walk away. Rather, we are at home, where a surrounding Christian culture is not a shared experience for all Biolans. While the pandemic has given us an opportunity to grow in our faith, we have to be mindful that some of our peers may be struggling.

THOSE WHO ARE GROWING

In one of his devotionals, Billy Graham said, “being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion—it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” Our spiritual growth takes time—it is not often that the “overnight success” cliche is applied to our faith. There are things that we can do every day, such as pray, spend time in God’s word and serve others.

This is exactly why the pandemic offers an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord. 

Students like Zach Ismirnioglou, a senior biblical and theological studies major at Biola, have taken the free time available to grow in the Lord. He said the lack of obligations and things to do these past couple months helped him take responsibility for his own faith.

“All the things that would normally busy my schedule, that would take away from time that I could spend with God, or time in the Word,” Ismirnioglou said. “I don’t have those things, so it’s really helped me create a rhythm and a sort of habit of getting in the Word.”

This summer was characterized by the lockdown, and stay-at-home orders prevented people from visiting friends or family. Local businesses temporarily closing gave people nowhere to go and uncertainty about the virus ultimately kept them at home. However, studies have shown that religion and spirituality can help people’s mental and physical health, even in the face of extreme adversity. Clinging to Jesus during this time is a way Christians can deal with the struggles of the pandemic, both internally and externally, while developing a deeper relationship with Him. 

THOSE WHO ARE STRUGGLING

Other students, however, are struggling.

Research done by UC Berkeley shows that just over 30% of students at the undergraduate and graduate level are dealing with depression or anxiety in the midst of the pandemic. This could be a result of stress from online learning, difficulty with virtual homework assignments, or a number of other things. As Biolans, we have also lost a sense of Christian community by being stuck at home. For many students, Biola holds the role of church in their lives and without that foundation of spiritual direction, trying to find God may feel like aimless wandering.

Amy Chin, a junior Kinesiology student, explains how she misses her friends at Biola, and is struggling to see God’s plan in all this.

“It’s really hard when I’m not able to go out and be with friends and do the things I love and to still see God’s plan during this all,” Chin said in an email. “I know that there is one, but it is just hard to trust Him during this time.”

Trusting in something greater than this pandemic is hard and struggling with that is OK, but for students who are missing the Biola community, know that God is there to help you in the midst of it. Isaiah 41:10 says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

If you know a friend or peer who is having a difficult time during this pandemic, reach out. A simple text message or FaceTime call is sometimes all that people need to feel loved. Even practicing prayer for your friends is helpful, not only for them but for your own confidence in your faith. Not being with each other on-campus doesn’t stop us from spreading Christ’s love and compassion.

BIOLA’S RESOURCES

The university is doing its own part in trying to help those struggling at this time. Biola’s Counseling Center is still operating during the at-home semester and offering services through video calls. The Pastoral Care team is also still offering meetings throughout the semester through either video or phone call. Finally, even though chapel is not in person, the online sessions are still required and are a valuable resource for us as students.

Although the way we engage in our Biola community and experience our spiritual formation has changed, one thing hasn’t—God’s faithfulness. Our community is not lost, God is just inviting us to find a new way to connect to each other and to Him.

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