Missionary Tech

Exploring her new city, the missionary located concentrations of her people group by scanning each block through a virtual reality heads-up display that showed demographics, statistics, and points of interest. She had only just started learning the local language, so she depended on her visual translator to read signs and labels. Her social networking application helped her meet young women in the area who shared her love of cooking and were willing to meet for coffee and practice English. A few text messages allowed the ladies to connect in a local cafe. When the missionary had an opportunity to share the gospel, she pulled up the book of John in the local language, and then showed a clip from the Jesus film, also in the heart language. As she Tweeted her experience, some supporters (who had been praying in real-time) were moved to give financially to her ministry via Paypal. That evening, the missionary sat down to edit the photos and videos she had taken throughout the day into a podcast and prepared for a video call to her church back home.

Your missionary needs an iPhone.

It’s funny to think that not long ago, missionaries were only seen once every four years or so. Communication consisted of letters and care packages, which had to travel by boat (slow, expensive) or by air (faster, even more expensive). Locally, the missionary had only word-of-mouth and find nationals who might be interested in knowing Jesus. Scripture translations were few and hard to come by.

The separation meant that churches were less likely to be directly involved in the missionary’s life, less engaged in what was happening on the field, and less informed by the lessons learned though the missionary endeavor. Those days are gone, and now, there’s no excuse.

Your missionary needs an iPhone.

What once would have been science fiction, is now part of everyday life for millions of iPhone (or other smartphone) users. The device facilitates much of what missionaries do: navigating, mapping, and communicating. Downloadable apps (even the free ones) make short work of producing a continuous stream of information that keeps supporters actively involved.

Despite leaps in technology, not much has changed for most missionaries on the field, who rarely have access to things like iPhones. Overseas, smartphones sell for hundreds of dollars, and require either expensive and restrictive contracts or technologically-challenging “jailbreaks” and SIM-unlocks in order to work.

Sure, in some places, missionaries can’t justify carrying a luxury item like an iPhone. In other places, the iPhone’s poor signal reception would severely limit it. And far be it from me to send a missionary something that would cause the natives to worship him as the god of Angry Birds or something. But as iPhones and iPods become increasingly common, they are less conspicuous. Cultural acceptance move them from opulence to curiosity to “does anyone around here not have an iPhone?”

Now, more than ever, we have to tools to bring our churches in regular direct contact with what God is doing around the world.

Why not include an iPhone in the next care package you send?

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.