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.
Three years ago I shared a bit of a project that I was working on – package design for a version of our JESUS film DVDs designed for refugees who were arriving in Germany. In recent updates, I’ve also shared about WiFi boxes that we’re using to share videos with Gospel-filled content for evangelism and equipping.
In Germany, one of Jesus Film Project’s ministry partners is a group called Elijah21 (elijah21.org – I hope you can read German). They use the JESUS film and some of our other media to reach, train, equip, and disciple these refugees. I’d like to share some stories from one of their recent newsletters (edited for brevity & for security):
A very special Jesus Film event took place in the beautiful city of Dresden… Jesus amazes us over and over again! This time the management of the two big reception centers handed out invitation flyers for the Jesus Film event personally to the refugees so that everyone would have the chance to come to our Jesus Film event. The three rented coaches were even allowed to drive onto the premises so that nobody would miss the departure. We have never experienced this before!
Due to the great heat wave, it was extremely warm inside the projection rooms and yet all refugees sat crammed together and listened attentively to what Jesus said in the film.
Markus, the pastor of this church, invited those who wanted to learn more about Jesus to the follow-up meeting and 25 refugees came to the first follow-up meeting sharing coffee, tea, and biscuits despite a heavy thunderstorm.
In May we organized a Jesus Film event in Nuremberg. What a hunger amongst the refugees to know a God who saves! A huge movement among the refugees has developed there. The first follow-up meeting alone was attended by 40 refugees – A—s, Per—ns, and Ku–s. Out of the 40, 36 refugees accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior on that day. We just received the news that after 2 months of weekly discipleship training, 18 former Mu—ms got baptized there and now share the good news themselves. The refugees who attended the Jesus Film event now invite refugees themselves from other refugee camps.
Now people from Pakistan and Afghanistan also come to the follow-up meetings.
Fulda & Wiesbaden
We just received the news that 3 house churches were formed in Fulda after the Jesus Film event, in which the refugees learn to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their fellow countrymen.
We also heard good news from Wiesbaden, where a total of about 30 refugees came together to watch the Jesus Film. Recently we learned that out of the 17 refugees who came to the follow- up meetings, 7 got baptized and want to follow Jesus Christ with all of their hearts now. A beautiful baptism celebration took place – now many bring their friends to the follow-up meetings who soak up the gospel hungrily, which the church reported to us overjoyed.
A refugee studying Is—ic Studies also came to the church. But the more he studied the Bible, the more questions he had. As a result, he and his wife got baptized recently. Both now attend church because they have found Jesus.
Jesus changes the darkness everywhere to His wonderful light. What a savior, what a wonderful Lord whom we are privileged to follow. What a joy to know that our Lord is risen!
We Are Blessed
I have been blessed to be a part of a team that is having direct eternal effects on a regular basis. I get to hear snippets of stories like this fairly regularly, and I am rejoicing that I can share them with you as well.
Carrie and I have been working on shoring up our regular/monthly financial support since June, and we’re getting very, very close to hitting our baseline goal again. I expect that I will return to my UX design roll full-time by the end of the month, but the Lord has also been blessing us in this time.
I have a large project coming up that is waiting on the completion of this task, pray that we’ll reach our goal quickly so I can get to it! I’ll share more about my user-research project in our next update.
We’re traveled for about a month this summer for vacation, to see family, and to shore up some of our financial support. We’ve had a few people ask us how they can figure out if the Lord is calling them to participate in missions. Now… we can get into all of the theological answers about how to understand what God could be calling you to, but we’re not going to. We’ll just start with this:
It’s pretty simple advice. But, we’re serious about it. Just go.Where should you go? Wherever you want people to hear about Jesus. If you don’t know, just find a short trip that fits your schedule at first.After all, we do serve a God with a pesky habit of securing buy-in first and giving the key details en route. (e.g. “Go to the land that I will show you.”) Grab a friend or two and go together! How do you pay for it? Either out of your own pocket or ask the Lord and other believers to help you to pay for it (we promise, it works better than you think).
Here’s our other big piece of advice. Don’t just go and do medical, or building, or practical-help trips. Those are fine, but go where you can help people hear the gospel. There are lots of organizations and trips that combine Gospel presentation with meeting practical needs.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
– Romans 10:14
I cannot overstate the personal impact of seeing people hear the Gospel for the first time. If God allows you to see someone become one of the first people in their family to ever believe on Jesus, it’s can become an incredibly powerful reminder for yourself of what Jesus has/is doing for you!
Even if you don’t get to see someone receive salvation in Jesus, remember that there are inherent blessings on people who are doing the work of evangelism: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation…” – Isaiah 52:7
There are many organizations that you can travel with and bring the Gospel. Let us both suggest Jesus Film’s own Mission Trips team, though. This is who I went with to central Asia last October. On any of those trips, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share the Gospel. If you go to JesusFilmMissionTrips.org you can see a full list of all of the trips they have coming up this year. If you want to go as a family, there are opportunities for children as young as 8. Some trips will show JESUS to entire villages, sometimes they’ll be on college campuses with my team’s app, sometimes you might be training people, or even distributing materials with the Gospel at major international borders. You might be in a megalopolis, a small town, in the mountains, or a jungle or desert…
If you solve the wrong problem, it doesn't matter how well you solve it.
As I've pursued my focus on design as a specific path for my vocation, I'm consistently impressed by how much I don't know, and how much there is to learn. In the last few years, it has become clear that the Lord had been leading me toward User Experience Design ("UX") as my focus. I've sought to glean what I could learn from classes, books, podcasts, webinars, and the like. In December I jumped straight into the deep end – traveling to Las Vegas to obtain a certification in UX design through the Nielsen Norman Group. I gained more from the 6-straight days of classes than anything I’d done before.
I've been able to hit the ground running on some improvements to the Jesus Film app. Also, I am in the planning stages of a 6-12 month project to prioritize our strategies and approaches moving forward.
This year marks 15 years that Carrie and I have been working with Cru full time! From December 26th – January 26th I took my first ever Sabbatical – a time to set aside work and labor and trust the Lord to refresh and renew. Some people's sabbaticals involve travel, or completing special projects, but I set my goal as this: that each day would be restful.
Planning ahead isn't something I revel in. I can do it. I can do it pretty well, and I don't always hate it, but it's solidly labor when I do it. So I didn't. Each day I did the things that seemed the most restful. Sometimes I did the kids' homeschool work with them, sometimes I mowed the lawn, did some roofing, slept in, got up early (hahahaha who am I kidding?!), cooked on the grill, roasted some coffee, taught Fia how to ride her bike, read a book in the middle of the day, and each day I set aside time to be in the Scriptures. I even finished my one-year-through-the-Bible plan during the time. I wrapped it up incredibly refreshed and ready to dive into my refreshed role at work.
I am grateful for our gracious God who values work and efficiency, but also has created rest for us — for us because he knows that we are weak, and because enjoying rest is good in and of itself. I'm also grateful to labor with an organization that seeks to value its people, and honors God's design by allowing for focused times of refreshing.