E-MAIL the Link To Cooperation In Missions
There are some marvelous and monumental events taking place in modern Church of Christ missions. In a mere three years fourteen congregations have been planted among the Sukuma in Tanzania. Responses in Eastern Europe are higher than any time this century. New, well trained mission teams are locating in Latin America and Asia. Despite these victories, there is cause for some concern.
The State of Missions
Congregations of the Church of Christ exist in one hundred and thirty-one of the world's two hundred and twenty countries. Ninety-six of those countries have less than one thousand members. Only thirteen countries have more than ten thousand members. Nigeria and India are the only ones with more than ten thousand. It is time we quit pushing the snooze button and answer the wake up call.
E-mail Facilitates Communication and Cooperation
If we do not begin to learn to communicate, share information, and collaborate the mission enterprise in the Churches of Christ will continue to crawl along.
Clarence Wilson, at Harding University, is one of many who are discovering how modern technology can be used in missions. "I have just recently returned from serving in Nigeria for eleven years... It is great that this media (e-mail) is being used in the Lord's service. There is a great need for better communications in missions." God has granted us a tool that can facilitate bringing all of the resources of the brotherhood to bear on His mission. I receive messages each week from missionaries asking for e-mail addresses of colleagues in other countries because they want to consult with them. Craig Hines, in the Ukraine says, "the use of E-mail has made my communications with the states much simpler and definitely more cost effective. I am excited about the use of E-mail to contact other missionaries world wide." Clay Widden, in Rostov on Don, Russia sees e-mail as "lessening the feeling of isolation." Whatever the personal benefits many missionaries like David Chenault, a member of the mission team in Chemnitz, Germany, are saying, "we just recently connected to Compuserve ... and look forward to using e-mail as a primary method of communication."
Missionaries in Africa discussing daily problems and challenges with counterparts in Latin America; supporting congregations receiving field reports the same day they were written (at a cost of just pennies); files at ACU being send to missionaries within 24 hours: these were all dreams of mine eighteen months ago. They are all happening today.
Computer assisted communication and information sharing is going to change the way we do missions. Quick and easy messaging and collaboration will bring about an era of cooperation in missions. It is long overdue.
In November of 1993, just nine months ago, the first issue of Missions On-Line was sent over the wires. At that time we knew of only eighteen missionaries, missions committee members, and consultants who were using electronic mail. In February the second issue was sent to forty-five. By the time the third issue was sent there were one hundred a fifty who were on-line. This week the fourth issue will be sent over cyberspace to well over two hundred.
Missionaries on every continent are coming on-line. We at Missions Information Service want to assist those who desire to use this technology. It is possible wherever there are phone lines. Tom Dolan outlined the more common commercial services available. Some countries, particularly in the developing world, do not have such services. Missionaries in Benin have to set up their own system and initiate their own calls to the States. We helped them with software and some expertise. We are will to do this for others. We are dedicated to seeing that the missions community get connected to each other.
Once missions people have the ability to communicate via electronic mail, the next step is to begin to share information. In the early years of computing we marveled at storing volumes of information on disks. Telecomputing allows us to retrieve information which is stored on computers on the other side of the world. We do have some unique information available on our computer, MOSES by name (see specific directories in sidebar). Further, we have developed some automated menus and programs that allow anyone with an America On-Line, Cris, Delphi, or Internet account to view or retrieve material from thousands of files around the globe (see sidebar).
We also solicit your information. If you have material which you think would be useful to others in the missions community, please send it to us and we will add it to the achieves.
The messaging and sharing information will lead to collaboration. In early September I met with the SERV group which concerns itself with providing information and consulting for outreach to Muslims. They live in such distant locations as Memphis, Nashville, Houston, Grand Junction (CO), and Abilene. They wanted to be able to communicate with each other regularly, and with the Muslim world. They wanted a place to store information which could be easily accessed by all of their members. They heard there was information on the Internet that would assist their understanding of Islam and current news from the Middle East. A commercial access provider connection to the Internet at a rate of about ten dollar per month for each member could facilitate all of their desires. Such interaction will allow them to do far more than they were able to accomplish with two meetings per year.
Many virtual teams like this need to be formed for the diverse interests and services of the missions community. Missionaries, consultants, and researchers no longer have to live in the same city or rent offices.
We are on the verge of a new era of cooperation. Mission Information Service at Abilene Christian University wants to continue to serve as a catalyst and facilitator. Our connections with such groups as Global Mapping Incorporated, Baptist Foreign Mission Board, World Vision, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Frontiers Missions place us in the position to share their information with our missions efforts and to remain on the cutting edge of research and technology.