When you think of digital pioneers, your mind probably settles on a business with more association with Silicon Valley than church planting in the Jezreel Valley. Yet after ministering for almost two-thirds of a century, even an ‘ordinary’ missions organisation has to keep up with the times. When it comes to reaching the least reached, OM workers are using new technology to make ministry more effective—one byte at a time.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” – Romans 10:14 (NIV)
Paul’s logic in Romans is irrefutable, and Christians have taken these principles seriously for centuries. Entire mission organisations have devoted themselves to translating the Bible into hundreds of languages. Yet for many people, having the Bible in a language they can understand isn’t the problem; it’s having it in a form they understand.
Such is the reality of the Islamic Yao tribe in Malawi, many of whom are illiterate. Up until 2015, the Bible was unavailable in chiYao in written or audio format. Today, the whole Bible can be heard through AudiBibles.
In the first seven months of 2016, the OM team handed out 297 solar-powered AudiBibles. Each recipient is expected to start a weekly listening group, sharing the Word of God.
After training, Shadrick started an AudiBible listening group in March 2016 with 14 people in a nearby village. Mary* was a Muslim whose husband is a sheik. Against his wishes, she started attending the listening group. “I felt like I was empty,” she said. “I needed more; I needed God to change my life.”
After two months of listening to the AudiBible, she accepted Christ. Though Mary continues to go to the mosque—to avoid problems in the community—she strongly desires to go to church. “She’s making changes little by little but can’t switch all at once,” said Shadrick, which is advisable in her community where culture and religion are closely intertwined.
“The AudiBible is a true preacher,” said Fredson Phiri, an AudiBible trainer. “It doesn’t add, it doesn’t subtract; it gives the whole truth to the person. It preaches itself.”
Even in the unlikeliest of places, one thing connects people: smartphones. Travel for hours on dirt tracks in Africa or trek for days in Nepal, and you’re guaranteed to see or hear signs of this small-screen device.
In October 2015, during a three-week outreach, OM teams in Nepal travelled several days by bus to a remote western district. Known for its rugged terrain and sparse population, this area has about 9,670 households in 3,535 square kilometres (1,365 square miles), but there are only 113 known believers.
“We want to see a New Testament in every household in this area,” said Matthew*, an OM ministry leader. “We hope that people hearing God’s Word will be what brings them to believe in Him as their Saviour."
The team distributed over 2,500 New Testaments, paired with a mini-SD card—one to each household they visited. The mini-SD cards fit into cell phones and have audio recordings of the New Testament, the gospels in the local language and a book called God’s Promises.
Considering the treacherous terrain of Nepal, a miniscule device makes delivering these resources much easier than printed media. What may seem like a small gesture continually receives a warm welcome from those that receive an SD card. One man stayed up until midnight listening to the words of the gospel in his own language, and asked for his own copy to take home to continue listening.
When Ted* and Jennifer* first arrived in North Africa, they worked for another organisation focusing on Bible translation. In the beginning, local believers did not want to use a Bible written in their own dialect, preferring the standard Arabic translation, Jennifer explained.
For many years, the couple laboured to make progress on the project, eventually passing it on to other champions “who struggled equally as hard,” Jennifer said. Right before she and Ted left North Africa after two decades of ministry, they heard of the translation’s fruit.
Friends shared that on consecutive days, two locals, both struggling to understand the standard Arabic Bible, were introduced to the local dialect translation available on a smartphone app. For half an hour, both individuals poured over the app, asking the other worker not to interrupt their reading.
“Now [the gospel] is reaching people, and that was the intention,” Jennifer shared. “It’s such an exciting way to be leaving on that note, to know what we worked so hard on is bearing fruit and being used. Maybe they’re not being saved yet, but they have the opportunity to hear it, understand and hopefully come to faith.”