Chapter Nine – The Fishing Village: Who’s Catching Them?
Around the world thousands of heroic NetCasters give of themselves every day to share the happy news that God is love and He cares for people so much that He created a worldwide network of computers so that they could hear that Good News!
One of the wonderful things about working on the Internet is that I have had the pleasure to meet many of these heroic NetCasters, both in real life and in online! I’d like to introduce a sampling of them to you, knowing that these few represent thousands just like them who sacrifice their time and energy to make Jesus real to seekers in the electronic forum we call the Internet.
Tony Whittaker: Internet Evangelism Day
Some people have a profound affect on the world around them just by being who they are. That’s the way I feel about my dear friend Tony Whittaker, whom you’ve already gotten to know in the pages of this book. So instead of introducing you to the coordinator of the Internet Evangelism Day and the editor of the Web Evangelism Bulletin and the Digital Evangelism Issues blog (www.internationalevangelismday.com/blog), I’ll just let you be a fly on the wall, so to speak, in one of our conversations.
von Buseck: How can local churches encourage their people to become involved in Internet evangelism?
• Take time to discuss how digital media has transformed all communication, both offline and online, and give us a key way to share the good news.
• Consider presenting this potential to the church, using Internet Evangelism Day’s downloads: PowerPoint, video clips, music, drama, and handouts.
• Help church members (including the youth group) who are wondering if their gifts could be used online. Consider appointing a coordinator or enabler to help them do this. Opportunities include social networking on Facebook, etc., making short videos for YouTube, gaming and Second Life, blogging and Twitter, Web site creation, and offering to be an e-mentor for inquirers on large outreach ministry sites. 1
• Discuss ways of making the church Web site “outsider friendly.”
von Buseck: What are your goals or desires for the Internet Evangelism Day?
Whittaker: To help the global church understand, and decide to use, the digital media for outreach. And to demonstrate different strategies that are working, right across the board, from outreach sites to Twitter, and to illustrate them with positive stories from both Web evangelism practitioners and those who find Christ online.
von Buseck: What are some mistakes beginners make when doing Internet evangelism?
Whittaker: Probably several: (1) Not understanding their target readers and their needs. Or, indeed, not even consciously having a target reader at all, just a vague assumption of “everyone.” (2) Using our “default mode” of communication—i.e., speaking to, or as if to, other Christians. (3) Using all sorts of Christian jargon and assumptions.
von Buseck: Groups like NeedHim are integrating IE into their overall ministry strategy. Do you see this as an effective use of the Internet for ministry?
Whittaker: Definitely. The Web is not just another communication method, but a hyper-medium that subsumes, delivers, and interconnects all other media: text, MP3, video, audio, TV, letter writting, shopping, tracts, mobile phones, games, everything! Above all, it is a relationship builder. NeedHim’s integration of TV ads with Web, SMS, phone, and e-mail is an example of the sort of integration we need across the board. Web evangelists are seeing this potential—for instance in several areas of the world, there are informal networks of outreach people: Web, radio, satellite, TV, Bible correspondence courses, outreach teams on the ground, and local churches. By working together, they are creating far more effective ways of helping inquirers, discipling converts, and integrating them into local churches.
TruthMedia (Campus Crusade Canada)—Karen Schenk
Through a network of Web sites that reach out to many segments of society, TruthMedia ministers directly to hundreds of thousands of people every month. It’s team of staff and volunteers is passionate about using technology to share the gospel of Christ by creating online communities of evangelism and discipleship. The emphasis is on connecting seekers in need with committed people who can help them.
TruthMedia Director Karen Schenk manages the editorial and interactive teams and oversees a corps of more than four hundred volunteers. “One of my favorite changed-life stories was when I had the opportunity to lead a woman to the Lord and then discovered she only lived a mile from my home. Since that time four years ago, her husband and two children have come to know the Lord and are now serving in our local church.
“Another encouraging story was about a gentleman who wrote us on a Saturday morning, saying he had planned that weekend to take his life as he was a terrible husband and father. I e-mailed him that Saturday morning and asked him to wait until we could get him some help. We then had one of our online counselors speak with him and help him through some very difficult months. He recently e-mailed our site (two years later) to let us know he is walking with the Lord and doing very well.
“It’s an incredible privilege to participate in a ministry that reaches thousands for Christ. It’s exciting to see people volunteer and have significant ministry impact from their homes and businesses in their areas of interest and in conjunction with their schedules. The Internet is a great place to minister!”
One of the most successful Internet evangelism sites in the world is Top Chretien led by Eric Celerier in France. One of the Top C NetCasters, Nathalie, shares her story of how God is using her to take the gospel to the world without ever leaving her home in Paris.
“While I was living in Paris, my heart burned for people around the world, living their lives without knowing Jesus. As I was reading stories of missionaries, I felt called to become a missionary myself. One day, after an evening service, the soft and loving voice of the Lord whispered to me through the voice of my pastor, ‘You don’t have to go abroad to be a missionary because all the nations are in Paris.’
“Eight years after that evening service, I am now involved in Internet evangelism and work in full-time ministry. Through the Internet, I have been able to see thousands of decisions for Jesus every minute from all over the world. Our Internet evangelism tool is Knowing God (www.godrev.jesus.net/joy-in-heaven). It exists in seven languages. Our vision is to develop the Web site into twenty-eight languages in order to reach two hundred fifty million visitors by the year 2020.
“My responsibility on the team is to supervise the 103 counselors in France, who follow up on those needing help or asking questions about faith and God. I encourage and serve these faithful men and women who give a large part of their time to counseling. I even follow up on inquirers myself. Up to now, I have mainly been involved in one-to-one contact. Even though I am not very skilled on the computer—that is to say, not so technically talented—I enjoy sharing online or reading many encouraging testimonies.
“It’s worth it, Lord, to stay in France and see one life at a time touched and changed.”
David Bruce: Hollywood Jesus
In 1997 Billy Graham challenged Christians to use the Internet for good. David Bruce took the challenge seriously, even though he had never been on the Internet. With a background in media (NBC), pastoring (MDiv), and being a missionary at heart, he went to the nearest Barnes & Noble where he picked up books on Web site graphics and design.
“With cross-cultural missiologist Don Richardson’s Eternity in Their Hearts serving as inspiration, I set to work creating a vehicle whereby I could use the culture to win the culture. Thus, Hollywood Jesus was born.
“The idea behind the site was simple: to mine the movies for redemptive analogies, to find bridges in popular culture for the presentation of the gospel. The method, or a version of it, is tried and true. The apostle Paul used this cultural-engagement approach to reach those who had gathered on Mars Hill in Athens.”
The result is HollywoodJesus.com, a Web site geared to exploring “pop culture from a spiritual point of view.” Since its launch in February 1998, the site has received more than six hundred million visits. It averages a million visitors a month.
“The goal of the site is to share Christ, and I am happy to report that I correspond with about a hundred people at any given time via e-mail about their journey toward our Savior. The site started out as something I did part time and has evolved into a full-time ministry. It has opened many wonderful opportunities to share Christ—including on Fox News, Time magazine, the New York Times, ABC News, etc. It has been an amazing ‘Go ye into all the world’ experience.”
Christy Talbert: NetCaster
Christy began her evangelistic ministry on the Internet when her son, Josh, was a toddler. She often found herself home at night without much to do and began chatting on America Online. Soon people began coming to Christ while in chat with Christy. She became convinced that online chat was a powerful witnessing tool. Several years later Youth for Christ approached Christy about building a team of Internet evangelists.
This team, named YFC Online, has evolved to encompass several evangelistic venues. TeenSpaceColumbus.com is a MySpace-type web community developed to give local teens a safer place to congregate online. Through TeenSpaceColumbus.com, kids enjoy making new friends as they build relationships with committed adult Christians who share their faith when the opportunity arises.
In addition to TeenSpaceColumbus.com, Christy works closely with Groundwire.net. There she serves as a spiritual coach and volunteer consultant regarding online ministry. She is currently exploring Second Life as a potential new ministry site for Youth for Christ and has already seen several salvations through the Second Life ministry.
Hundreds of people have made decisions for Christ through YFC Online and Christy’s chat ministry over the past fifteen years. These individuals range in age from nine to senior citizens. They live all over the world and have diverse spiritual backgrounds. Thousands more have received encouragement, counsel, a sympathetic ear, and prayer in times of need.
• E-mail: SunburyBuckeye@gmail.com
• Second Life: Christy Justice
Sean Dunn: Groundwire (Youth For Christ)
Champion Ministries and Groundwire (GW) started in 1995, and are based in Castle Rock, Colorado. They conduct an outreach program that reaches people all over the world. The organization is the product of Sean and Mary Dunn’s vision to reach young people with the incredible gospel message that allows them to have a personal relationship with their Creator.
Groundwire is working to reach every student in the world through effective and creative communication of God’s Word, His love, and His purpose for each of them. By placing sixty-second Christ-centered spots on secular and Christian stations all over the world, they are working to flood the culture with pictures of authentic faith, attractive Christianity, and a loving God.
In addition to helping kids meet their spiritual needs, Groundwire volunteer support coaches have contact with those dealing with heaven and hell issues. Groundwire currently is broadcasting the message of Christ with more than twelve million people on a weekly basis on both secular and Christian radio. This encompasses more than 1,200 radio stations on five continents.
“We are reaching those who are not seeking a spiritual voice,” says founder Sean Dunn. “From the prodigal to the struggling Christian to the total unbeliever, we are planting seeds and seeing the harvest.”
Drew Dickens: NeedHim Ministries
Since 1997, NeedHim has received more than 800,000 calls and presented the gospel to more than seventy thousand people. The NeedHim radio spots are heard on more than twelve hundred radio and television stations, and the 888-NeedHim is displayed in countless print formats. Each year the www.NeedHim.org Web site receives four million visits, and volunteers respond to more than ten thousand emails and twelve thousand instant message chats about Christ from all over the world!
NeedHim works together with Luis Palau, American Tract Society, Hope for the Heart, Jesus Video, Campus Crusade for Christ, Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, National Day of Prayer, Moody Broadcasting, and others.
Drew Dickens, president of NeedHim, explains that depending on how users Google it, NeedHim is on thousands of Web sites. “It’s fun. This is very viral.
“All volunteers are trained to do phone, e-mail, and chat. All volunteers start monitoring a chat or a phone call. Most of them start by replying to an e-mail. Then they move toward either phone or chat.”
In a culture that prizes anonymity, NeedHim offers a place for people to find answers without confrontation. NeedHim is not a prayer line or a counseling center; it is an evangelism center, “to intentionally present the gospel.”
John Edmiston: Australia and United States
Dr. John Edmiston directs a missions agency called Cybermissions that trains people in Internet evangelism to contact unreached people groups through Internet cafés and Web sites. He has been ministering online since 1991. He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary, teaching evangelism and cybermissions.
“I first got involved when I had a 2,400-baud modem and a computer without a hard drive back in 1991. I was involved in a lot of discussion groups with cults. I did apologetics with cult groups and also a lot of the online debates in the early bulletin boards and chat rooms.
“Then in 1994, I went absolutely full time in Internet evangelism, and I have been full time ever since. In 1994, I started the prayer page, which was one of the first Christian Web sites on the new Internet. This was a Web site that allowed people to post prayer points. Then I set up one of the first Christian dating sites on the Internet. But it quickly got overwhelmed and I had to shut it down.”
Edmiston developed the Asian Internet Bible Institute after he saw a need for many of these pastors, particularly in areas where there is a mixture of Muslim and Christian, to have support in their missionary work. He started setting up Internet cafés to support the pastors with donated, recycled computers.
“At the moment I’m running Cybermissions.org, and I’m also running the Asian Internet Bible Institute site. http://www.globalchristians.org/articles/ is the online seminary. Cybermissions.org is training Internet evangelists.
James Watkins: Writer/NetCaster
The slogan of NetCaster and author James Watkins is “heavy topics with a light touch.” Watkins employs that light touch as he writes, speaks at conferences, and interacts with people through his Web sites. He travels throughout North America and overseas, ministering with humor, drama, and practical messages to communicate with teens, parents, adults, pastors, and writers. As an author, he’s written thirteen books and sold more than two thousand articles, devotions, editorials, hard-news stories, poems, reviews, scripts, short stories, and song lyrics, as well as more than one hundred photos.
Connecting with people was what first interested Watkins in the concept of evangelism on the Web. “The potential audience caught my imagination. It’s a way to reach millions of people with virtually no expense. Your Internet service provider monthly fee—that’s about it. As far as good stewardship, it’s a great way to evangelize.”
“As a writer, I’m always looking for an audience. When I first heard about the World Wide Web in 1995, I thought, What an opportunity to getting your work out there. I went online for the first time in April of 1997.
“If you’re not on the Web, you don’t exist. Paul would be at ApostlePaul.com. I know he would.”
Ship of Fools—U.K.
Ship of Fools was launched on April Fools’ Day 1998 and quickly grew into an online community as well as a webzine, a magazine for the Internet. “We’re here for people who prefer their religion disorganized,” says the Ship’s editor and designer Simon Jenkins. “Our aim is to help Christians be self-critical and honest about the failings of Christianity, as we believe honesty can only strengthen faith.”
Regular features include the Mystery Worshipper, the Caption Competition, and Gadgets for God. Ship of Fools has also run a number of projects, including The Ark, an online game show, and Church of Fools, an early experiment in online 3-D church.
The Laugh Judgment, their investigation into funny and offensive religious jokes, prompted journalist Julie Burchill to say: “If one must choose a modern symbol of what is so good about Britain, I would choose Ship of Fools.”
Alongside these is a thriving online community, including the famed Heaven, Hell and Purgatory bulletin boards, in which shipmates debate everything from “Religion and Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “The Status of Mormonism” to “Hitchcock and Catholic Guilt.”
Ship of Fools coeditor is Stephen Goddard, who met Simon Jenkins at theological college in London in the late seventies. “As committed Christians ourselves, we can’t help laughing at the crazy things that go wrong with the church, and we’re also drawn to those questions which take us beyond easy believing. In the end, we want to make sense of the Christian faith in today’s complex world.”
Fully independent, iconoclastic, and debunking but also committed to the ultimate value of faith, Ship of Fools attracts visitors more interested in searching questions than simplistic answers.
More than a Web site, EveryStudent.com is a strategy allowing campus ministry to actually reach other students, whether on a campus or in an entire country. It is a way to bring the gospel to young people, to train and equip Christians in evangelism, and to release students to build movements using the Internet.
Since EveryStudent.com started in 2000, the strategy has seen dramatic annual growth. There are now EveryStudent.com sites in more than twenty languages that collectively reached more than six million people during 2007, resulting in 110,000 new believers. Campus directors around the world are excited about the possibilities of growing their ministries and developing student-led movements of multiplication through the site. Young people report that EveryStudent.com is a safe place for students to explore who God is and what it’s like to know God.
One student wrote, “Hi, my name is April and I had e-mailed you a few months ago and asked you some questions. I just wanted you to know that I asked Christ into my life two weeks ago so I am now your new sister in Christ. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. It really meant a lot that you took the time to e-mail me when you did not even know me.”
The site is made up of persuasive, evangelistic messages on topics that university students care about. EveryStudent.com also gives students an opportunity to e-mail someone a question and receive a personal e-mail reply.
Typically, 1 to 2 percent of all visitors indicate decisions to receive Christ while on the site.
Rusty Wright: Writer/NetCaster
“I’m no techie! How could I ever use the Internet to reach people for Christ?” NetCaster Rusty Wright asks. “I’m no techie either,” he confesses. “I know how to send e-mail and read the news online, but that’s about it. My own interests involve communication, especially relating Christ to secular audiences.” But over the years, Wright has written numerous evangelistic articles to help reach nonbelievers, in print and on more than three hundred Web sites around the world.
Wright explains how he first got involved in Internet evangelism. “Several years ago, a couple of friends involved in Internet ministry, Keith Seabourn and Allan Beeber, asked me to send them all my articles so they could put them online. I didn’t understand what all that meant, but they said it would make the articles available free to people around the globe. That seemed like a good thing. Keith’s Web site, Leadership University, aimed to collect thousands of articles supporting the validity of Christian faith. Allan’s Evangelism Toolbox became an online ‘Yellow Pages’ (directory) of evangelism resources. They helped introduce me to Internet outreach.”
At a convention in Amsterdam around the same time, he saw a brochure that said, “The Great Commission Is Going Digital; Are You Ready?” That piqued his interest. “Maybe God wanted me to focus my energies on Internet evangelism,” he thought.
“The simplicity and pervasive nature of the Internet was allowing people to find and use these articles in ways I had never imagined. I could sit with my laptop in my office, on an airplane, or in a hotel room and compose an article that would tactfully nudge people toward Christ or biblical principles. Then, by pushing a button, I could send it to Internet publishers who would make it available to people around the globe.
“This seemed almost too good to be true. What a potential for spreading the Good News!” His articles now appear in several languages: English, Spanish, Albanian, Croatian, Hungarian, Italian, and Polish. “People just kept translating and posting them. It seemed beyond my control or ability. God gets the glory for this.
“Internet evangelism offers you a dazzling array of possibilities to communicate Christ.”
• E-mail: RustyWright@aol.com
Walt Wilson, Allan Beeber: Global Media Outreach (Campus Crusade for Christ)
Global Media Outreach is recording more than thirty-eight hundred decisions for Christ per day—with 1.3 million salvations online in 2007. This ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ supports more than forty different Web sites that reach specific, targeted people groups around the world. Trained staff and volunteers lead people to Christ, answer e-mail questions, and do online mentoring and discipleship.
“The good thing is that we literally can record the number of people who are clicking yes on our form,” explains Allan Beeber of Campus Crusade. “So the software and the strategy is rapidly scalable. That was one of the things we really needed because we estimate that if one person can take five or ten e-mails a day—which wouldn’t take long to answer—if you do the math in terms of how many people we need to expose to the gospel, our goal is to have fifty thousand online volunteers, or as we sometimes call them ‘online missionaries,’ by the year 2020.
“A good example would be Student Venture, a very effective high school ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. In fact, it is the most effective in terms of field staff and decisions on the field. We put up two sites for them. One of them is www.meant4more.com. That site in one year recorded seventy-five hundred indicated decisions for Christ. And that is as much as they saw from all their staff. The ramifications of what I’m saying are huge for Christian missions.
“Internet ministry is not something that is a supplanting ministry. It is a strong addition to ministry. You need both boots on the ground, and you need an air force. And so Internet ministry provides that air force.
“Let’s take meantformore.com. People can come to that site because a Student Venture staff member was handing out business cards on a college campus. They may do a blitz on the campus, or just off the campus, and they’ll have these simple little cards (http://meantformore.com/home.html). We also have one for our flagship site, http://www.whoisjesus-really.com/main.htm.
“Or we use Google advertising. Students may type in ‘purpose of life’ in Google, and they’ll see the site on the front page. If you search for ‘Jesus’ in Yahoo, our site is number one, which is by the grace of God. Also if they type in some of the search terms that we use, they’ll come to a sponsored link and they can click on that.”
To become a Global Media Outreach volunteer go to:
More NetCaster Heroes
This is merely a small list of the thousands of NetCasters around the world who are giving their time and treasure that others may know freedom in Jesus Christ. They are all heroes!
• Way of the Master with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron: http://www.wayofthemaster.com
• Dare2Share: http://www.dare2share.org
• Probe Ministries: http://www.probe.org
• Leadership University (Keith Seabourn): http://www.leaderu.com/menus/apologetics.html
• Strategic Digital Outreach (Frank Johnson): http://www.strategicdigitaloutreach.com
• To the Next Level (Doug Reese): http://www.tothenextlevel.org
• Off The Map (Jim Henderson): http://offthemap.com
• Doug Yeo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: http://www.yeodoug.com
• Life Without Limbs (Nick Vujicic): http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org
• Ephesians 6:10 Ministry (Lee J. Bloch): http://www.e610.com
• InterVarsity, Questioning Faith: http://www.ivpress.com/questioningfaith/resources
• VisionSynergy (Dave Hackett): http://www.davidhackett.com and http://www.visionsynergy.net
• Your Destiny, Your Choice (Bill and Wilma Watson): http://www.ydyc.org/index.php
• Evangelism Toolbox (Allan Beeber, Campus Crusade for Christ): www.evangelismtoolbox.com
• Simply His Blogger (Lisa Boyd): http://www.simplyhisblogger.com
• Not Religion: http://www.notreligion.com
• Ron Hutchcraft: http://www.hutchcraft.com
• Student Venture (Campus Crusade): www.meant4more.com
• Think Christian: www.thinkchristian.net
• Look to Jesus: http://www.looktojesus.com
• Movie Glimpse: www.MovieGlimpse.com
• ExWitch Ministries: http://exwitch.org
• Ancient Crossroads: http://www.ancientcrossroads.org
• All About God (Greg Outlaw): http://allaboutgod.com
• Desperately Seeking Sanity (Heather’s Blog): http://www.desperatelyseekingsanity.com
• Rob Williams: http://orangejack.com
• Proverbs 31 Ministries (Laurie Webster): http://www.proverbs31.org
• The Internet Mission (Matt Rich): http://www.theinternetmission.com
• Brandywine Community Church (Greg Lipps): http://www.brandywinechurch.org
• Holy Mama Blog (Kelsey Kilgore): http://holymama.typepad.com
• CalCast (YWAM): http://www.podomatic.com/tag/calcast
• LifeChurch.TV: http://www.lifechurch.tv
• Flamingo Road Church: http://www.flamingoroadchurch.com/main and http://www.troygramling.com
• Jesus-Online (Germany): http://www.jesus-online.de
You can join this list of NetCaster heroes. Contact me at www.vonbuseck.com to learn more!