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
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.
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
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expensive there, and most of the mobile devices were over three years old, running a version of Android that has been outdated for almost as long.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.