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For Joseph Mulongo, receiving a new tablet means communication is no longer a struggle.

Tablets make life easier for Central Conference delegates

By Crystal Caviness

Joseph Mulongo, a pastor and district superintendent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, used to walk for miles just to look for an Internet connection. Mulongo is a member of the United Methodist Commission on the General Conference, but he couldn’t get information about the commission’s meetings without access to email.

For Mulongo, receiving a new Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 changed many things in his life from how many miles he walks daily to how heavy his luggage is when he travels. “Everything is in one tablet,” Mulongo said. “Not heavy. Simple to carry, simple to use.”

Mulongo, who chairs the delegation from North Katanga area to the 2016 General Conference, is one of a dozen Central Conference delegates who received a tablet from the Commission as part of a pilot program launched in October 2014. The tablet was preloaded with the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the Bible and General Conference documents. It also includes a SIM card to allow for easy connection to cellular wireless access so he can quickly download new materials as they are transmitted electronically.

Moving from pilot program to full implementation, the Commission on the General Conference voted April 24 at its final meeting before General Conference 2016 to provide tablets to all Central Conference delegates.

Delegates at a disadvantage

The tablets will enable the Central Conference delegates – who come from outside the U.S. and will make up 42 percent of all General Conference 2016 delegates – to receive documents electronically, at the same time as other delegates, while also providing a communication device.

In previous General Conference years, Central Conference delegates would receive the proposed legislation via reams of documents, and sometimes within a short time prior to departing for the 10-day event. Although the General Conference Commission, in cooperation with the United Methodist Publishing House, strives to make all reports available by a minimum of 90 days prior to General Conference, delivery to Central Conference delegates can be delayed by customs and spotty or slow mail delivery in some countries.

Having the necessary documents pre-loaded onto the tablet means that packing volumes of proposed legislation into their luggage doesn’t use up their entire weight allowance.

Mulongo clearly understands what this means for delegates.

“Imagine for someone who is going for the first time to General Conference, the time to read, the time to pack – it was a challenge.”

Living into the digital age

Leaders at United Methodist Communications will be involved with purchasing and distributing the Samsung tablets, as well as training Central Conference delegates and coordinating help-desk support during General Conference 2016. Distribution is expected to begin in October.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” said Sherri Thiel, interim chief executive of United Methodist Communications.  “This is just one of the ways that technology is transforming the way the church communicates.”

Also, during General Conference, tablet owners will have the ability to communicate more easily with their families and churches back home than in the past.

Central Conference delegates will be allowed to take the tablets home after General Conference, although the tablets will remain the property of The United Methodist Church.

“We are not restricting how people use them,” said Danny Mai, technology director at United Methodist Communications. “The goal is to use it for communication. We are providing people a way to connect with the global network and to talk with other brothers and sisters inside the church regarding the issues that are impacting the church,”

The applications, Mulongo said, extend beyond local and regional uses to the worldwide church.

“I think the global connection is strengthened by this device,” Mulongo said.

Choosing the best fit

United Methodist Communications’ IT Department reviewed many devices before selecting the Samsung Galaxy 4 tablet, Mai said. Factors they considered included pricing, durability, ease of use and weight.

Because of the potential for harsh environments, they searched for devices that would work well in different environments, as well as a battery that would charge quickly and hold its charge for a good length.

The Samsung Galaxy 4’s 7-inch size is a good size for reading, which is a main purpose for the selected tablet. Although the pilot tablets included a SIM card for Internet access, the tablets distributed to all the Central Conference delegates will include a MiFI device, a portable cellular Internet router that will allow the tablet to connect.

Getting up to speed

In order to maximize the tablets’ use, United Methodist Communications will train delegates prior to General Conference. Training currently is planned for Central Conference delegates in early 2016 in Manila, Philippines; Harare, Zimbabwe; Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Samara, Russia.

To learn more about using technology for global good, attend the Game Changers Summit 2015, being held September 17-19 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. ICT4D leaders from around the world will discuss and demonstrate the latest technologies, with panels, breakout sessions and a technology fair offering opportunities for one-on-one conversations.