Missions on the Web Interview with Joseph Vijayam
by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear
Joseph Vijayam is a widely-respected information technology professional who epitomizes servant leadership within the global Christian community.
Editor’s note: The Web is no longer simply a place we go to for information. Likely, we are all using it in varying ways every day. Thus, with this issue we begin a series of interviews with Majority World mission leaders who integrate Web-based systems and resources in their organizational or personal ministry. We will alternate such interviews with our normal “Missions on the Web” articles in future issues.
We begin our new series of Missions on the Web interviews with Joseph Vijayam, a widely-respected information technology professional who epitomizes servant leadership within the global Christian community. Vijayam is founder and managing director of Olive Technology (www.olivetech.com), a 15-year-old, India-based information technology services organization. He serves as senior associate of information technology for the Lausanne Movement. In addition, Vijayam leads several Internet-based ministries, including IndiaGateway (www.indiagateway.net), MahaLife (www.mahalife.com), and MahaJesus (www.mahajesus.com). Our interview focuses primarily on his work with MahaLife and MahaJesus.
EMQ: Which/what kind of Web-based resources do you find most helpful in your organization/ministry?
Vijayam: Content is king, as they say. I am always looking for good evangelistic content on issues concerning youth. As an Internet evangelism ministry, we are trying to address real needs of young people and answer them from a biblical or Christian worldview. Web-based resources useful to us include content sharing between Internet evangelism ministries (especially multimedia); lists or databases of ministries focused on youth evangelism in India; calendars of events in different cities of India; and online gaming with Christian themes.
EMQ: What lists/databases do you find most helpful?
Vijayam: Those of ministries that are serving youth in different parts of India. Types of ministries include evangelism; Bible clubs; discipleship programs; counseling; premarital and marital counseling; drug, smoke, and alcohol de-addition programs; sports ministries; outreach through arts and entertainment; leadership development and mentoring programs; and ministries focused on reaching those struggling with same-sex attractions.
EMQ: You mention online Christian gaming sites. What do you see as the potential impact of such sites?
Vijayam: They attract young people to games that have clean content and encourage moral and ethical choices or choices based on biblical principles.
EMQ: How has the Internet helped your organization in ministry?
Vijayam: Our ministry is on the Internet. While we do real world events such as seminars, concerts, and sporting events, those are done in order to draw people to our websites.
A few years ago a young man from North India who identified himself as a Hindu browsed our website. After reading a few articles, he asked for a web-based chat session with one of our online counselors. The counselor spent hours with him over the course of a month, listening and providing biblical answers to the young man’s questions. Eventually, the young man asked for a face-to-face meeting with a Christian youth worker and we put him in contact with someone who lived in his city. Within a few weeks he was ready to be baptized and openly declare his new faith in Jesus Christ.
EMQ: While your core ministry is on the Internet, it sounds like you intentionally integrate individual, personal ministry with the mass-audience technology. What lessons have you learned in effectively integrating the two?
Vijayam: Evangelism is most effective when it is person-to-person. The advantage of the Internet is that it is a broadcast medium as in one-to-many, but it is also a great tool for engaging in one-on-one interaction. The anonymity of interactions on the Internet allows people to be more transparent.
EMQ: What is the future potential for Web-based resource development for people/ministries in India?
Vijayam: Multimedia content, social networking, and GIS (geographic information system, a digital information system that integrates, stores, edits, analyzes, shares, and displays geographic information for informing decision-making) will come together and become available through wireless mobile devices. This will make content global in its scope while being delivered in a local context and flavor to groups of people who are connected because of their common interests.
In a country like India, where the level of Internet penetration is not very high, the sudden accessibility to the Web through mobile telephones is rapidly breaking down the “digital divide.” We have a responsibility to take a close look at how we ride this new technological wave to provide useful tools to accomplish the Great Commission in a largely unreached country.
EMQ: What are some of the potentials of this breakdown of the digital divide?
Vijayam: The same information goes to everyone without differentiation. It is equitable in terms of information access, thereby giving people an equal opportunity to respond. While this does not seem significant, we need to remember that it was not long ago that the Bible was accessible only to a select few. Even today, hundreds of people groups lack access to the good news. Hence, the breakdown in the digital divide is to be encouraged and applauded. I can only speak in favor of it.
EMQ: What do you see as significant risks in integrating social networking and GIS for Christian ministry in a place like India today?
Vijayam: The significant risk is the potential threat to the lives of those who convert from other faiths to Christianity.
EMQ: In what ways do you see the Web as a hindrance (or danger) to your organization’s ministry? How is your ministry addressing these hindrances/dangers?
Vijayam: The rapid changes in Web technology and the fact that every other website “is only a click away” reduces the attention span of our audience and pulls them in different directions. We struggle to compete with commercial websites as we are staffed by volunteers. We are trying hard to recruit more volunteers with better skills and are keen on partnering with other Internet evangelism ministries in order to overcome these obstacles.
EMQ: Describe one partnership you’ve been able to form.
Vijayam: We are partnering with a Christian counseling ministry to provide online chat counseling and telephone counseling to seekers. When we receive a request from a seeker to connect with a person on our team, we forward the request to the counseling ministry and one of their staff members responds. It has worked well to partner with this ministry as they have also provided numerous training sessions for Mahalife volunteers in the area of counseling and discipleship.
EMQ: We’re familiar with outsourcing technology work to India. Might it be helpful to outsource some of your personal follow-up ministry to volunteers outside of India?
Vijayam: Yes, and we have used that approach. Some of our content creation comes from the Netherlands and the U.S. Some of our follow up is done through a network of ministries across India, United Arab Emirates, the U.S., Malaysia, and Singapore.
EMQ: What new Web-based resource would you like to see created?
Vijayam: A tool available freely to mission organizations that works on mobile devices bringing together rich content for evangelism (free of copyright and costs), social networking, and GIS. Perhaps along the lines of Bing—open source, free tools available to those engaged in Internet evangelism.
A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and a professor in the Intercultural Studies department at Wheaton College Graduate School (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu, and the Wheaton Intercultural Studies Department web address is wheaton.edu/intr.
Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Majority World. His email address is email@example.com, and the GMI web address is gmi.org.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 486-488. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.