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Changes with Coronoavirus

Hey friends,

I just wanted to send a mid month update as I'm sure many of you are wondering how everything happening with Covid-19 has affected ministry and the lives of the students involved. I'm going to share with you a letter sent by our director Brandon Worsham. As well as update you on what specifically we are doing here at UT Arlington to protect the students and their loved ones ,while still being faithful to the call that we have to make and mature disciples of Jesus. I'm going to start with the letter and then transition into giving you UTA specifics.

"To the FOCUS Community:

I want to update you on how FOCUS is responding to COVID-19, especially in light of so many of our campuses extending spring break and moving to online instruction only afterward. As a community, we need to be praying diligently for our world during this concerning time. We don’t need to panic, because we know our hope is secure in Christ, but we do need to take action in order to love our neighbors well. Those actions may be personally inconvenient, uncomfortable, and/or expensive. The situation is evolving daily, and spring break has disrupted our normal schedules and access to one another, so we will hopefully have more definite plans in the coming 2 weeks, but here are the actions we are currently taking/considering:
The 3 SSI trips from Washington State that were scheduled to arrive on March 22 are cancelled.
Pizza Theology will not happen in its normal format on March 29, but we are considering our options for livestreaming a special teaching time, so stay tuned!
After tonight, we are cancelling our weekly large group fellowships (TNF, TNT, FNF) on our various campuses. We will be following the various policies on each campus to determine how long that will be in effect. We are also considering livestreamed weekly services to replace these.
One-on-ones and FOJ studies will continue as planned, moving to phone or video calls depending on the health and comfort levels of the students and pastors involved.
For cores and other small groups, we are working with student life offices to determine what policies may affect those. We will not stop small groups of adults from gathering together, but we are also working on developing a video conferencing option. We will certainly encourage all sick or exposed students to stay away from others.
Leader development meetings on Monday nights will move to small groups led by a pastor, whether in-person or virtual.
We are waiting to make a final determination on SICM plans. We haven’t spent any money yet and it’s not urgent for a few more weeks. We will continue to monitor the situation for now.
Thanks for being gracious and flexible. We as a team of pastors are committed to providing pastoral care to the students in our community and beyond.

For the kingdom,
Brandon Worsham"

This picture was taken only one week ago. I spent that whole day spending time with two of my friends/ two of our student leaders, Taylor Bass, and Cole Benge. I'm so glad to know them and I'm so grateful for all the time I've gotten to spend with them both over the last 3 years. Recently our interactions have largely been over video chat.

At UTA for right now the university has moved everything online. No classes will meet in person over the course of the rest of the semester. Students are currently in an extended spring break while the University makes the transition from in person curriculum to online curriculum. There are almost no students on a campus that usually has 40,000 people walking around it. No student organizations are allowed to meet on campus at least until April 16th, although we expect that to be extended. As a result we also have moved almost everything online. This Thursday when we usually would have our large group gathering with close to 100 students, instead we will be doing a facebook live video, where the pastoral staff will be together leading worship and sharing a sermon ans well as offering reflections on the current events. It may not feel the same as a room full of believers together in one place, but I am so grateful for modern technology that allows us to continue to shepherd and care for the students entrusted to us.

For our leader meeting and for our staff meeting this week we met online as well through a service called google meet. If you are still looking for a way to easily get in contact with people I recommend it. It was great to see all of their faces, we asked each of our students about their spring breaks and how they've been feeling since being isolated. We prayed for those that were having a difficult time as well as for the whole world to be drawn closer to God through all of this.

Our core groups have the freedom to meet in person or online. None of our core groups exceed 17 people so they do fall into the current CDC standards for gathering sizes. But we have already set the example to our students of what an online meeting can look like, so several of our student leaders are going to be experimenting with hosting their core over google meet as well. Students that are not comfortable attending in person will be facetimed into the meeting so as to still be a part.

Our one on ones and two on ones are also at the discretion of our students. I have offered myself to meet in person with those that want that or feel they need in person contact. But for those that are wanting to be more cautious I have already had several video calls with small groups of our leader team. As of right now, not much seems lost by the transition except for touch and maybe the energy in a room full of people. We are still discipling students weekly and those students are discipling their peers. With the little extra spare time that not driving has saved me I am listening to a seminary course on the Holy Spirit by Gordon Fee from regent college. I'm really looking forward to getting to use this extra time to continue to grow and learn. Thank you for your continued partnership in college ministry. Please let me know if there is any way that I can pray for you or if you need any physical assistance during this time. Please join me in praying for our students that are afraid. May they be reminded of the hope that we have in Jesus and may they share that hope with the world around them.
In Christ,
Austin Gage

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