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Technology speeds United Methodist growth in the Philippines

While the rapid growth of United Methodism in the Philippines is cause for celebration, it also presents challenges. With this growth comes a need for more trained clergy and lay leaders, says the Rev. Scott Gilpin, executive director for fund development at United Methodist Discipleship Ministries.

The current systems in place for educating and developing these leaders are inadequate. Schools of theology in the Philippines do not always have access to needed reference books, libraries, reliable Internet connections and computers. Students often lack access to transportation.

Filipino United Methodists formed the Philippines Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges, Universities and Seminaries to organize and articulate the various dimensions of United Methodist education in the country of more than 100 million people.

"Beyond his unconditional love in Jesus Christ, John Wesley believed in education as his most passionate core value," says Neil Blair, executive director of educational advancement at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

"E-reader devices are leading the way to deliver current educational materials effectively and economically in all settings around the globe," he continued. At the same time, they are bringing United Methodist agencies, local churches and individuals together in the E-Reader Initiative. The e-reader project launched in Africa in 2012. It expanded to the Philippines in 2014, where it is slowly being rolled out.

"Together, we are working to end illiteracy in our time," Blair continued. "Education ends poverty and illiteracy while celebrating hope!"

The e-reader project in the Philippines is a partnership between Higher Education and Ministry, Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Publishing House and participating United Methodist theology schools in the Philippines.

The e-readers give Filipino theology students and instructors a "library on the go," said the Rev. Stephen D. Bryant, associate general secretary for central conference relations and resources at Discipleship Ministries. Tablets made in the Philippines are loaded with more than 250 theological books and other educational materials. Participating seminaries receive the loaded tablets, which cost about $300 each, for students, instructors and graduates to use.

"For a student to have to purchase all of the books, you are talking about several thousand dollars," Gilpin said. "They just don't have that."

Earlie Pasion-Bautiste, Discipleship Resources Philippines program coordinator, said the tablets are invaluable for students who do not have Internet access and often travel three to six hours each way to attend classes. The team is gathering more content authored by Filipinos for the e-library.

Multiple uses

"Being able to take home their e-libraries with them gives them more opportunity to read and research," she said. "They have used the contents in their reports, preaching and congregational study, and the tablet as a music device, extra mobile phone and mini-computer."

Students pay a portion of the cost of their e-reader over three years. Individual or church sponsors pay the remainder.

The United Methodist Church is seeking additional sponsors.

A one-year gift of $12,000 launches the first year of a theological school's e-reader program. A three-year commitment of $36,000 will fully fund e-readers for faculty, students and graduates.

With the use of new technology such as e-reader devices, The United Methodist Church in the Philippines expands its connections, supports episcopal areas and has a profound impact on Christian education, communications, discipleship and theological education, said Amos Nascimento, special assistant to the general secretary for global education and new initiatives at Higher Education and Ministry.

The Philippines is the fifth-largest Christian country in the world. Eighty-five percent of the population are believers, according to data from Higher Education and Ministry and Discipleship Ministries.

The United Methodist Church is growing there because disciples work in the trenches, sharing the message of the church face-to-face with the Filipino people, Gilpin said.

"It is very much an evangelical movement," he said.

Erin Edgemon is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama.