CELLPHONES, FACEBOOK, COMPUTERS, AND COMPLETING THE GREAT COMMISSION [Excerpts]
Anyone who reads the biographies of Hudson Taylor, David Brainard, CT Studd and others from long ago will, of course, notice a total absence of any of the technologies we take for granted: the quietness, the pace, the lack of news from the outside world. The world they lived in is difficult to imagine today. I still remember the day in the early 1980’s when I saw the first computer a returning missionary brought back to PNG (he’d already lived there 10 years and had mastered the local language). The huge boxes, huge floppy disks, huge PRICE TAG... all were mind-boggling. But the speed that word processing could happen at, and the obvious benefit to the translation he was doing, made this nothing but a huge blessing. No one could foresee what was coming then.
Computers got smaller and more affordable. They became part of the language learning process, not just the translation process. VHS followed soon, missionaries could watch videos in the jungle. Then Satellite phones, emailing out of the jungle via short wave radio, then regular email...and today we have FACEBOOK and hand held cell phones that work nearly anywhere in the world! There are some great upsides to most of these and there are very real dangers in all of them, too.
The world shrank. The loneliness that historically drove missionaries into the social fabric in the areas they worked in slowly disappeared. Being cut off from your home country, we came to realize, had been extremely helpful. Yet all that disappeared. By the late 1990’s I was connected to the outside world, even living where we were. I will confess, if I was going to the field today, in 2016, having grown up in a culture where being connected 24/7 is LIFE, I’m very sure that on my own I would not see the downsides to 'being connected.' For many who are being sent out today to NOT have a device in their hand which allows access to scores, friends, news, stocks, friends, emails, weather, tides (San Diego), photos, friends, bible study helps, and business that comes via the phone, that life is almost unthinkable. I get it.
So how does this affect the Great Commission? With all the potential for good the reality is that improper use of these technologies is hurting us in a few critical ways. Missionaries may live overseas, even learn some language and gather much data about a culture... and still not be ‘there’ as a real part of the community. The use of electronic relaxation can lift us out of our situation so thoroughly and cleanly that the anticipation of an electronic relief is what the missionary is living for. I was told that very thing at the headquarters of a major agency... "Take anything from our missionaries but their internet, without that they can’t survive” [mission name withheld]. Going to a remote cross-cultural context and having self-imposed (as opposed to the lack of availability of years ago) restrictions on such usage takes great character and a personal commitment to such disciplines. Technology allows for one to live in the home culture and in New Delhi at the same time, and no one knows. I saw first hand the effect it had on those who had weekly satellite phone calls back to their families in the USA. Missionaries who spend 2, or more, hours a day on social media? Today that is common. All while trying to learn a language! Keeping the relationships of family and others from the home country vibrant while trying to ‘become part of the world there’ is a delusion. The myth of ‘multitasking’ shows up again and again as a lack of real friendships are exposed. Satisfying friendships in a 3rd language context truly are difficult; the differences between the person from ‘the outside’ and those he is trying to reach are huge. Anything less than a serious diving into THAT new context - not just in the linguistic and cultural realm, but in the relational realm too - will be found out.
For the missionary who doesn’t see the detrimental affects of having his heart in two places (San Diego and PNG, Bakersfield and India), that foreign location, and more importantly, those very foreign people stay just a little more distant to him. Maybe the missionary will talk about the ‘hardness of the people’ or the fierce resistance of local Muslims. No doubt at times there is truth to that... but how often are missionaries seen as ‘here but not here’ by those they live among? Little more than long term visitors or spectators to the real issues of life?
None of the conveniences mentioned in this article are sinful. But the distraction factor no longer needs to be proved. Our students here are living proof of the fallacy of the multi-tasking capacity of this generation. From their own lips they will speak of how being ‘easily distracted’ or ‘bored’ is common today. Even beyond language and culture, the depth of necessary relationships it takes to bring folks to maturity in Christ is obvious. Paul says in I Cor 4:15 “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Neil Postman, not known as a friend of Christians, saw the erosion of the ability to think seriously about anything. In 1984 he wrote... (Neil Postman, "Amusing Ourselves to Death, Forward, xix). ”George Orwell (Author of 1984) feared those who would ban books. What Aldous Huxley, (Author of Brave New World) feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”
(Buser, "Cellphones, Facebook, Computers and Completing the Great Commission," Radius International Newsletter, 10/6/16)