Mobile phones and mission

In the office we’ve been thinking about the many different ways people can now engage with the Bible, especially the impact that mobile technology is having at providing people with access to Scripture.

The idea that it’s only Christians in the west that turn up at church with their Bible on their mobile phone is not completely accurate. The Bible is reaching many more people thanks to mobile technology.

The following is an excerpt from an article called The Little Phone That Could: Mobile-Empowered Ministry, from the International Journal of Frontier Missiology.

“Our first impression, though, was that most of the nomads we worked with did not have access to any form of media player-whether using cassette, CD or DVD. Within weeks we realized that, if we wanted to get the audio Bible stories out among these people, we would have to provide a media player for them…

…What we had failed to notice was that these nomads already had media players-their mobile phones! They were using them to listen to music and poetry as well as view videos. This realization changed our strategy, so we now start out by sharing individual Scripture stories on our phone during a visit, and then transfer it by Bluetooth to those who are interested. If a person shows enough interest or has come to faith, we can then provide a mobile phone memory card (quite inexpensive and entirely natural for a nomad to have) containing the entire panoramic set of Bible stories.”

From the International Journal of Frontier Missiology (Fall 2010)

Mobile phone penetration

It’s not a perfect solution yet. This infographic shows the number of people using each SIM card, so while in Europe there’s more than one SIM per person, in African a phone seems to be shared between 2.4 people. It would suggest that mobile phone ownership is still significantly higher in developed countries.

But things aren’t staying this way and research (and experience) suggest that more and more people are getting connected through mobile technology. This means more and more people can have access to the Bible on little devices they carry around with them all the time.

8 Photos You Didnt See From Obamas Trip to South Africa – PolicyMic

It’s not a joke that in just the same way we have story editors working for news outlets, there are picture editors too. People that are employed to find the right image to capture the story – or maybe to create the story.

Below is an image, rarely seen, of political adversaries sharing a ride together. It looks as though, despite their politics, they can stand to be in the same room as each other.

8 Photos You Didnt See From Obamas Trip to South Africa - PolicyMic

8 Photos You Didnt See From Obamas Trip to South Africa – PolicyMic.

It’s a sad fact that I think the picture we have of our world has been created by images that are designed to sell and make money, rather than those that are really telling the story.

Yes, there is conflict and poverty and war and corruption, but there’s also peace, love and harmony. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see more of those pictures?


One very basic communications skill to grasp is the ability to speak with one voice, even when it’s many people doing the speaking. To help with this many companies will have what is called a Style Guide. A document that provides references for many of the questions that come up when communicating.

In the UK, Wycliffe uses the Guardian Style Guide as a basis for our communication. It’s a fascinating read – really it is – if you want to know about frequently used and misused phrases in English. There are also natty illustrations for what is appropriate and inappropriate use of various terms.

The reference for Biblical Quotations is worth particular attention though:

Use a modern translation, not the Authorised Version. From a reader: “Peradventure the editor hath no copy of Holy Writ in the office, save the King James Version only. Howbeit the great multitude of believers knoweth this translation not. And he (or she) who quoteth the words of Jesus in ancient form, sheweth plainly that he (or she) considereth them to be out of date. Wherefore let them be quoted in such manner that the people may understand”

From the Guardian and Observer Style Guide

Stunning images of a hidden world

Usually it’s the result of hearing something mentioned in the media that leads me off searching for more. You know how it works, someone’s being interviewed and mentions that in 1989 they were at a party with Axl Rose (one time lead singer with Guns n Roses) and you wonder, ‘whatever happened to him?’

The next thing you know you are following a random series of links, usually beginning with a Wikipedia article that takes you to some wonderfully unexpected place.

Not you?

That’s a shame, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Silent UK exploring the Mail Rail

Silent UK exploring the Mail Rail

The last adventure I had started with a vague recollection of the fact that the Royal Mail used to (and still does) have it’s own railway under London. It’s like a mini version of the tube for letters (or today Amazon parcels). Anyway, instead of landing on another Wikipedia page I found – the website of urban explorers.

View from the Shard

View from the Shard

The thing that struck me most about their adventures was the stunning photography that goes with them. Not just in tunnels, even though it’s fascinating to think what’s there underneath our feet, but also from up high – like the night they visited the Shard and looked out across London.

When is it OK to make things up?

Unidentified homeless man - London

An unidentified homeless man taken in London by Brad J. Gerrard

Does this photograph look at all familiar? If you’ve got Christian friends on Facebook then there’s a good chance you will have seen it in the last day or so illustrating the story of ‘Pastor Jeremiah Steepek’, who turned up to take his first service at his new pastorate, a 10,000 strong mega-church, dressed as a homeless man.

Only thing is, ‘Pastor Jeremiah Steepek’, isn’t the slightest bit homeless, rather he’s been created in the imagination of someone who writes for the website Beauty from Ashes Facebook page.

Now, the story does try to make a good point about values but I’m not sure that it’s helpful when it’s portrayed as fact rather than fiction. Making the mistake of reading this as a true story could lead the reader to draw a whole load of wrong conclusions about the US mega-church scene.

I find this even more frustrating when I think what Christian media should be. Truthful, accurate, well thought through.

Recent experience has taught me that while the secular media will get in touch with you to check facts and listen to your side of the story, much of the Christian media either reprints statements without any corroboration, or writes whatever fits best with their worldview. This is hugely frustrating when so much of my time is spent trying to ensure that the things we print accurately represent the communities we work with.

Ira Glass receives an award for his, ‘stupid magic trick’

The name Ira Glass probably doesn’t mean much to many people outside of the US, but his radio show This American Life, is a wonderful repository of modern storytelling that deserves to have a global reach.

Ira’s unique ‘conversational’ tone of voice isn’t what you would expect from a radio host, but it works. It works, not really because of what he says, but because of the stories the programme shares.

Just take a look at the list of favourite shows.

  • Show 360: Switched at Birth (25th July 2008) – On a summer day in 1951, tow baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. 
  • Show 241: 20 Acts in 60 Minutes (11th July 2003) – Instead of the usual “each week we choose a theme, and bring you 3 or 4 stories on that theme” business, we throw all that away and bring you 20 stores-yes, 20-in 60 minutes.
  • Show 175: Babysitting (5th January 2001) – Stories of babysitters, and what goes on while mom and dad are away that mom and dad never find out about.

Anyway, this week Ira was given an award for what he describes as his, ‘stupid magic trick’, putting quotes together in an order with some music, by the Academy of Arts and Letters. I reckon his acceptance speech is worth a watch.

Keeping your concentration

Life always throws up little challenges that can distract you from the task in hand. Some of these, like email notifications and status alerts, are reasonably easy to turn off, but other distractions are too big to be easily ignored. It’s in these situations you need focus. A state of mind where nothing can distract you from the task in hand.

Red Bull gave Own Farrell the chance to develop a level of focus over and above that usually required by rugby players. I reckon he did pretty well.

Christian Resources Exhibition 2013

The Christian Resources Exhibition is a strange mix of things. Amongst the hundreds of stands you can find people who will design your new church building, put in stained glass, supply the chairs, build a stage and install lighting, cameras and the sound system. There’s organs, music books, coffee suppliers, church website builders, clothes for the clergy and books, books, books… oh, and more books.

Groundwire stand at CRE 2013

Groundwire stand at CRE 2013

For the last three years Wycliffe Bible Translators have exhibited there, but with the steady decline in visitor numbers and the lack of foucs on global mission, the benefits don’t seem to come close to covering the costs.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some great things there. My two highlights this year were Groundwire and Damaris.

I fell into conversation with Matt on the Groundwire stand (a very cool accident). They give people the opportunity to ask questions about faith in an online chatroom. It can be as anonymous as you want.

Groundwire is an international organisation whose aim is to provide those in need with the opportunity to chat online with a spiritual coach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We aim to provide spiritual advice based on the teachings of the Bible. We are here to help those in need, those with questions, fears and worries. We are here to assist people who are feeling lost, addicted, sad, confused and in pain. We care and want the best for each person as an individual – we don’t ever want anyone to think they had nobody to talk to, nobody who cared, nobody who would listen.

Damaris at CRE 2013

Damaris at CRE 2013

The other cool session was by Damaris, who provide discussion resources based on current movies.

I was impressed by the fact that the resources were used by so many different organisations and while there is the opportunity to discuss spirituality it doesn’t have to be a Christian group that uses the material. Scouts, Guides and the Women’s Institute are amongst those signed up.


Thoughts about prayer

I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer recently so I thought that I’d share my reflections here. Maybe you have something to contribute to the conversation.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Matthew 26:36-46

My three thoughts:

1) Prayer is about God, not about us.

What I mean is that when you pray you are coming before a mighty, powerful, holy God. Get some perspective and realise how awesome communication with him should be. Sometimes we approach prayer as an informal, thoughtless act; where as it really should be a supreme encounter.

2) God wants to hear it all.

Part of the wonder of prayer is that this wonderful God wants to hear it all. Not just the big stuff, not just the problems that are out of our control, but all of it. He wants to be with us on every step of life’s journey, including trips to the shop, conversation about last night’s TV, the emails you have to reply to or the next thing you’ll post on Facebook. God wants to be in all of our lives.

3) We need to allow God space in the conversation.

If our prayers are to become a conversation with God we need to allow him the space to speak to us. Sometimes we pray with our lists, our things, all the stuff of life and all the people we want to pray for. And, in his graciousness, God hears it all. But, if prayer really is like a relationship we need to stop for long enough to listen to God.

And in conclusion

What does this have to do with this passage in Matthew?

The back story is this is Jesus praying before he is arrested and taken off to be crucified. He’s not praying alone, he’s taken some of the disciples with him. He pleads with God, who he recognises as the ultimate authority over the developing situation, to be released from the duty of being a sacrifice for all humankind. Jesus wants out. But, still says, “I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus submits to God’s authority in everything.

There are some prayers I pray in which God doesn’t seem to act, at least not in the way I’d like. But, whose will is the priority. Is my will greater than Gods?

One of the few details we have from this prayer is Jesus pointing a finger at the disciples and saying, ‘What, couldn’t you watch over me for just one hour?’. I wonder whether Jesus was praying out loud for that hour, or whether he was quiet and still, listening to what God had to say to him.

Just like any relationship is better, when there’s two sides involved in the conversation, I reckon my prayer life would be better if I left more space for God to talk to me.

Any thoughts?