Technology in Missions: The Future of Missions

by Christian Brazo ‘95

"We spent two days last week at Kalighat (a home for the dying). How do you explain the feeling of caring for people during their last days on earth? Conversation, touch, eye contact-every simple act becomes significant.

"One of the highlights of the visit to the leprosy center was spending time with the patients in their living quarters. We went from bed to bed, listening in amazement to each heartbreaking tale. It became clear to us how significant Christ's healing of the leper truly was. It's fascinating to see how these experiences bring to life the Scriptures we have known for years and how God can use each person in so many unique ways."

Excerpts from Daren Bachman's emails from India

Not so long ago, when the world was larger, a missionary mailed a letter from the heart of Africa. "Please pray for us," the letter read. "Samantha is ill, and the nearest doctor is many miles away." Several months later, when the letter arrived in the United States, Samantha had already passed away. In today's world, sending a letter from the field is much easier, and communicating with home is only a few clicks away.

Focus International, part of APU's Office of World Missions, sent 13 teams on trips this summer. The 131 faculty, staff, and students ministered on five continents. Team India, led by Bachman, emailed images and text several times throughout the four-week trip. "It was surreal to use cutting-edge communication, while outside the café, livestock roamed the streets," Bachman said. "Technology, and in particular, email, has had a profound effect on our mission trips."

Technology is no longer an anomaly for missionaries to posess. It is now an indispensable tool as computers, the Internet, satellite-based cellular technology, digital cameras, and email revolutionize the way ministry is done: The Jesus Film may be shown with a portable DVD player in the privacy of a small home rather than using bulky projectors and reels; tracts formatted on a laptop carried in a backpack are printed in a hotel room; World Wide Web-based bulletin boards now announce revival meetings in countries where street evangelism is not allowed. And each day, the possibilities abound.

Phil Butler, international director of Interdev, in the June 2000 issue of Mission Frontiers, claims that the most significant advancements in the global mission movement over the past 10 years have been "the watershed developments in communications producing sharply reduced costs, access to 'closed' countries, and options in distance education and interactive communications previously considered unthinkable."

Such progress has a profound effect not only on missionaries in foreign lands, but also on their supporters back home. "The world seems smaller," said Lynn Ellis '87, missions team minister at Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, California. "When images and letters come back from overseas, it creates a sense of 'I can do that' in people who may be scared to go into the mission field." Ellis tells of a missionary living in Burkino Faso, West Africa, who lives without the basics many take for granted, but has the ability to email. "This missionary occasionally has electricity, drives two hours for butter, has water trucked in every couple of weeks, but communicates with her supporters via email."

Technology in many countries, however, is not the equivalent of the Information Superhighway and Pentium IIIs. In a region with a minimal technological infrastructure, where computers are as difficult to find as a plane flight or even hot, running water, missionaries would gladly settle for a telephone line. "In some parts of Russia, many technologies are not useful," said Rick Givens, assistant director of development. "The support infrastructure is just not there."

Givens has struggled with technological challenges on each of the seven trips he has led to Russia since 1992. In preparing for a trip, contacting the host missionaries was always difficult. "A missionary we worked with in Bryansk waited three years for a phone line to be installed in his home," Givens said. "When it was his turn, he needed about $400 to pay for the installation. Our team funded the money, which has made it easier to plan the trips."

Carolyn Koons, executive director of the Institute for Outreach Ministries and founder of Mexico Outreach, has taken more than 200,000 students south of the border to serve since 1962. In 2000 alone, more than 11,000 Azusa Pacific students and other students from throughout the U.S. and Canada will be a part of Mexico Outreach. Organizing trips like these, though just a few hundred miles away, can be as difficult as those across the world. Now, however, coordinating with missionaries is done easily via cellular phones.

The support technology offered to those in the mission field is astounding, with advances making the tools smaller, faster, and more efficient. Nevertheless, in an age when the latest is the greatest, prayer remains a missionary's most significant tool.

"The emails we sent home from India let our families and friends share our experience," said junior nursing major Lisa Trafecanty, member of Team India. "God used the email to give us incredible prayer support. We could feel the support from the hundreds who were back home."

Even though technology will continue to transform cultures, missionaries will continue to live in huts in the South American rainforest among unsaved natives, and street evangelists in the former Soviet Union will still hand out the "Steps to Peace with God" printed on paper. Yet, having another tool to remain accountable, communicate, and receive prayer from their constituents will only enhance missionaries' ability to follow through with Christ's command: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)