Chapter Eleven – As the Waters Cover the Seas: NetCasting to the World
Carmella had not heard from her cousin Estelle in Cuba since she fled the country thirty-six years ago. Then one day, without notice, Carmella received Estelle’s e-mail address from a mutual friend in Costa Rica and the two began corresponding. With the connection reestablished, they looked forward to their weekly e-mails.
They began the process of catching up on the events of nearly four decades in their lives. Soon Carmella arrived at the time when she received Jesus as her Savior. From that point on, most of their e-mails centered on what God was doing to bring peace and joy in her life and in the life of her family.
Estelle said that she waited for Carmella’s e-mail as if it was an episode from a novel. One day Carmella sent the sinner’s prayer and the meaning of being born again. In the next e-mail Carmella received, Estelle said that she and her husband had prayed the prayer and were planning to go to a house church on Sunday. She was also talking to her children and their spouses, sharing the gospel with them so they, too, would come to know Christ.
Estelle had been raised Roman Catholic, and her husband had been an atheist. After she prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior, Estelle dug out her mother’s Bible and began reading it with her husband.
That was the last e-mail Carmella received from Estelle. After that the communication was cut off. She hasn’t heard from her dear cousin since, but she prays for her and for her family, that the seeds sown through this Internet connection will take root and that the entire family will come to know freedom in Christ.
The Mission of Internet Evangelism
I remember pondering in the early 1990s what a blessing e-mail would be for missionaries on the field. The fact that they could more easily send and receive correspondence and assistance via the Internet thrilled me.
Today the number of tools available for missionaries and global NetCasters is truly staggering. The explosion of the information age has given missionaries opportunities for outreach that they would have never dreamed of only two decades ago.
And these ministry opportunities are not limited to the cities anymore. Any remote location that can connect to the digital grid via satellite or a digital cell phone signal can go online and be in touch with half of the population of planet Earth!
But of course there is much more opportunity to connect with people who are in the world’s cities—and more people are now living in cities than ever before. I believe the intersecting of the mass exodus to the cities by the world’s population and the advent of the Internet and mobile digital media is part of God’s strategy to make Himself known to mankind in these last days.
We are living in a day of destiny!
The world has never been more connected than it is right now. The global village is rapidly shrinking. The political, economic, religious, and cultural barriers that have hindered the spread of the gospel are coming down.
John Edmiston of Cybermissions.org believes that the Internet offers enormous potential for ministry across cultural barriers, and that in many countries the Internet is a more secure way to share the gospel than is the presence of a Western missionary. “Truths of the gospel are universal. We need to be prepared for people who ask different questions based on their culture. The power of the Word of God on the Internet has a 24/7 impact.” But he cautions Christians who share their faith online to effectively address cultural differences and not just present a ‘westernized’ gospel translated into another language. “The gospel,” he emphasizes, “needs to be incarnated into each culture.” 1
Reversing the Tower of Babel
This amazing testimony from Groundwire.net demonstrates the power and beauty of the Internet.
Jeremy M: Hello, Jose. So what’s your question about salvation?
Jose: How are u saved?
Jeremy M: Well, salvation comes by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus paying the price for your sins on the cross. It’s not complicated; it’s just a matter of accepting the free gift of the salvation He provided.
The Bible says that if we believe in our hearts that Jesus died for our sins and God raised Him from the dead, and if we confess that with our mouths, then we receive salvation. It’s a matter of asking Jesus to come into your heart with your mouth, and making sure that your heart is in agreement with those words.
Would you like to accept Jesus as your Lord and secure your eternal salvation?
Jose: Yes, do u have a Spanish speaker?
Jeremy M: Hmmm, not someone fluent. Is your English OK or do you need it in Spanish?
Jose: In Spanish, my English is really broke.
Jeremy M: OK, can you give me a minute to take care of that for you?
Jeremy M: It’s OK. You will have to forgive me, but the best I can do will probably be a broken Spanish translation. Let me post it, and you can let me know if what I am saying makes sense, OK?
Using the translator at Babblefish.com, Jeremy (a non-Spanish speaker) shared the plan of salvation with Jose—and then led him to Christ in Spanish!
Jeremy M: . . . Creo que resucitaron de los muertos, está vivo, y oye a su hijo, Jesús Cristo muerto por mis pecados, mi rezo . . . Does that make sense to you?
Jose: Yes. Do I pray?
Jeremy M: Then pray that prayer out loud, and get your heart to agree with those words I posted. Pray that prayer above that I posted in Spanish. Can you do that?
Jose: Yes, it’s better for me.
Jeremy M: Then let me know after you have prayed that prayer out loud to God, OK?
Jeremy M: Good, Jose. You made a very good choice today. Do you know anyone who is saved?
Jose: Pastor es buen ayuda. Si, yo tengo salvado?
Jeremy M: Are you asking if you are saved?
Jose: I saved now, no?
Jeremy M: Si!
Jose: Gracias, Buenos noches.
Jeremy M: Tenga una buena tarde, amigo.
Missions and Internet Evangelism
Because the Internet is worldwide in its reach, Internet evangelists need to understand and plan for the fact that they can potentially connect with people all around the globe. John Edmiston uses his Web site, cybermisions.org, to train Internet evangelists to take the gospel to the nations. He also works with missionaries to establish Internet cafés on the user end, many of which are in countries difficult to reach by normal missionary means.
“We set up an Internet café and give a group of local missionaries, not Western ones, some twenty computers and technical help. Through the twenty computers they get a little bit of income and that enables them to run it as a business. So, of course, in some of these unreached areas we don’t give them a name like ‘Converting the World to Jesus Internet Café,’ because that would ensure the place would be burned down. It just looks like a normal business.”
Edmiston has set up twelve Internet cafés worldwide and is working on another sixteen, with quite a few more planned in different parts of the globe. In these tough-to-evangelize areas, the people running each café engage in what he calls “friendship evangelism.”
“You have to go very slowly in most areas and you certainly don’t bash them over the head with a Bible when they’re sitting there at a computer. People go in there to check their e-mail and they’re in there two or three times a week, and so friendships are built that way. As our person realizes that one is a genuine seeker, not a plant or a government agent, they would go into a one-on-one discipleship process and once they’re trusted, they go into a house church. You have to be very security conscious through the whole process.”
When I asked Tony Whittaker what parts of the world are ripe for Internet evangelism, he responded, “Which ones aren’t?”
“I’ve tried to highlight Japan as particularly needy, owing to being so highly wired, so minimally Christian, and unable to easily access English language material. The Mideast—as you know, many incredible things are happening. By and large, the West is now wired. There will not be much more Web growth here. North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, plus Japan and Korea are highly wired. The Middle East is quite so. Eastern Europe is growing. South America is quite wired and still growing.
“The next billion users will come from the non-western world, and will be a completely different demographic; poor, or relatively so, less literate, not first-language English speakers. They will access the Web through Internet cafes and increasingly through mobile phones. Their needs, and therefore effective, appropriate Web evangelism, will be very different.
“Missionaries have been intrigued by the prospect of Internet evangelism. But incorporating IE into their overall mission strategy has proven to be a big challenge.
“I wish it would happen more,” Whittaker laments. “One way would be to create local interest blogs or community sites. Powertochange.com has offered their material to be branded into a locality-based Web site.”
Internet and Media Outreach to Muslims
God is pouring out His Spirit in amazing ways around the world—and in particular to Muslims. Reports are flooding in from the Islamic world of people coming to Christ after dreams and visions of Jesus appearing to them. And recently there has also been an explosion of evangelistic activity in the Muslim world through the Internet, satellite television, SMS text, and mobile telephones.
The religious walls that have kept Muslims bound in ancient lies are being penetrated and torn down by the Holy Spirit, in part through media ministry. The imams and the dictators can’t stay ahead of the rapidly changing technology. So today, thanks to the Internet and satellite TV, the gospel message is being preached with power in the Muslim nations that once would not allow it.
I spoke with a NetCaster and broadcaster—I’ll call him Talal—about the synergy of ministry that’s converging to lead Muslims around the globe to Christ.
von Buseck: You have discovered a very effective way to bring synergy between the television and the Internet.
Talal: About four years ago I heard about this show that was being done by a Coptic priest that was very effective in the Muslim world. His unique approach was to read the Islamic books and highlight and expose some of the teachings that Islam believes in, and Islam is teaching, and Islam is practicing. So the name of the show was Questions About Faith. So they would take topics that are taboo or are not allowed to be discussed or even questioned in Islam and discuss them.
Eventually this caused an uproar in the Middle East. Then the show started to receive a lot of response. So I contacted this ministry and I said, “How can I help you?” We started partnering and producing these shows. We improved the quality.
We started to come out with new ideas. The approach is very effective. Basically instead of playing defense as Christians—always defending the Bible—we started playing defense and offense. So we started saying, “OK, here is the answer to what you asked us. Now let us ask you about this.” So the television ministry is starting to boom.
Then we came out with a new program called In the Bull’s Eye, which takes pure Islamic topics, like, for example, the birth of Muhammad. According to Islamic teachings, he was born four years after his dad died. For the Muslims to clarify the subject, they said it’s OK for a woman to have a baby as long as it’s before four years—she can be pregnant for four years. In fact, there are fatwas from the highest Islamic schools that say, yes, a woman can be pregnant for four years—which is against every scientific and human possibility.
Then we came out with a program called Truth Talk, where we would interview a Muslim background believer and talk about their experience to show the Muslim world that Muslims are coming to Christ.
Then we started producing another show called Taking Off the Mask, which takes current events, analyzes them, and then talks about the root cause of these events—and why Muslims believe this and why it is happening this way.
So after doing all these shows—and they were so effective—then we moved into the live shows where Muslims can call and ask about anything, from Islamic or Christian topics. And praise God, so many people are coming to Christ. So many Muslims are coming out of Islam, and they are saying, “I can’t believe I used to believe this. I can’t believe that my mom and dad still believe in this.”
We are launching our third live show. The program Truth Talk, that we started as a taped show, is going to turn into a live show.
People respond in different ways. People respond via e-mail, phone, letters, and the Web site. We receive e-mails from all over the world. On a daily basis we receive one thousand e-mails, and this is a conservative number. These are ministry e-mails and also comments from the Web site.
During the live show, we will receive between three hundred and nine hundred e-mails in an hour and a half. And these people are calling country to country. So people in the Muslim world are calling a U.K. number or a French number. These are not local numbers, so it costs people a lot of money. But this is like a lifeline for people. And the telephone ministry—and I call it telephone ministry because it started as support for the live shows—is now turning into its own ministry.
von Buseck: How are you using the Internet in your strategy?
Talal: You really cannot separate the Internet from the satellite. The Internet is our number one means of feedback and way to get instant reports and communication from our audience. Now unfortunately, throughout the Muslim world, so many countries are blocking the Internet. But technology, in most cases, is ahead of people blocking Web sites. There is always somehow, somewhere that people can find ways around it to send messages and e-mail.
We made a documentary on Jihad. It’s a one-and-a-half-hour documentary that is, in my opinion, the best analysis, description, and explanation about Jihad, with English subtitles. It’s in Arabic. We aired it on Thanksgiving. In a matter of eight days, out of our Web site, more than one million people downloaded the program. That tells you that people are looking for good-quality productions. People are looking for information. People are looking for answers. And when people download it, they put it on their own Web sites and then they distribute it.
It’s amazing what God is doing through this whole thing. What the Lord is putting on our heart is not a matter of language; it’s a matter of knowledge. Without knowledge people would perish. It’s to make this information that is working so powerfully in the Arabic-speaking world, for God to give us wisdom in the English-speaking world and beyond.
We are creating an Internet community and a message system for people to leave comments and to evaluate things. Every once in a while we post surveys. We post music videos and teachings. So we are using a lot of different mechanisms. We transcribe all of our episodes so that people can view them online. This is all posted on www.Islamexplained.com. We have both Arabic and English versions of this Web site.
von Buseck: Including the work you are doing, what do you see as the most effective Internet strategies for reaching Muslims with the gospel at this point?
Talal: Communities. Create a community. Don’t make it a one-way preaching podium.
von Buseck: So Web 2.0 for Muslims.
Talal: Absolutely. People like to make it a two-way community and strategy. Keep the levels of respect. Allow people to share their views and opinions. Honestly, as Christians, there shouldn’t be anything that we should be unwilling to face, ask, or question. And be transparent. Be yourself. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Ask someone. Be yourself—don’t have this teacher mentality.
von Buseck: How are you utilizing SMS text and mobile?
Talal: We really are researching this because we are in a unique situation. We can’t just use SMS anywhere. We have to keep some levels of security. Our coverage goes over the whole Middle East, Iran, North Africa, Europe, North America, and Australia. It’s almost impossible to be able to do it all like this. So we need a system that will work in all of these places. So we are working on it and we are studying different options.
von Buseck: Can you think of any e-mail or chat experiences that stand out as individual testimonies?
Talal: A lady sent us a very long e-mail from a Muslim country, telling us her story. She was the daughter of an imam of a mosque. She and two of her siblings specialized and had college degrees in Islamic studies. Her main mission in life was to reach out to Christians. Each of the three took a different people group. One of them was for the Shiites—they consider the Shiites as non-Muslim. Another one was for the secular. And she was for the Christians.
This lady started listening to our television shows and getting angry and cursing the host and the other guests. She couldn’t even stand to watch them on television. She would go and pray and curse them more. Then she started to listen more.
Then she started to doubt. Then she started to read more. Then she went to the Web site and watched every single episode. Then she wanted to know and research her religion and she found out that we’re right. She started to ask more and more.
Then Jesus showed her in a dream and a vision, Himself in a desert, that He is God, and He is the true one she is looking for.
She started writing and corresponding with Christians in Lebanon. Then she went to Lebanon and met these people. She sent to us this wonderful e-mail to thank us for all the shows and to tell us her life story. In this whole life story she mentioned that she’s a wonderful believer in Christ. She’s still hidden in her job and her Islamic traditions at home. Our shows on television are the only church she has now, and her only comfort. It’s a powerful e-mail and a powerful story.
So people are watching us, corresponding by e-mail. This e-mail and the television are their spiritual lifeline.
von Buseck: Who else is doing effective Internet evangelism to Muslims, but maybe a little differently than we are doing?
Talal: There are quite a few people—on an individual level, on a ministry level, on a church level—doing Internet outreach to Muslims. God is bringing unity, networking, and unification into all these groups to work together.
von Buseck: What are some of their techniques that maybe wouldn’t work for us, but they are working for them?
Talal: It’s not techniques, it’s more like specialties. Some people are focusing on correspondence in different areas of the world. Others are producing just Christian shows. Other people are focusing on producing children’s shows. Other people are focusing on women. There is overlap—like our ministry and another ministry focusing on exposing Islam—going down to the roots and talking Islamic topics. Not everyone has the resources or the ability to do it, and God has blessed us with outlets to air these shows. Maybe the how-to comes second, but first comes the message and who is your target audience.
von Buseck: If there are people out there who have a passion to reach Muslims for Christ and they’re not a part of another group, what are some ways that they can, on their own, start reaching out through the Web to other Muslims?
Talal: That is what I’m really trying to avoid, and I don’t honestly encourage, which is to try to do it yourself. There is a lot attached to it—security, information, accountability. There is no lone-star Texas Ranger anymore. And even larger media organizations cannot do it alone. So it doesn’t matter if it’s an individual or a church or an organization—no one can do it on their own.
Digital Jungles: Taking the Internet to Rural Lands
While missionaries have been involved in Internet evangelism for years in urban settings like these Internet cafés, exciting opportunities are also beginning to open up for remote Internet evangelism. This will most likely happen through Internet cafés that are linked to satellite or cell connections and are powered by solar panels—or it will be through mobile digital devices.
“Almost the entire population of the world now lives in a mobile phone reception area,” says Tony Whittaker. “India has decided to wire up the entire nation with broadband Web, free. Presumably this is going to include a considerable use of WiFi. This is a megaopportunity.”
Dave Hackett of VisionSynergy commented that he thought that the mobile device, with foldable keyboard, may well replace the laptop concept, as both a usable computing device as well as being a phone, video/mp3 player, and much else.
One example of the innovative ways missionaries are beginning to connect remote areas to the rest of the world is a project called Link Net that is being developed deep in the jungles of Zambia by NetCaster Jonathan Backens.
Link Net was pioneered by a Dutch entrepreneur named Gertjan, a Christian who is trained professionally in telecommunications. Gertjan’s wife, Janika, is a medical doctor who wanted to do work in Africa. God gave Gertjan the idea to use telecommunications as a way to transform Africa. The Lord opened an opportunity for Janika to do rural malaria research in a remote village in Zambia, six hours outside Lusaka, the capital. It is two hours by car from a paved road or a telephone.
“You get there by a 4 x 4 or by a Cessna 206,” Backens explains. “You land in a handmade airstrip. It took a hundred men a year to build it. You fly in to the capital and then Flying Mission, a missions support agency that flies missionaries all over the place, picks you up from there.”
Gertjan had the idea of bringing in Internet computers to develop a community center. The people who don’t work at the hospital are at the poverty level or below. Gertjan talked to the head man who gave him an old building used to store grain. Gertjan called friends from the Netherlands to raise money, and he completely renovated it. He built the Internet café and began training locals.
The research hospital likes it because they do rural communications. It connects these Western doctors with their home base. “So essentially, the hospital pays for the initial satellite feed,” Backens explains. “They pay for the Internet connection and they let our Internet café feed off it. The café is essentially self-sustaining now. We’re projecting that it will take about two years for these Internet cafes to become economically viable.
“So Gertjan came in and did this about two years ago. He brought in the first satellite feed. And there are about twenty-five computers. He added to that a radio station and a small library. There is a shop for the women of the area who sell handwoven baskets.
“The big cities have been reached. The rural villages have not, because it takes time and it takes years of going there. So that’s where we want to go. We want to go rural. Over the next four to five years we want to have twenty-five self-sufficient, working sites.”
Building Indispensable Partnerships
Evangelism is all about relationship: with God, with those you are witnessing to, and with other Christians of similar vision. Dave Hackett has a vision for empowering missionaries to use the Internet as a tool of outreach. The key, he explains, is bringing groups together in what he calls “indispensable partnerships.”
“First, you need to know the key players,” Hackett explains. “The due diligence phase is a lot of research. Most people look only for the biggest players, and somehow learn what they are doing, and maybe try to interact with them. Our approach is to find as many as we can—look over the whole spectrum and find out what is going on. We’ve got a directory of non-English Internet evangelism Web sites—1,300 in 860 languages, all listed and sorted.”
Hackett encourages ministries to know the field better than anybody so they can build effective partnerships and can avoid duplicating efforts. Hackett gave an example of why this is important for effective outreach. “At an Internet evangelism conference, a ministry presented its downloadable-to-cell-phone Arabic Bible. These Web evangelists were very proud of it. It had been successfully downloaded ten thousand times over eight months, primarily on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a great tool.”
But when Hackett asked them how they compared and contrasted their tool with the six or eight other Arabic downloadable-to-cell-phone Bibles, their jaws dropped. “They had done virtually no research. It didn’t even cross their minds to do a Google search on the topic. If they had done even that rudimentary due diligence, they could have said, ‘Ah, this is the thing that we really can build on and further the whole offering.’
“So one key way that we approach the Internet is to change the default question from, ‘I have a vision for a ministry; how can I work on it?’ to, ‘I’ve got an exciting vision for ministry; who else might be working on this? Who else might share this vision?’
“I started cataloging all the various ways Christians are using mobile platform pieces for evangelism. I created a mobile evangelism wiki (http://snipr.com/mobileev). For the first time, to my knowledge, I’ve aggregated links and descriptions of the variety of ways that ministries were trying to adapt mobile. It’s open for editing, and we’ve got people around the world who are putting up additional things.”
Hackett quickly built up a list of practitioners and started contacting them. “These people felt like they were a lone guy doing this. So it has been very exciting to talk to these people. Most of them are Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Chief Internet Officers (CIOs), or Chief Technology Officers (CTOs)—they are entrepreneurs or ministries. They have their own means and hopes, and we have been sensing that they can connect. They can do better.”
Jesus commanded the church to take the gospel to every people group, tribe, and tongue. Through the Internet, mobile digital devices, and satellite television, we now have the tools in our hands to take one giant step toward the fulfillment of this command.
Will you be one of the NetCasters who will see this happen in your lifetime? I pray that you will be—and that through the efforts of both the air forces and the ground troops, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).