The CCCU is an international community, with 48 members located in 20 countries outside the United States. While we have long valued and shared our global fellowship as institutions of Christian higher education, never before has there been a crisis that has truly impacted the entirety of our global membership at the same time. The following essays, written by the leaders of six international institutions around the world, offer a glimpse of how the pandemic has impacted their campuses — and how our shared faith in Jesus Christ has helped their communities endure the challenges, uncertainties, and opportunities that have arisen as a result.
Faith, Hope, and Resilience Keep Us Going
By Guenson Charlot, Emmaus University (Haiti)
Instability. Vulnerability. Unpredictability. Inadequacy. Unpreparedness. Humanitarian crisis. Fearfulness. These are among the terms often used to describe our situation in Haiti in a normal year. Each year, we brace for natural and human-made disasters. Our faithful tropical storms never fail to make a visit. Ever since the earthquake took its 30 seconds to dance with us and shake us to the core in 2010, it has regularly been sending us waves to let us know it does not leave nor forsake us. Nowadays, political unrest has become the most lucrative industry in Haiti and is occurring more and more often as Haiti’s cash flow depletes.
We are used to these types of disruptions. We know how to navigate them with little or no resources at all. They have become part of our everyday life. But COVID-19 has been a different ball game.
In early 2020, we looked in consternation at what COVID-19 was doing to our mighty friends across the Western Hemisphere. Logically, our fate was sealed. How could we in Haiti face such a monstrous disease that brings the best global health systems to their knees? How can we economically withstand such a beast that almost eats up the strongest economy in the world? How can we survive such a villain that shatters the lifestyle of the most established societies of our time? Without any doubt, we could see an unprecedented humanitarian crisis rushing toward us like a lightning bolt.
Like everyone everywhere in the world, we at Emmaus University of Haiti braced for it. We did not have any choice. COVID-19 was making its way to our shore. It was not coming to enjoy our beaches and sunshine. It was coming to take over. It was coming to finish what tropical storms and political upheavals had left of us from the previous year.
We watched what the rest of the world was doing to protect themselves against this giant killer. Quarantine? Social distancing? These are unthinkable for us. Life is lived within community. Also, we must go out daily to earn our bread, and we have no infrastructure to preserve any left over for the next day. We watched as virtual education went viral. This, too, was beyond our capability. No more than one out of 10 students within our student body owns a personal computer.
So what has kept us going? Faith, hope, and resilience. Faith in the Triune God. As a community of faith, we prayed and fasted that God would protect us from the wrath of COVID-19. And God answered us. As of this writing in February, 11 months after COVID-19 landed on our soil, it has only claimed 243 lives. This is 22 persons per month, 0.73 person per day. Hunger is deadlier than COVID-19 in Haiti.
Along with faith, hope has been the second attitude that kept us going. We cultivated the same mindset when natural and human-made disasters hit us. We remained optimistic that things would get better with time. Our faith and our hope have prepared us to be more resilient than ever before. We chose not to give up living. We chose not to give up learning.
In March 2020, halfway through our spring semester, we had to close our campus. Most of our students do not have electricity in their homes, let alone a personal computer and internet. We asked them to use their phones to complete their work for the semester. Then we realized that more than one-third of them do not have a smart phone. Those with no smart phones had to borrow one from a relative or a neighbor. They handwrote their assignments, took pictures of them, and texted them to their professors. It was not easy, but we did it. We completed the spring 2020 semester. By August 2020, we felt confident and safe enough to be back to campus.
Today, our campus is full of life. Our student body is exponentially growing. Our dorms, especially our female dorm, are overcrowded. Our dining space is becoming too small. Our staff is more enthusiastic than ever. Faith in the Triune God; hope that abounds in the power of the Holy Spirit; and our resilience have kept and will continue to keep us going.
Guenson Charlot is president of Emmaus University in Cercaville, Acul du Nord, Haiti.
Keeping the Faith in Times of Crisis
By Ágnes Czine, Károli Gáspár University (Hungary)
Looking back at the previous year, the COVID-19 pandemic put digital education into the frontline in the life of our university. In the face of the pandemic’s challenges, we set up an array of health and safety measures as well as introduced new teaching and examination methods. Though the situation in Hungary was and is mostly under control, and the rate of infections and deaths is lower compared to several other countries, we Hungarians also feel the daily consequences of this enduring virus in every aspect of our lives.
As a university, the health and safety of our students, professors, and staff members has been our top priority. Since we have over 8,200 students and about 800 employees on seven campuses located in three cities, this has been a formidable task. In March 2020, at the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic in Hungary, we closed our buildings and switched to online education within 48 hours. At the same time, we asked the vast majority of our students living in dormitories to move out and to go home. Special exemptions were made on a case-by-case basis for those who had no proper home to return to or, as was the case for our international students, those who simply could not travel home. As a result, about 30 international students from three continents and 20 countries remained in the dormitory. We had to take similar actions during the middle of the fall semester, when the second wave of the pandemic reached Hungary. Given the extraordinary circumstances, the university did not charge a dormitory fee for two weeks so we could help ease these students’ financial burdens.
Thanks to these quick and robust measures, we managed to avoid the spread of the virus within our campuses. As was likely the case of other CCCU institutions, we put much emphasis on the mental well-being of our professors, staff, and students, Hungarian and international alike. A new campus pastor and a team of mental health advisers are now available for our university citizens at all times. Those advisers who speak English are also at the disposal of our international students whom we deem particularly vulnerable during times of lockdown.
As elsewhere, our international mobility programs greatly suffered from the travel restrictions. Here we try to walk on a narrow path: While observing every pandemic-related regulation, we keep our hearts and doors open to those international students who endeavor to travel to Hungary to study for a semester or to seek a degree at Károli Gáspár University. Though international mobility has decreased, we still have a fair number of incoming students from several countries. Some of them have been granted the Károli Christian Scholarship, which we founded in 2019 to help young Christians living in discriminated minority communities from countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Undoubtedly, the introduction of our online courses will have some advantages for the long run, as both professors and students learn to use new technologies and tools that may be useful even after the pandemic is over. Nevertheless, we also learned in the past year that no matter how advanced the technologies you use, nothing can replace personal contact amongst students, professors, and staff.
As the biggest Protestant university in Europe, we hold fast to our commitment to represent not only our Christian values but our genuine faith that God does not let us down — even in the midst of a global hardship unlike any our current generation has ever known.
Ágnes Czine is the acting rector of Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, which is based in Budapest, Hungary.
Preparing for Any Season
By Dankit Nassiuma, Africa International University (Kenya)
At the onset of COVID-19, Africa International University (AIU) closed its campus in March 2020, sending most of the students and staff home as per the Kenyan government’s directive. However, our international students and their families remained on campus, so the AIU community, international partners, and friends joined hands to support them in meeting their basic needs while on campus. Students were allocated small gardens to enable them grow their own vegetables for consumption, reducing their contact with the outside world.
AIU continued to provide spiritual and moral support to our students at home through online chapel services, virtual Christian Union meetings, and Bible study, as well as counseling and psychology webinars. We transitioned over 65% of our students to online and remote learning, except for those who could not get internet connectivity due to their geographical locations, and we were able to administer exams through an online platform as well.
As the year continued, AIU took steps to ensure that the university could continue to be operational during the pandemic. We put up warning signage, added hand-washing points, and provided hand-sanitizer dispensers in our buildings within the campus and hostels. Cleaning schedules and processes were revised and strengthened. Staff who work from offices receive a new face mask every day. Both the university health clinic and the counseling team have also remained open throughout to provide support to anyone who needs it.
The university’s finances were adversely affected because enrollments across the schools dropped tremendously this year. The pandemic’s effect on the church in Africa has particularly impacted the enrollment in our School of Theology, which experienced its lowest enrollment ever. Our prayer is to attract more scholarships for theological courses so that we can ensure the core mandate of the university — to educate Christ-centered leaders in Africa for the transformation of God’s people and the world — is not affected. Even in the face of these challenges, we were able to hold a virtual graduation ceremony for our graduates — the first such event in AIU’s history. We give glory to our heavenly Father for its success.
The experience has reminded us that we must be prepared in all seasons. The story of Joseph and the great famine in Genesis 47:13-27 has been an apt analogy for the whole world, but especially for the body of Christ and for Christian institutions of higher learning. AIU was in a strenuous financial position because of our dependence on students that come in every semester. We are now seriously reviewing our business model to not only meet the current financial gap but to ensure financial stability in all seasons the Lord will place us in.
Through it all, I have been encouraged by our faculty members. Their quick action and innovation on academic delivery meant we could seamlessly transition from face-to-face teaching to online teaching in order to ensure that our academic calendar was not adversely affected by the changes brought by COVID-19. Staff tackled these challenges and carried out their responsibilities with passion and commitment. Some started working from home; others changed their leave schedules as needed, while still others had extended leave periods in order to adopt and align to the needs of the university and to the pandemic protocols from the Ministry of Health.
But above all, our ultimate encouragement and hope is in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who ordains and controls all things, for with him we are assured that all things are possible.
Dankit Nassiuma is vice chancellor of Africa International University in Nairobi, Kenya.
A View of COVID-19 from Australia
By Jeannie Trudel, Christian Heritage College (Australia)
2020 has been the year of vision and re-vision. Australia’s experience through the COVID-19 pandemic is distinct from that of the U.S. and other countries. By the third week of March 2020, our international borders closed and all our higher education institutions went online (after only three weeks of on-campus instruction for the semester), with varying degrees of effective adaptation. The institutions in the Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance (Alphacrucis College, Avondale University College, Christian Heritage College, Eastern College Australia, Excelsia College, Morling College, Sheridan College, and Tabor College) managed the transition well. Many institutions across the country, reliant on international students, suffered a huge decline in revenue and, by the end of the year, many made significant reductions in their workforce. International education is a key contributor to Australia’s economy. Over the course of the year, various state borders were closed as well. Some colleges and universities had to stay online the whole year because of COVID-19 restrictions. (At the time of writing this, Australia’s borders are still closed to international travel.)
In July (the start of Semester 2, which is equivalent to the American spring semester that begins in January), CHC returned to on-campus classes or hybrid classes with strict COVID-19-safe plans. Students were appreciative of the option to study in-person or online. Many expressed that they missed the joy of community when studying online. Everyone adjusted accordingly, and we completed the year without a single COVID-19 case in our community.
It has been a joy to embrace the opportunities presented through this season — faculty and students were surprised that they adapted well to online learning. We have progressed in strengthening online programs and finding new ways to connect with students and staff during lockdown. We started cross-disciplinary “Connect” groups for students online — in one of these sessions, we had students from across Brisbane and other Australian states, and one from Africa. We also held online staff devotions and daily prayer times, which were well attended. These were points of connection during lockdown, and we continue to hold some of these prayer times in person as well as online.
A continuing challenge that has been observed across our sector is in student engagement. Faculty found students less likely to engage compared to previous years and had to find a variety of ways to connect. As a commuter college without residential facilities, most of our students work at least part time (including the traditional age students). A number of them lost their jobs during this time, and keeping them in their studies was challenging. Additionally, practicums were suspended for a semester, so in the second semester, catching up was an issue for some. Our faculty and staff worked hard with organizations and students to get them through. Mental health issues have impacted student engagement as well. However, Christian institutions like ours offer a distinctive as we minister to our students and help them grow in faith and develop resilience.
We were granted an opportunity to grow and demonstrate resilience in 2020 — everyone at CHC had to learn to do things differently, to adapt, and to innovate. Coming together as a Christ-centered academic community helped us navigate uncharted waters. COVID-19 provided a catalyst for change in higher education; we are learning to think outside the box and create value, especially in offering microcredentials.
In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, we have learned to draw strength from our faith in Christ and from one another, and to refocus on our mission and purpose. I see an even stronger case for Christian higher education not just in Australia, but across the globe. What do we need to do in 2021? Continue to innovate in Christian higher education, develop sustainable models, and keep focusing on adding value to the student experience.
Jeannie Trudel is president of Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia. She is also the chair of Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance (ACHEA).
Momentum in the Midst
By Bruce Fawcett, Crandall University (Canada)
In early March 2020, I was camped out in a Florida hospital room providing support to my mother, who had broken her hip during our family vacation. That was the week we learned that COVID-19 had reached North America. As I spent many hours each day on the phone trying to get a sense of the rapidly changing landscape at home, it became clear that a pandemic the likes of which we had not witnessed in our lifetime was going to affect everything.
As I worked from home after returning to New Brunswick, our COVID-19 Working Group recommended that we severely restrict campus access, cancel all events, and transition instruction to an online model immediately. We determined that, with a combination of some diminished expenses and increased fundraising, we could avoid layoffs and end the year in the black, which we thankfully did through God’s grace and provision.
As the summer progressed, our province issued clear operational guidelines for post-secondary educational institutions: Classes could include no more than 50 people and students had to sit six feet apart from one another. By virtue of being a small university with smaller classes, and by creating a few additional large classrooms, we were the one university in our province that could offer our courses face-to-face in the fall. New international students whose entry to Canada was postponed began their programs online from home. Athletic competition was not permitted, student events were significantly modified, and chapel attendees had to sit six feet apart.
So far in our COVID-19 journey we have learned several key lessons:
Keep communicating with the board. In times of crisis, the president needs to regularly update and reassure the board. I found that it was also important for me to talk frequently with the board chair so that an off-campus yet knowledgeable voice could speak into our development of policy and procedure.
The tone of fundraising messages is crucial. Crisis-based fundraising worked heading into our June 30 fiscal year end, but our overarching fundraising theme for 2020-2021 is “Momentum in the Midst.” This fall, our messaging prioritized celebrating God’s financial provision, our new faculty appointments, new strategic initiatives, and the university’s growing enrollment. This shift in tone creates donor confidence in the university’s ability to adapt to new circumstances and find ways to advance the mission in spite of the obstacles.
Employee morale is key. In the fall, we provided what was probably the largest salary increase to our employees in the history of the university thanks to the generosity of a major donor. We also gave our employees extra days off during the summer and a grocery store gift certificate to fund a summer picnic or barbecue. We prayed together online through the spring and summer. Supervisors kept in close touch with their teams.
Ongoing strategic planning is important. Early on, I decided to have our provost take the lead on managing the day-to-day response to the pandemic through the COVID-19 Working Group. This way, I could focus on leading our plans for future growth and expansion, as we have plans to continue to grow our enrollment significantly as we emerge from the limitations imposed on us by the pandemic.
I remain optimistic in spite of our short-term challenges. The Crandall University community has demonstrated its resiliency, and God continues to bless my alma mater. We may be weary, but I believe that our students and our employees will be better leaders as a result of the coping skills we are all developing. If this pandemic is a testing fire that we are passing through, then our future momentum is being forged in the midst of it.
Bruce Fawcett is president and vice chancellor of Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
Changing Format, Maintaining Ethos
By Paul Wright, Jerusalem University College (Israel)
Jerusalem University College entered the world of online education for the first time during the fall 2020 semester. For us, it has been a purposeful though seismic shift.
Since its founding in 1957, JUC has been dedicated to creating learning environments at the graduate and undergraduate levels that enhance — rather than duplicate — traditional courses in biblical studies and the modern Middle East. Our educational model takes full advantage of the rich venue of hands-on learning resources in Jerusalem. These include local faculty who represent a cross-section of the voices of the land, as well as in-field access to historic and modern sites and to the living communities of Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan. For this reason, JUC’s curriculum is more analogous to laboratory or residency courses than it is to traditional classroom settings.
So when facing the need to offer only online courses this year, the most immediate question was: How effectively can the JUC ethos be transferred to online learning experiences? The short answer is, while the complexion of our curriculum cannot be replicated online exactly, it can be fairly represented in online formats, at least for some of our classes.
From the start, it was obvious that we should not offer everything that we normally do, but rather choose parts of our curriculum that were less dependent on in-field learning. For example, this fall we did not offer our flagship course on the physical settings of the Bible, which includes 15 days of on-site visits. By late October, when it became clear that we would be online for the entire year, we began to put together a virtual in-field component for that course so that it can be offered in the spring. We have also created virtual in-field components for several other classes, whether of video or enhanced PowerPoint platforms. Still, to a person, our instructors have said, “We miss being in the field.”
We are committed to offering only synchronous courses, on the basis that while our students do not have direct contact with the physical resources of the land, they should at least have personal access to our instructors. The challenge here is temporal: Jerusalem is seven to 10 hours ahead of North America, and an equal number of hours behind our students in East Asia. This narrows the window in which courses can be offered to 6.5 hours per day (3:00-9:30 p.m. Israel Standard Time). Even then, some students start class at 5:00 a.m. or end their day at 3:30 a.m. But kudos to everyone who enrolled! Very few nodded off in class, and the vast majority — and certainly all of our faculty — were gallant in their efforts to maintain the essence of what JUC is.
For the fall semester, we offered courses only for our continuing and incoming master’s students and our alumni. This spring, we are also enrolling undergrads from our 70-member-strong Consortium of Associated Schools (many of which are also CCCU schools), at reduced tuition. Our alumni, the vast majority of whom are auditing, are excited for the opportunity. Students taking courses for academic credit, on the other hand, prefer to be in Jerusalem. We understand, and we embrace this as an endorsement of our ethos.
As we look down the road, it appears that online course offerings will remain a part of JUC even when all travel restrictions lift. This is encouraging, not so much because it bodes well for JUC, but because it confirms our mission to meet the ongoing interest among believers in Jesus to become better grounded in the realities of the world of the Bible, and hence more effective in Christian ministry worldwide.
Paul Wright is president of Jerusalem University College in Jerusalem, Israel.