Congo and Korea

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The first day of evangelism training school in Brazzaville, Congo. (Some faces edited for security reasons.)

I’m starting to write this over the Pacific Ocean – somewhere between the Emperor Seamounts at the International Date Line – or at least that’s what the progress map on my entertainment screen says. It’s 3:30pm in Seoul on September 22nd, and 2:30am in Orlando, but when I cross the international dateline, it’ll be something like 7:00pm on September 21st. I can see the purples, pinks, and oranges of the sunset over the clouds, and I’ll see the sunrise somewhere over Canada before we land.

I feel similar awe at the beauty and a struggle to understand the different places I’ve been and the people I’ve interacted within the past 12 days

My team and the trainees at our 3rd day of training. (One face edited for security reasons.)

Simon Pierre & the Congo

Just outside of customs in the Maya-Maya Airport in Brazzaville, Congo, we met Simón Pierre, an incredibly driven and strategic laborer who is equipping evangelists. We were there to help with step two of his 3-year plan to create hubs of Christians who can talk about Jesus with friends, neighbors, and others they meet on their dusty, broken streets. 

Simon Pierre and me on my last day in the Congo.

In the Maison Sainte Marthe – a missionary housing compound close to the US embassy – we ate our welcoming dinner of whole roasted chicken, fish (also whole), roasted banana, and rice prepared by the wife of one of the local pastors.

Over the next four days, Simon Pierre sent our small team where we could walk people through ways that they could engage others with the story of Jesus using film media. The students, pastors, and faithful believers brought their lunches each day, sitting from about 9am to 3pm to gain these tools, and then going out into the streets and neighborhoods to try it out. In those first three days, we trained close to 70 people, and they saw at least ten new Congolese brothers and sisters pray and confess their trust in Jesus.

Challenges & Takeaways

One of the errors that I’ve never seen before… also, it’s in French.

Like a lot of life in the Congo, each training was a struggle. Cell data is unreliable and expensive there, and most of the mobile devices were over three years old, running a version of Android that has been outdated for almost as long. We worked around these hurdles, along with spotty power, and ridiculous amounts of noise. We were able to get the Jesus Film App, and the necessary films onto most of the devices by using cellular routers and a peer-to-peer sharing app that I’d never heard of before.

The street outside of the church where we did one of the trainings.

When I boarded my plane to fly to South Korea, I knew some things that had to be done to make it easier for Simon Pierre’s disciples to preach the Gospel. And those things – like the ability for people to get the apps and the films with absolutely no cellular or WiFi data at all – have to happen as soon as possible. The whole of the Congo will not be reached by Americans flying in to do it. It will be reached it will be by people like Simon Pierre, and Overmas, and the other Congolese saints that are teaching other faithful saints to teach others about this Jesus that knows their struggles and has overcome on their behalf.

Korea

Me and Kyungsoo on the express train to Busan

Landing in Korea was like emerging into an alternate world where the pursuit of efficiency reigns. 

I came in expecting intense culture shock from my time in Korea. I’d heard from friends that Korea can be disorientating for Americans coming in with their guard down. Instead, it was comforting after my previous days in a place that was experientially very different from the US. 

As I went through customs, the bent toward efficiency and the fact that every sign was in English along with Korean struck me as interesting. I knew where to go, and people understood what I was asking when I had a question – this was not the case in Brazzaville or my layover in Addis Ababa!

I grabbed gimbap to eat – similar to a sushi hand roll – while I waited for my team leader’s flight to land from Orlando. As I watched the people around me in the terminal, I started to feel the differences. When Gabe arrived, we weaved our way to the train into Seoul to meet up with our host, Kyungsoo.  

Kyungsoo, Kyungwon & KCCC

Kyungsoo Oh and his wife Kyungwon are old friends from the working-sabbatical program that Carrie and I participated in when we moved to Orlando in 2010. He wears many hats within KCCC (Korea Campus Crusade for Christ) – leading Jesus Film Strategies for much of East Asia, directing the Virtually Led Movements and Global Church Movement teams, and overseeing the Gateway strategic evangelism training team for Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. 

After meeting up with our other teammate, Paul, and dropping our luggage at our hotel (and some lightning-fast showers), we headed out for some dinner of pork-bone soup with fresh sesame leaves. Over steaming bowls, we started the 5-day process of decoding how the Korean ministries are using Jesus Film’s digital tools to reach their campuses and communities. 

The next day, we climbed through the hilly streets that weave through KCCC’s headquarters just outside of the 600-year-old city wall on the north side of Seoul. We got to meet filmmakers, writers, designers, strategists, evangelists, researchers, global-missions leaders, and interns that are part of the 2nd oldest national team within Campus Crusade for Christ family. They are sending hundreds of staff around the world, going to areas where people of European descent can’t travel safely, and even to campuses here in the US.

Gateway

As we rode the 180 mile-per-hour express train to the southern city of Busan the next morning, we started to “pull apart” the Gateway strategy with Kyungsoo. We needed to understand how they use it to guide believers through the process of evangelism, discipleship, and training in ministry. One strategy uses our Jesus Film resources in a different app developed by the team in Korea to reflect Korean sensibilities, values, and culture.

A theme that would come back in a number of our interviews and conversations is the Korean value for working within a hierarchy and clear steps for moving through a process. In our Jesus Film app, there are discussion questions that go along with each video. They can be used in a small group setting, in personal devotions, or in evangelistic conversations to reflect on the videos and point people to Christ. In our app, they’re open-ended questions that are meant to foster loose and free conversation, like a Zamboni that smooths the ice between each hockey period allowing the players to move anywhere on the ice effortlessly. But we learned that this kind of conversation comes across to many Koreans as too unstructured and hard to navigate. The Gateway team has implemented “conversational flows,” a kind of choose-your-own-adventure structure. A presenter or evangelist shares a video with someone and asks specific questions for conversation, then moves onto one of a set of prescribed videos based on the answers and topics of the following interaction.

Translations Don’t Translate

Koreans, particularly those under 40, are incredibly savvy when it comes to English-language media. When Avengers: Endgame came out, it set Korea’s record for ticket sales in just nine days. Even though a Korean-language dub was produced, there were only a handful of screenings in the whole country that weren’t English dialogue with Korean subtitles. This flies in the face of the Jesus Film Project’s fundamental strategy of translating media into “heart languages.” Koreans want to interact with English-language media in English with Korean subtitles. Dubbed movies are “old fashioned;” as the 20-something interns told us.

Even if they were okay with dubbing in general, the translation was done 40 years ago using a formal style of Korean that one student compared to an American reading Shakespeare.

Research & Interviews

KCCC was doing a 3-day training at Pusan National University, and the ministry’s city headquarters. We spent the next day interviewing students and Gateway trainers. We dug into their experience with evangelism, their use of technology, and film resources, etc. We worked at getting a deeper understanding of critical strategic and cultural factors that created the need for the Gateway app to distinguish itself from our own.

Speaking at the Gateway student training in Busan.

Over our final two days, the four of us spent time working through the overlapping and divergent requirements of our two apps. Ultimately, we want to increase all of our impact for the Gospel. We will continue to work through what we’ve learned and how we can work together so that even more people can hear about Jesus everywhere.

Next Steps

For now, my time in the Congo left us with some practical features to work out and bugs to fix. Over the next year or so, we hope the insight from our Korea days will expand our ability to work alongside the Gateway team to produce culturally-contextualized app experiences that make evangelism both effective and easy.

Around, around, and round.

jayson Misc 7 Comments

Carrie and I in Nederland, CO on our anniversary getaway.
On our 15th anniversary “getaway” while we were in Nederland, Colorado.

16 years and 15 years

Last week Carrie and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. I tried all day to write up a proper tribute, and I could only come up with a variation of the wisdom we try to impart to soon-to-be-weds:

It hasn’t been what I expected. It’s been so much better than I ever anticipated, and so much harder than I could have guessed. But it’s been so so worth it.

This year also marks our 16th year on staff with Cru. A big thank you to those who helped us get to our biennial conference in Colorado! The time both refreshing and super challenging on many levels. Were still glad to be part of an organization that is working so hard to tear down barriers to the good news of Jesus for people both globally and in our complex American context. 

Circumnavigation

In less than a month, I’ll be getting on a plane to head to the Congo and then on to Korea to come alongside users of the Jesus Film app and materials to understand how they’re using our film and digital tools to call people to follow Jesus in two very different cultures and situations (both from the US and each other). Time on the ground with users can provide a lot of new insights for the future of our app and tools better tools mean more people hearing the Gospel.

Pray for safety and a lot of learning from the trip, and for sanity (for Carrie) and obedience (from the kids) at home.

Completing the Basketball Team

Carrie also just crossed the line into what she calls her “15th trimester” of pregnancy. We’re happily anticipating our daughter’s arrival in mid-November. Both ladies are healthy as far as we can tell, and babygirl has been dancing around a lot and making her presence known.

Thank you for your prayers!
Jayson (& Carrie)

Jesus Film Staff @ the conference in the Netherlands, including Jim Green (right), the executive director of JFP from 2005-2012.

Travels, Toilets, Hospitals (not us), Swimming Pools, and…

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March and April were doozies of months for the Whelpley household. I (Jayson) was out of town for two weeks for conferences in Las Vegas and the Netherlands. There was some illness in the camp, and some potty-training regression to go along with it. The boys were both taking swimming lessons (complete with daily fear-freakouts). And, we had 5 people from our church community in and out of the hospital.

Oh… yeah… and Carrie is pregnant! SURPRISE! (It’s a girl!)

Vegas & Zelhem

Our group at the Adobe Summit in Vegas.

The two conferences I attended couldn’t have been more different. The conference in Vegas was for Adobe; a software company whose products Jesus Film uses extensively. I took a two-day training course on how to better use their tools to deeply understand how our users interact with our tools. There were 17,000 people there!

A week later I was in the rural Netherlands with 600 people from 210 missions organizations. Some were in the front lines of 78 different countries, while others were behind-the-scenes support staff like me. Presenters and attendees focused on different aspects of missions: anthropology, cultural application, ethnoarts, IT, mobile tech, orality, radio, social media, web, and virtual media.

The Netherlands are famous for so many bikes. I rode a LOT that week.

It is humbling & encouraging to hear the stories of how God and His church are working around the world in areas and languages where the Gospel has never gone before, and where preaching the Gospel carries a death sentence. The takeaways from both conferences will be invaluable in our work to get the story of Jesus to everyone, everywhere. There are 5 new or renewed initiatives as a result of the inspiration & information we gathered on these trips.

Pray for the Gospel to continue to go out all around the world, and for our place in it. I’m continually surprised by how God chooses to use me to be a part of it at all. Thank you for your partnership in our work!

Problems, Opportunities & Workarounds in Central Asia

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Nicole leads a campus ministry that is working in the southern part of a former Soviet Republic. Last Tuesday I spoke with her via Skype about how her teammates are using Jesus Film Project’s digital tools to reach students at schools in that region and across the border into another former Soviet Republic. 

Because of technology hurdles, our Jesus Film app doesn’t work well to share videos with their students. Internet traffic is barely monitored there, but users’ monthly data is very limited – except when they use an app called WhatsApp. When they share a link to a Jesus Film video, the students will see that they’ll have to leave the app to watch it so they never even hit “play.” 

A few years ago they landed on an idea, they found a website that circumvented YouTube’s usual operation and allowed them to download video files. They cropped them down and send them via WhatsApp. This improvised solution allowed their students to see the videos, and hear the Gospel. 

This is a problem. And an opportunity. 

Problems & Opportunities

In the next few months I’m going to be speaking with more people like Nicole [not her real name]. I’ll be asking about how they’re using our tools, what hurdles they’re running into, and how we can build our tools to serve them and the people they work with. I’ll also be selecting 2-4 locations to visit to “ride along” with them as they minister in their normal context to see what other problems and opportunities there are to be addressed.

Pray for wisdom for me as I manage my time reaching out to people in very different time zones, that I would ask the questions that would lead toward useful insight, and that – as I prepare to travel – the Lord would be clearly present and protecting for me, and for Carrie and the kids at home.