I am a little overwhelmed with the rapid rate of technological advances. I admit I am a little old fashioned. The truth is I’m a technological caveman. Some call me T-Rex! It is a little disturbing when I say, “Turn in your Bible to…” and people whip out their Smart Phones. Are they ready to study the Text, or are they sending one? I must admit, however, that our modern technology is useful in reaching the world with the Gospel. We can sneak the Word of God in electronic form into places that are extremely hostile to Christians. Let’s do more of it!
We should understand what is meant by the term “technology.” A pencil is technology, as is a typewriter. Bicycles and cars are technology. A few minutes in an airplane might save the missionary a few days walk; and you don’t get bit by mosquitoes or snakes in a plane! Modern technology can and should be used to further the Gospel. But I might ask, “How are we doing?” William Cary didn’t have a typewriter, and he produced forty Bible translations. Who is coming close to that with their computers? There are still thousands of unreached people groups, not to mention hundreds of thousands of towns around the world with no Gospel witness. We lack men to go, and technology can’t replace them. We can hardly send robots and drones programmed to shed tears and say, “I love you, and Jesus loves you, too.”
I admit I need an attitude adjustment about modern technological devices. But I think I do have a valid concern. Most of the new devices (toys) are for the purpose of communicating. On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful thing for our missionaries. They can have instant contact with their friends and family back home. With unlimited long distance calls or texts, Skype, and Vontage, the missionary can talk with folks back home several times a day. That is wonderful! Or is it? Loneliness is a big problem for the missionary. This constant contact should eliminate it. But does it? Here is the problem: The strong bonds between the missionary and those back home can hinder the missionary from bonding with the people on his field. Bonding is a term used today to describe the strong connection between the missionary and his people. It is more than identification with them or an acceptance of them. It is an enjoyment of being with them. It is feeling at home with them. It is true biculturalism, the goal of every missionary.
We often think of the needs of the people that the missionary is there to meet. But the missionary also has needs that his people should meet. As long as his social needs continue to be met by family and friends on the other side of the world, they are not going to be met by his people. Native people may be naked and illiterate, but they are not stupid. They know if the missionary really enjoys being around them or not. They may not know the term “culture shock,” but they can certainly recognize it. They may not know why the missionary takes this little thing out of his pocket every two or three minutes and looks at it, or why he taps on it with his thumbs; but they know it is not normal behavior.
I don’t suggest the missionary throw his technology in the trash before boarding the plane (though he would eliminate the electronic pornography available to him 24/7). I do suggest, however, that he make some firm decisions and commitments: I will bond with my people. I will not let these gadgets rob me of the time that I should spend with them. These things will be tools to help me learn their language, not toys to entertain me. I will leave my devices inside and go out and play soccer with the guys. And most of all, I will make sure my heart is here, and stays here, and not let it wander back home.
As painful as this may be, he then needs to do the hard part. He must make people back home understand that he does not love them any less, but he will not be talking to them every day. He won’t be checking his Facebook too often. He will do more praying and less posting. He won’t be calling home more than once a week.
He might have to tell someone, “I don’t really need a text telling me you are leaving Wal-mart and heading to the mall. Send me a text once a week, telling me that you are praying for me!”
He might have to tell his sister, “Thanks, Sis, for the pictures of your beautiful kids, but if you send them every few months, that will be enough. I don’t have time to look at new pictures every day.”
It may seem helpful to have immediate access to his pastor or his dad, but maybe he needs to look more to God for wisdom in daily situations.
Missionary friend, let’s invest in technological devices that will help us; but let’s not waste money on the latest toys, just because everyone is standing in line for them. Let’s use what will help us reach our goal and resist things that distract us. Let’s use technology to get our bodies to the uttermost part of the earth; but let’s control the things that tempt our hearts to go home!