How we work

The Relay Trust is a Christian training ministry equipping pastors for the Church using transformative and practically applicable learning, which will empower the pastors to serve nobly, wisely, and skilfully in their calling. We call this DECIBEL.

DECIBEL, which stands for Digitally Enhanced Community Based Learning, is developed to be easy to use and benefit from. Each DECIBEL course contains everything needed to set up a learning group in a church and go through the materials together without a subject matter expert present. In these courses, participants learn from each other as they all bring their own experience into the training. They are given new knowledge while being guided by reflection questions and practical assignments to implement lasting change in their own life, their church and community as they all grow in faith together. None of this is limited by whether they are strong readers or have access to books, as it is delivered through an audio-visual format.

Sound good? Let us look at some of the thoughts behind this model.

From the very outset, our goal was to bring good training to people where they are, so we wouldn’t deprive the remote villages of the pillars of their communities while their leaders went far away for training: Surveys have shown that too few ever return home once they have gotten used to life in the big city or another country, so for both short and long term situations, this is not the ideal solution.

It is not possible to bring gifted teachers to every single village, neither are the academia of most training institutions of much use in a remote village in the middle of the rainforest or deep in the mountains. Courses need to be relevant, practical, and accessible in both format and language to be beneficial.

So far these ideas simply mirror the best of TEE (Theological Education by Extension) practices, but this term has been used so broadly that it holds little meaning anymore – send someone a theological book through the mail and you can call it TEE. Moreover, TEE is a written medium and we wanted to cater for people whose preference is oral learning, as the vast majority of the world does not acquire new knowledge by reading, even if they can read and write.

Another issue is that far too often people enrolled in TEE programmes end up studying difficult, faith challenging issues alone. Instead of bringing transformation and a stronger faith, this situation just brings frustration and confusion. So, we set a rule that no one should ever study theology alone and that our materials would be for groups only. But how would this training be conveyed to people?

Today, many people have access to smart phones, even in remote areas, and the number is only growing. So, it seemed obvious to make phones part of the solution, as this would allow us to cater for preferred oral learners. While the whole world has been moving into online classrooms, it becomes tempting to follow the same strategy for the remote areas. However, there are big challenges with this. The areas we are dealing with have no or scarce network coverage, and even where there is internet, it is expensive and unreliable due to technical glitches, power shortages, bad weather, political instability shutting it off, or censoring.

In short, you cannot expect people to be able to be online at a particular time, so training needs to be prepared in full before time, so it can be downloaded when the network is available and used asynchronous of the original teacher. The bulk of the learning will have to take place when the participants engage with the materials through reflections and discussions with their peers. This takes a lot of careful consideration from the teacher, who has to become a course writer instead, with long distance follow up on assignments at the most.

Ideally, the group is facilitated on ground by someone who has already gone through the training, and who will thus be able to help the group as a mentor, but still may not be a subject matter expert. Only one member of the group would need to have had internet access, as materials can be viewed together and shared through Bluetooth once it is downloaded. This way participants can re-view materials as many times as deemed necessary and easily share what they learn with others, all without needing an internet connection beyond the initial download. This is the method we have used up to this point, with the aid of WhatsApp. Once The Well is ready to be launched next year, however, there will be even less need for the internet, as no participant will ever need to download or share assignments with any other source besides The Well.

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