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Internet “cyber-missions:” today’s global Areopagus

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–By his own admission, Southern Baptist missionary Sam Jones is no computer nerd.
What’s more, Jones and his wife, Rosalie, serve in Honduras — light years behind the United States in technology. They went there with little expectation of getting up to “Web speed” anytime soon.
But now, with a little help from their computer-savvy adult children back home, the Joneses have their own website (www.onthewire.com/keepup/). It features Honduras missions news, prayer requests, photos and a hot button for creating instant e-mail to them. It’s not fancy, but it’s user-friendly and — most important — interactive.
Thousands of Web surfers have checked out the site since it came on-line last year. Many are seeking ways to help Jones, the International Mission Board’s volunteer project coordinator there, minister to still-suffering survivors of Hurricane Mitch.
As my kids would say: “Cool!”
Were he alive today, the Apostle Paul might say the same thing. And if he were writing his epistles now, I bet he’d post ’em on the Internet.
During his sojourn in Athens, Paul welcomed an invitation from the city’s philosophers — some of whom regarded him as an “idle babbler” — to preach at the Areopagus. In that forum, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21, NIV).
Sounds like the World Wide Web, an electronic ocean where waves of babble — and worse — cannot drown out deeper currents of knowledge and truth.
Half a century ago, Arthur C. Clarke — renowned scientist, inventor and sci-fi author — predicted the coming of a sort of global library or “group mind.” Anyone in the world, he said, would be able to survey the sum of human knowledge, contribute to it and address humanity.
Reality is overtaking Clarke’s forecast.
“Who could have imagined the freedom of communication and access to enormous amounts of information we have now?” he recently observed. “Not even a crazy science fiction writer like me. The computer revolution … will continue to change society beyond recognition.”
Begun as a crude network patching together a few university research computers, the Internet has become a global forum. The World Wide Web offers millions of sites. An estimated 10 billion e-mails per day shot back and forth last year. Since Internet traffic doubles every 100 days, that number is already badly out of date.
Lack of technology and free communication access still prevent millions of people from getting on-line — particularly in poor nations ruled by oppressive regimes, where people also are among the least-evangelized. But as economies become increasingly dependent on “cyber-commerce,” access will soar.
“A network that can carry business contracts and currency transactions surely can carry a more precious cargo,” observes David Garrison, International Mission Board strategy leader. “Today’s communication networks may be the equivalent of the first century’s Roman roads, allowing the gospel to stream into places where missionaries are restricted.”
Here a sampling of the many possibilities of “cyber-missions”:
— Missions research and education: The Web offers a staggering array of sites with information on unreached peoples, service opportunities, prayer requests, etc. Explore the International Mission Board website (www.imb.org).
— Mobilization: Missionaries can contact churches at home — and vice versa — quickly, easily and cheaply. Interactivity is the key. Churches today want regular, direct, personal interchange with missionaries. With the Internet, they can get it. Want to e-mail an IMB missionary or sample missionary websites? Click on “Your Missionaries” at the IMB website.
— Direct evangelism: “Today, in a matter of minutes, Timothy Abraham can share his testimony with devout Muslims in Egypt from his home in Bunn, N.C., simply by logging onto the Internet,” wrote Lee Weeks in “SBC Life” (Feb./March ’99). “Abraham, a former Muslim from Egypt (and student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), has led about 20 people to salvation in Christ over the Internet during the past two years.”
No intrinsic spiritual power resides in the Web, of course. It is a tool — and only a tool — for good or evil. But what a tool! Harnessing its potential has become one of the key challenges of world missions.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges