Guest post by Brian James (@KingdomGuy1 on Twitter)
When was the last time you picked up a book, newspaper, or other printed document? Have you ever imagined how your life has been impacted by the printed word? Undoubtedly, the world was forever changed when Johannes Gutenberg pioneered the printing press in the mid-1400s. It paved the way for the Reformation, the printing revolution, and even widespread learning for the masses. None would argue its impact.
But have you ever thought about mobile phones?
While serving in Central Asia back in 2006, I wondered how young brides, who are often cut off from the outside world (many effectively serve as family slaves for their in-laws), could hear the gospel or be encouraged in their faith. Mobile phones were just beginning to go main stream at the time, and I wondered if text messaging could be utilized to share prayers, Bible passages, or devotional materials with these young women. Sadly, our team had to leave before I could move forward on the idea, but a seed was planted.
Fast-forward to 2011. Mobile phones are everywhere now, and for the most part, they are less expensive, richer in features, and less conspicuous than they were just a few years ago. From remote villages in Asia to illiterate, oral cultures in rural Africa, mobile phones are making an enormous impact. Unlike Gutenberg’s printing press, however, which was used almost immediately to print the Bible, the Church has been somewhat slow in appreciating the value of the mobile phone in fulfilling the Great Commission. Yet the possibilities are numerous!
While the printed word isn’t going away just yet, the mobile phone may trump the printing press by presenting the greatest opportunity in history to get the gospel before the eyes and ears of nearly every person in the world. Consider this…
Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population – 4 out of 6 billion people on the planet – now owns a mobile phone, and this number continues to rise rapidly.
Mobile phones are no longer a tool for the wealthy. In fact, according to various studies, two-thirds of the phones in use in the world are now used by those in the developing world. It is likely that nearly all of the people that you are ministering to either own a mobile phone already, or will within the next 1-2 years. No technology in history is achieving the level of worldwide penetration that mobile phones are seeing.
Mobiles are not confined to literate cultures.
Unlike past revolutions, including the printing press and the personal computer, mobile phones are not confined to literate cultures, nor do they require much training. Their ability to run applications and use other audio and visual media enables even highly illiterate and non-technical people to make use of them. They are already being used in significant ways in the secular community, as described in a recent report by Newsweek, How the Cell Phone is Changing the World.
Muslims are already actively making use of mobile devices.
Last year a close friend and major supporter of our organization came to me to enquire about Bible/Christian-related “apps” for his Blackberry phone. Though based in the U.S., in searching for religious content, most of what he found were apps for Muslims! This is now changing, but the fact remains that in some areas Muslims have made more strategic use of mobile phones for faith-related purposes than has the Church. This represents a lost opportunity for reaching out to those truly seeking after God.
Mobiles represent the greatest point in the convergence of media and communications technologies in history.
Ten years ago, a mobile phone was essentially just that – a take-anywhere phone. Today phones can bring together voice, text messaging, applications, internet browsing, photo, video, books, GPS (geo-positioning satellite), radio, and even live TV. A friend was even showing me recently how he could set up and broadcast from his own ad hoc radio station – all from his phone!
There are certainly issues to consider in the use of cell phones and other mobile devices, but through them the Church has the possibility to reach more people with the gospel than ever before in history.
So… how are they impacting your host culture? Is there a place in your toolkit for using phones for ministry? Are you interested in learning more about using phones in redemptive ways in your context?
Brian James spent 12 years in Central Asia before moving into a strategy role with his agency . Among his interests are the use of technology, particularly social media and mobile devices in mission.