Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 5, Number 1

Please Note: In the fast moving world of technology, some of the information in this article is already outdated.

Missions and Information Technology

Richard Chowning
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas

Computer assisted communication and information sharing is going to change the way we do missions. Our cherished Biblical beliefs will not be altered. Our godly principles will stand the test. However, quick and easy messaging and collaboration will bring about an era of cooperation in missions.

Computer Use Increasing

Missionaraies have had computers for many years now. For more than a decade now David Barrett has documented phenomenal growth of the number of computers being used in Christian work from one thousand in 1970 to over 158 million this year. I purchased my first Apple IIc while on furlough in 1985. Many of my younger colleagues in Kenya had gotten one a few years prior to that. Computers assisted the word processing and record keeping aspects of my work. It allowed me to easily construct graphs which revealed trends and allowed me to report those trends clearly to my supporting congregation. Once I got started, I did not understand how I got along without a computer. It was a tool claimed for God's work and the benefits were reaped.

Networked Computers

Modems and networks brought a whole new functionality to the computer. Today the computer sitting on my desk is connected to the world. Libraries in Germany, databases in South Africa, United Nations files, and the full text of Voice of America news broadcasts can appear on my screen in an instant. I discuss East African issues in Swahili with more than one hundred and fifty people around the world. Without leaving my office or making long distance phone calls, I planned an upcoming program with colleagues in Wisconsin, Boston, Pennsylvania, and Ghana. I catch the latest breaking news from Africa and the happenings in world missions through stories that will never appear on TV or radio. Yet, my computer never misses them.

Church of Christ Missionaries and supporting congregations are using this new technlogy. I receive at least five inquiries every week concerning the way to connect computers to the networks. The Missions On-Line Newsletter was begun in January of 1994. That first issue was sent to the eighteen missionaries and missions committee people for whom I had electronic mail addresses. By the second issue in March, there were more than one hundred on the list.

Two groups of missionaries have used this networking to assist their regional efforts. Workers in the former Soviet Union keep in touch with each other, plan projects and share information. They do this with more frequency than ever before and they pay a fraction of the cost. Clay Widden in Rostov-On-Don, documents a phone bill of $260 prior to the use of e-mail and now a combined e-mail and phone bill of under $90. Clay says he sends far more messages now than he did when he was only using a phone. His experience is not unique.

Missionaries in Buenos Aires, Argentina, pool their messages together and send them to the States by one computer.

Information Storage and Retrieval

The networking has allowed missions by Churches of Christ to glean information and insights from the research and findings of major denominations and missions agencies. Global Mapping Incorporated, formerly of Pasadena, California, now in Colorado Springs, Colorado, were the forerunners in missions computing and then led the way into networking. The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, especially from the time that David Barrett was brought into their center, compiled large volumes of information. Only recently has that information been shared with others.

The most broadly attended forum for missions computing is the International Conference for Computing in Missions (ICCM). This conference which takes place each June, is a gathering frequented by researchers and technicians from such organizations as Global Mapping, Southern Baptist Foreign Missions Board, Assemblies of God, World Vision, Wycliff Bible Translators, Dawn Ministries and many other agencies. Richard Chowning and Tom Dolan of Abilene Christian University take a leading role in this meeting. Such participation brings the cutting edge of information and research into our missions efforts.

Internet is the most powerful network on the information superhighway. It is a universe of networks which are connected to each other. AD 2000 Global Monitor, in an issue of its regular Computer News column, states that "The Internet seems likely to grow with between 29 million and 45 million computers on local area networks (LANs) in the U.S. by 1995.

ACU's Missions Information Service

An example of what is available on the Internet is the Missions Information Service at Abilene Christian University. Those who came into our system can download articles from any of the past issues of the Journal of Applied Missiology. They can select and read one of the many reviews of books on mission topics.

The system is not just a storehouse of our own missions information. It is an orderly control panel to connections to missions information around the world.

The Missions Information Service is so useful to missions that the major Christian information centers in Colorado and California access it regularly. Even the Library of Congress and the World Wide Web lists it as the main Christian missions resource.

The first step to connecting to this growing world of information is to gain access to e-mail. Check the side bar (below) for more details. Additional information on how to connect the information superhighway can be obtained by contacting:

Richard Chowning
ACU Station, Box 29438
Abilene, Texas 79699
Phone (915) 674-3754
e-mail: (Internet)

Stewardship and Information Technology

Times: Snail Mail
When was the last time you got excited about a missions story in your local church bulletin only to find that it took place a month or two ago. The post office's movement of the letter and the retyping of the report both weigh on the timeliness of missions news. Reports sent via electronic mail normally arrive the same day and the text can be imported into a word processor without being retyped.

Cost: Fax-like for a Fraction
The number of missionaries with fax machines has increased greatly over the past five years. These machines have in turn boosted the phone charges to missions accounts to often intolerable heights. The typical saving of e-mail over fax is fifty to eighty percent for identical messages.

Getting On-Line
Anywhere there is a phone line electronic mail if possible.

Computer Hardware
A computer, modem, communications software, and a telephone line are all that missions decision makers need to connect to the information and communication highway.

The broadest spectrum of information and highest inter-connectability is available through the Internet. Until recently it was difficult for most people to have access to the Internet. Delphi, persently, and America On-Line, very soon, service anywhere there is a phone line.

For e-mail access only Compuserve is probably the best service to join.
A large number of our missionaries have phones, but are in locations where commercial e-mail services are not available. There are unique solutions to each that cannot all be discussed in this article. Contact Richard Chowning or Tom Dolan.

This site mirrors the JAM site at the ACU web site.
Mirrored by permission of ACU Missions Personnel
Direct questions and comments to Ed Mathews,

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