by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear
In this edition of Missions on the Web we break with our tradition of developing a Web page for MisLinks and asked the developers of five key Web sites that support mission to give us a behind-the-scenes explanation of their creations.
In this edition of Missions on the Web we break with our tradition of developing a Web page for MisLinks www.mislinks.org . Instead, we asked the developers of five key Web sites that support mission to give us a behind-the-scenes explanation of their creations. For example, what drove the development of each site? What is its essential mission? What type of Web traffic are they seeing on the site? What future developments do the creators anticipate? We are pleased with the results, and think you will be too. The vignettes offered show a wide variety of ways the Web can be used to support mission, and we hope you are as encouraged as we were in reading the stories.
In deciding which sites to include, we focused on three factors. First, the sites should be thoroughly evangelical in content. Second, we wanted sites that were practical in orientation. This did not eliminate sites that had academic content—but did guide us to choose sites that provide resources useful to the field missionary, the missions pastor, the missions agency and so on. Finally, we chose sites with content and focus that went beyond a single agency or organization. Each one is evangelical, pragmatic and broadly focused.
Even with these criteria narrowing the field, there were many sites we could have chosen (see the MisLinks Missions Directories page; www.mislinks.org/research/direct.htm for numerous examples). Those highlighted here represent the type of creative thinking and hard work being done to offer important resources to missionaries.
They (and their developers) are:
1. GlobalMission.org, Mark Orr
2. Missiology.org, Gailyn Van Rheenen
3. Network for Strategic Mission, Justin Long
4. Ask-A-Missionary, John McVay
5. Web Evangelism Bulletin, Tony Whittaker.
We encourage you to browse each. Exploring the numerous resources they offer will enhance the stories they tell, just as those stories will help you understand the behind-the-scenes thinking. Perhaps their ideas will stimulate your own thinking for an area of need that you can develop and offer to missionaries via the Web.
A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and chair of Missions and Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College Graduate School (Wheaton, Ill.). His e-mail address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu and the Wheaton Missions Department web address is www.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 missions leaders, especially in the two-thirds world He also serves as Lausanne senior associate for technology. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org and the GMI web address is: www.gmi.org
www.globalmission.org is the official information-exchange site of the World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission. It specializes in serving a global audience, particularly providing a platform for national mission movements around the world to both share and access information at a global level.
Historical Summary. Global mission.org was formed in 1997 with modest aspirations as the Web site for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Task Force for Global Mission. Since then, the site has grown in significance for the global mission community through three stages. As such, it has followed an evolutionary path, rather than a predetermined business plan.
First, in 1998, Globalmission.org incorporated the services and databases developed by Student Mission Advance, a missions mobilization group in Canada, and one of the first sites on the missions Web scene around 1993. These services included the Long Term Missions Opportunities Database, a directory of specific missionary opportunities. Although initially Canadian in origin, the Opportunities Database drew visitors from around the world.
The second stage featured the development of the World Mission Directory. A simple links page at Global mission.org was merged with an ongoing global directory project by the World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission. This created the largest online directory of missions organizations, now featuring over three thousand agencies globally.
The third development involved a strategic partnership with the WEA Missions Commission, in which Globalmission.org became the official information exchange site for the Commission’s global network. This reflected the growing global nature of both the content and the user base, and allowed the ongoing development of the system to be closely related to the existing network of the Missions Commission, rather than developed as an independent product.
Today, these core services have been enhanced by the Short Term Program Directory, the TEE/Distance Learning Directory and the Wanted Board, a place for those searching for mission opportunities to place mini-resumes.
Description of Features
• The World Mission Directory— This is the foremost, foundational component of the site—the most comprehensive online database of mission organizations in the world. The directory includes significant numbers of organizations from new “developing world” mission sending countries such as Brazil, Philippines and India. All other systems in the site relate to this directory.
• The Opportunities Databases— both long and short term, as well as the Wanted Board—are mobilization focused tools. The long term opportunities database is the longest serving opportunities database on the web, with roots back to circa 1993 with Student Mission Advance.
• The TEE/Distance Learning Database—a new online version of a previously existing off-line database, features over 1,500 courses offered by more than one hundred training institutions.
• A content-provider interaction system—Member agencies manage their content within the databases through a password-protected interface.
• An end-user interaction system— Members of the public wanting to access and display information from the databases can use a password-protected account to set up templates, enabling them to build search forms and display information in any format/graphical design that they desire within their own Web site.
User Base. Globalmission.org serves the following three categories of users:
1. Mission organizations use Globalmission.org primarily to disseminate information through the interactive databases. They are given a broad global audience. Furthermore, member organizations have access to the Wanted Board, featuring mini-resumes from more than seven hundred persons who have expressed interest in global mission over the last twelve months.
2. National mission movements can use the system to create customized views on their own Web sites, featuring region or country specific content from the Globalmission.org databases. In the future the system will facilitate the distribution of missiological literature from the developing world—an area which has traditionally been dominated by Western content and views.
3. Prospective missionaries typically use the system to find contact information for mission organizations, search for mission opportunities and post “mission wanted” resumes.
Future Development. The capacity for synergy created by relationally connecting the online databases to the Missions Commission network is considerable, and has only just begun to be explored. The site will continue to be developed with an emphasis on creating a global environment for missionary cooperation and community building, including multilingual capacity, collaboration environments and partnership facilitation features.
Mark Orr serves with International Teams of Canada on various networking projects. He is currently the associate for information Sharing for the World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission, as well as the co-facilitator of the Refugee Highway Partnership. Mark and his family are based in Athens, Greece.
Gailyn Van Rheenan
When I first began to surf the net for missions resources, I noticed that most missions Web pages were more promotional than educational. Few were designed to educate future and field missionaries and church and agency leaders. In an attempt to provide resources for missions education, I began to develop The Missiology Homepage www.missiology.org in 1998.
My first step was to develop a missions dictionary for Missiology.org merely by cutting and pasting definitions from my missions texts and lectures. Over the years definitions have been submitted and added from many sources. In 1999 I began developing a sub-directory on Folk Religion (www.Missiology.org/Folk Religion) and the site for the Evangelical Missiological Society (www. missiology.org/EMS). In January 2000, I began writing Monthly Missiological Reflections, which are e-mailed to subscribers and also archived on the site. Also in the year 2000 I placed the entire text of my book Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts (William Carey Library) on the Folk Religion sub-directory of the missions site (www.missiology.org/FolkReligion). In 2001 I started to develop bibliographies and archive significant missions quotes, both of which are works in progress.
I believe the greatest benefit of The Missiology Homepage has been the monthly reflections. Writing these has benefited me personally because I have been forced, as a missiologist, to deal with fundamental missions questions. The reflections have served missionaries, missions leaders of local churches, teachers of missions and agency leaders by developing missions foundations and rethinking missiological presuppositions.
For example, one missions executive asked, "May I have permission to use your article “Transplanted and Contextualized Churches” in a conference with our missionaries? Currently few of our churches are contextualized and thus are unable to speak to their surrounding cultures."
The reflections on money and missions, saying that all finances should go through accountability structures, brought vastly different responses. An African leader upbraided me for being a colonialist while a missionary in the same country challenged me for not holding to a pure “self-support” perspective.
The application of cruciform theology to team missions, spiritual transitions from being consuming caterpillars to pollen-carrying butterflies, and a “jars of clay” perspective on Christian ministry challenged many reflecting on spiritual renewal in missions. The reflections on “The Theological Foundations of Missiology” and “The Missiological Foundations of Theology” elicited much response concerning how theology is always done in a missional context in response to missional questions.
The Monthly Missiological Reflections are archived in eight categories: church planting and development, the use of money in missions, the local church and missions, missionary care, folk religion, theology of mission, Latin America and church renewal (www.missiology.org/MMR/archive.htm).Over seven thousand have subscribed to these monthly reflections on the Web site.
The overall use of the site varies. It is used occasionally by those searching for resources, a definition or a quote on a certain topic. Some professors of missions require its use in their classes. In other cases the Monthly Missiological Reflections are forwarded by missions agency leaders to their missionaries on the field and by missions ministers of local churches to their missionaries and committee for missions.
The Missiology Homepage is in an infant state of development. As a full-time professor of missions, I have little time to dedicate to the site. Therefore, I am greatly indebted to some highly capable graduate assistants and part-time student workers who have provided much of the technical expertise and planning for the site. I have, as a father, particularly enjoyed working with my son on the Web site.
Recognizing that my Web site is only one small influence in missions education has led me to link with other more comprehensive educational missions sites such as MisLinks (www.mislinks.org); The Network for Strategic Missions (www.strategic network.org), especially its Knowledge-Base (www.strategicnetwork.org /index.asp?=kb); and Brigada (www. brigada.org/).
In the future I hope to make the Missiology Homepage more interactive. I would like it to become a forum to reflect on some very significant missiological questions.
Gailyn Van Rheenen is professor of mission at Abilene (Tex.) Christian University and author of the 1981 book Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts (William Carey Library), among other works. He was a church planter among the Kipsigis of Kenya.
www.strategicnetwork.org is operated by the Network for Strategic Missions. We started by asking ourselves, “How can we best use the Internet to build a community of missions-minded Christians intent on starting church planting movements among the unreached peoples of the world?”
In my experience, one of the first things a new mission participant is advised to do is get a copy of Operation World and start praying for the unreached. The Internet has proven its value as a platform for information research, community building and commerce. We turn to it for stock quotes, e-mail, morning news and gossip, reminders of our spouse’s birthday and the latest Internet jokes. Why couldn’t it be used to provide the latest information about missions?
Initially, we envisioned Strategic network.org to be a major portal like Yahoo—a place where every mission-minded Christian would turn to first. Our first year of experimentation showed this clearly would not be the case: it would be enormously expensive, and it was doubtful we could displace established sites. Worse, most of this information seemed highly popularized, including information such as the latest news about persecution, testimonies, great stories, short-term opportunities and more. Once past those initial steps (“I’m doing a study of a people group for my Perspectives course”) you fall into weightier matters (“I’m going over this fall, and they told me to bring money for the customs officials—payments are customary, but isn’t that a bribe? Is that ethical for me as a Christian?”).
The answers to these kinds of questions can only come from those who have hard-won experience. Getting the answers could be expensive. We could seek out the answer by correspondence or face-to-face meetings—requiring time, travel and money. With the advent of e-mail the task becomes less expensive, but e-mail is not the ultimate solution. Some people who have critical knowledge do not have e-mail, or need to meet the inquirer face-to-face to be reassured of security issues. If a mission participant cannot find the answer through his or her limited resources, they’ll have to invent the answer. They may go through several stages of invention, solving all of the additional problems involved. If they fail to discover the answer or invent a new one, they may abandon the enterprise altogether.
Instead of popularized information, we came up with a different approach: to build a Knowledge Base of mission information. Just as Microsoft has more than one million articles about its products on its Web sites (apparently having many problems and solutions to document), we began to create a database of articles. Today it features more than ten thousand articles from respected sources all over the world. We have made arrangements to reproduce the back issues of major mission journals, and some of the hardest questions in the world are tackled here.
Over the years, however, we’ve discovered information is not the final solution. We weren’t interested in being a newspaper or a mission journal as much as we wanted to be a catalyst. We had many browsers, but not many taking the next steps. Here we are still experimenting, but we believe the most important antidote to apathy-while-seeking-information is personal follow-up. If I hand someone a copy of Operation World, they may or may not read it. If we’re getting together every week to pray and consider what we can do, we’re more likely to maintain our vision.
To enhance community, we’ve focused on making it easier to empower moderators on our site, who post the latest news and information and help people plug into prayer networks and overseas opportunities. We also have e-mail groups where people can discuss and share information (which is more intuitive for many than the Web). And we have introduced and enhanced e-group tools so that people can form their own e-mail groups and begin talking with others who share their vision.
The impact of the site has been wide-ranging and continues to grow. As of this writing, we have over 3,700 registered members and 23,000 subscribers to our e-groups. In 2001 we received more than 830,000 page-views, and we are on track to do better than that in 2002. Most satisfyingly, we have received e-mails from all over the world, and continue to receive visits to the site even from some of the most restrictive nations in the world.
For the future, we hope to continue expanding the marriage between knowledge and community, and introduce special coaching features which will enable people to use the knowledge-base to teach specialized courses.
Justin Long manages www.strategicnetwork.org and directs research for the Network for Strategic Missions and was an associate editor of the World Chrisitan Encyclopedia (2nd ed).
ASK A MISSIONARY
Ask A Missionary www.askamissionary.com shares questions and answers on becom-ing a long-term missionary. In three years this free monthly e-mail newsletter has grown to over two thousand subscribers, both prospective and experienced missionaries. This can be an excellent follow-up for those who went on a summer trip and are interested in long-term missions. Agencies can also attract visitors to their Web sites since answers include the first name of the missionary and the agency Web site if provided by the missionary answering the question.
Browse to www.askamissionary. com to subscribe, post new questions and answers and read dozens of answers online. Six topics are discussed: Support-Raising, Selecting an agency, The Call, Tentmaking, Training and Singles/Families. In addition, each topic has a recommended list of books, tapes and Web sites. Each answer is limited to a few paragraphs but, where appropriate, includes a link to other sites such as the Knowledge Base of the Strategic Network. Contrasting viewpoints are encouraged and can be seen in answers to questions like “What perspective should I take on raising support?”
Those who submit a new question are reminded that in many cases the best answer comes from a leader in their local church or campus ministry who knows them. Because of a wide range of cultural situations Ask A Missionary currently only accepts questions from North Americans who want to know how to become long-term missionaries overseas. However, readers come from all continents. Questions are reviewed about once a month and added to the online forum and the “questions needing answers” edition of the newsletter.
After an answer is submitted, it is sent right away unedited to the person asking the question. Later the answers are reviewed, edited and added to the online forum and a future newsletter.
The online database is a partnership between Ask A Missionary Newsletter and Task Force for Global Mission of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. To subscribe send a blank e-mail to: (subscribe—askamissionary @xc.org).
John McVay is a missions mobilizer who coordinated ten Heartland MissionsFests in Tulsa. Currently he served in His Image Physicians in Missions and edits www.askamissionary.com with companion e-zine for prospective missionaries.
THE INTERNET — AMAZING NEW TOOL FOR THE KINGDOM
I believe it is one of the most key tools that God has given us in the church today.” — George Verwer
Although almost all mission agencies and Christian groups use the Web to communicate both internally and with their Christian constituencies, few are using it for evangelism. Here’s a tool waiting to be used.
The Old Story about the Old Story: The Ninety-Nine Percent Problem. Go into any Christian bookshop. Ninety-nine percent of the books and videos are written primarily for Christians, using Christian language and assumptions. The same applies to most Christian Web sites: Ninety-nine percent are written with only a Christian reader in mind. Of course, some non-Christians visit them too. And—if they already have an interest—maybe they will stay to read. But this is like hoping that non-Christians will walk off the street into our church services. Some do. Most do not. Web site visitors will leave in five seconds if they cannot relate to a page. So we may touch people with a Christian background or interest—the “once-churched”—but fail to reach the “never-churched.” Most people have no reason to visit Christian pages. Therefore Web evangelists need to find different strategies.
The Web Evangelism Guide (web-evangelism.com or for resources web-evangelism.com/resources/mission.php) came into being for this purpose. As a literature outreach ministry (producing free evangelistic papers in easy-English, French, African-Portuguese, Pulaar and Swahili), we started an evangelistic Web site in 1996. People kept asking how to use the Web for evangelism, so I circulated a short text article. Then a surprise: searching the Web, I found the article posted on the Brigada Web site. This grew into the Guide. A year later, a techie friend said, “You ought to have an e-mail newsletter, I have set one up for you.” So of course I had to write one, and the Web Evangelism Bulletin was born too. Circulation is now ten thousand every two weeks.
Problems and Strategies
The tragedy: After six to seven years of mainstream Internet growth, there are relatively few truly evangelistic sites in English, and even fewer in other languages. Christians, cross-cultural missions included, are using the Internet for every other purpose except cutting-edge evangelism. Even sites which hope to be evangelistic often compromise their effectiveness by using Christian jargon, assumptions and graphics.
The other problem: We do not always appreciate that people normally go to the Internet to find specific information. It is a “pull medium.” Because most non-Christians never search for Christian-related material, of course they never find it. (I, for instance, with no interest in hockey, have never yet accidentally stumbled upon a hockey Web site which would show me that sport in a wonderful new light.) A major key to Web evangelism is to “be what they are looking for”—to create legitimate pages around secular subjects that DO interest people, and then lead creatively with integrity into appropriate evangelistic material. We call this the “Bridge Strategy.”
Women Today magazine exemplifies this approach. With one thousand pages (many on secular day-to-day issues) and 64,000 visitors a month, it is touching women worldwide. Because this group (CCC) also produces a superficially similar site for Christian women, the Guide offers a comparison of the two sites as a valuable case study into how to conduct effective online outreach: (web-evangelism. com/resources/case-study.php).
The Guide also showcases a number of other effective sites using the “Bridge Strategy,” which take as a starting point such subjects as hobbies, sport, personal needs, weight loss, success in business and more.
Cross-cultural missions (including returned/retired missionaries) now have this major new tool to reach people groups whose culture and language they already understand. Electronic “creative access” really works. Yet there is a great shortage of evangelistic pages aimed at the 10-40 Window or in non-English languages. Only a handful of Web sites target Muslims effectively. There are none designed for Indians in general, Hindus and Sikhs in particular, or Buddhists, Parsees, Falun Gong, and New Age. Sites in Japanese could touch millions, but there are so few. “Chat room” outreach to these peoples is also strategic—one friend speaks of “visiting Kuala Lumpur every Saturday night”—in chat rooms. The Guide explains how (web-evangelism.com/resources/chat.php). It also explains how the teaching of computer skills can be a ‘way in’ to many cross-cultural situations, just like TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). This strategy has led to churches being planted(web-evangelism.com/resources/teach-it.php).
To God’s glory, the Guide has catalyzed the birth of new evangelistic sites, but the needs and potential of this medium are, as yet, largely unfulfilled.
Tony Whittaker (email@example.com) is director of SOON Ministries, a literature outreach within WEC International, based in Derby, UK, which can provide free outreach material to missions and evangelists.
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