What does any kind of technology have to do with spreading the Gospel? Dictionary.com defines “technology” as:
…the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science.”
Technology is something we use—besides our hands, feet, head, voices, or five senses—to accomplish a task. Opening walnuts with a rock qualifies. So does stirring oatmeal with a wooden spoon or sending probes to Mars. Today, we not only take technology for granted, we allow it to interlace our lives so completely that it becomes nearly invisible.
And it’s often marvelous. Once, while walking through a department store near Boise, Idaho, my iPhone rang. I answered the call, sat down in the store’s furniture section, and chatted with my wife. At the time, she was ministering on the other side of the planet in Sierra Leone, Africa. But 20 years previously, when we first served in the Amazon jungle, the quickest we could ask a question and receive a reply from someone in the States was 6 weeks. Now, we can network with hundreds of people around the world simultaneously. Modern first-world mission operations depend upon technology to function. And therein lie three problems.
First, we read of Abraham’s multi-year journey to and through the promised land in the Old Testament. But then we read of New Testament missionaries transiting the northern Mediterranean world multiple times in their adulthood. Roman roads, the cutting-edge technology of the day, dramatically aided the spread of the early church. But, it also enabled Rome’s legions to move quickly to conquer new lands or subdue rebellious cities such as Jerusalem in 70 AD. Technology is a double-edged sword. A rolling pin can bake bread or bludgeon a brother.
Second, technology users unconsciously assume everyone has access to the same thing. As our 6-week communication turnaround fell to the internet’s instant email speed, our expectations followed. If I, as the country program director, didn’t answer HQ’s 8:00 a.m. accounting question by 10:00 a.m., they worried I didn’t have the answer or, worse, chose to ignore them. They forgot I might be dodging rainstorms to land at a jungle airstrip a hundred miles away.
Third, what about access? How easily can I obtain the technology I desire, along with the skill to operate it? When I needed a new laptop, I went to Costco and had one in my hands in minutes. How to use it? I operated computers for decades, owned instruction manuals, connected to websites, and knew friends smarter than me. Jungle folks, on the other hand, might receive a chainsaw to clear trees, but how would they learn to use it without injury or find and pay for fuel and maintenance? A handsaw might be the better long-term option. Of course, I’d be challenged to survive for very long in the same jungle they thrived in.
Which brings us to appropriate. What makes technology appropriate—or not? Our assumptions as missionaries sometimes miss the mark. The classic example is when well-meaning outsiders installed a septic system and commodes in a remote village. When they returned a year later, they found the local residents happy with their traditional latrines. The villagers used the toilet houses for storage. Clearly, the technology employed was inappropriate to meet the people’s felt needs.
Multiple definitions of what is now called Appropriate Technology exist, and a dozen or so variations have sprung up in the last four decades. Cliff Peters, retired Paraclete associate, says,
“Appropriate technology is something they [the people group being served] can reproduce, operate, and sustain by themselves. It has to fit their cultural and financial situation, their education level, and their skill. It has to be something they don’t have to import or depend on outsiders to maintain.”
“I’ve used my YouTube channel to teach, show, and inspire others around the world to use the resources they have to meet their own needs. This includes simple and efficient wood stoves, small Stirling engines that run on heat (external combustion), composting latrines, rope and washer pumps, Basic Utility Vehicles, etc.”
His YouTube channel, Approtechie (see www.youtube.com/@Approtechie/videos), demonstrates how he served the people of the Philippines and Bolivia, South America. He also trained missionaries in person as they prepared for service in remote areas.
God gives each of us gifts to use in serving others. This includes missionaries. Some preach. Some teach. And some build water pumps from PVC pipe so a whole village benefits from running water.
So, how does the Lord call you to administer his grace?