Learning About Digital Strategies in Missions

Learning About Digital Strategies in Missions
June 23, 2023. My first wake-up in Ethiopia (if you don't count my nap after arrival) was a little after 5am after a great night of sleep. I could hear the Muslim call to prayer over a loudspeaker in the distance and spent some time looking out from my 6th floor balcony, talking to God and just taking it all in. (Perhaps you can see a glimpse of the hotel pool, which is actually a natural hot springs? Unfortunately we never had time to try it out!)

I wandered around on the grounds for awhile, sat and journaled a little bit, then met some of our teammates for breakfast. I must say, the breakfast buffet was stellar! I loved the fresh papaya and watermelon plus made-to-order omelet. The kiwi-flavored water was unusual yet delicious. And I'm already missing the opportunity to splurge on Ethiopian coffee with pastries...

Moving on to the more important things...this day was dedicated to meeting the digital strategies team and learning about their work. We spent the day in their office, which occupies the whole 7th floor of a building called the Holy City Center. Digital Strategy Director Samson (Sami) Usmael noted, "Technology is the 'heart language' of this generation." I so appreciated the opportunity to hear about all the GOOD, amazing things God is doing through technology! All too often we only hear about the negative effects of living in the digital age, and while there is certainly much to be concerned about, what a blessing to hear about the many ways believers are redeeming this space for God's purposes.

Sami and Senay (pictured below) gave us a big-picture overview of some of the things the team has been doing.

We were each given a copy of the Annual Digital Strategies Report for 2022. In the report, Sami (the director) wrote:

"The ministry we are in is to empower the church and raise a new breed of missionaries, who can harvest the digital space for the glory of the Lord. We are seeing hundreds of churches and ministries joining the digital mission and thousands of individuals unleashed and empowered to do digital mission. We are overwhelmed with the fruits that we are seeing globally. I believe we are redefining the way to do missions in our generation. Today we are sending missionaries without the need to dislocate. We are helping them to do mission using their skills and tools at hand and the fruits are marvelous and transforming."

The Digital Strategies team is part of the Great Commission Ministry Ethiopia. (Perhaps our American friends are more familiar with Cru...GCM is the global name of this ministry.)

The nature and scope of the work this team does almost defies description. It's absolutely mind-blowing. In 2022 alone:
  • 13,612,476 people were exposed to the gospel through their websites, social media, and applications.
  • 1,965,637 people interacted with the content.
  • 3,944 people connected to mentors via instant messaging platforms and emails.
  • 62,935 people indicated they asked Jesus into their lives.
  • 9,431 people were trained and equipped regarding digital purity and being digital missionaries.
There are many digital tools and platforms run by the Digital Strategies team...I'll just note a few here that might be relevant and helpful for English speakers! 
  • Every Student is a site (available in English, Amharic, and Afaan Oromo) with the same content in different languages helping people explore questions about who God is along with other spiritual concepts.
  • The Jesus Film Project app is a full digital library of more than 200 full-length movies, miniseries, and short films produced to help the world know Jesus. Everything on the app is free to watch, download, and share.
  • The God Tools app is a multilingual app that can help you easily and clearly share your faith with visually engaging presentations. Are you prepared for spiritual conversations? Are you confident in reaching out to others? This tool can help no matter how you feel!
  • The Mentoring Ministry is something I'm personally very excited about, because I signed up as a mentor myself! This is an online mentoring opportunity that provides an easy, safe, and anonymous way to mentor. TMM connects people looking for help with particular struggles with volunteers who take mentorship training. It provides resources and guidance for mentors to journey with hurting people and eventually share the gospel and connect them with a local church. I've gone through the basic training thus far, and I am SUPER impressed with it! I'm excited to start this journey as a "digital missionary" myself! 
All of this was a lot to take in. When I left for Ethiopia, I was under the impression that this team had something to do with a special app for missions, lol! Getting my brain wrapped around their work was vital for my own understanding but also for communicating with others just what these incredible young people are doing and how it is supporting GLOBAL missions! The Ethiopian team is leading the way in digital missions...organizations from all over the world are looking to them for help, training, resources, etc. And they deliver! At no cost to others! I'm so encouraged and inspired by their passion for reaching as many people as possible with the hope of Jesus, using their skills and talents for God's kingdom purposes. 

By the time we left for lunch (probably mid-afternoon), our brains were spinning. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant, where about 2 dozen of us sat, visited, and ate a traditional Ethiopian meal, showcased below with my teammate Julianna, whose mother Loree works for the Jesus Film Project. (Loree is in the photo below this one.)

Probably I should have taken the photo BEFORE we attacked the food, lol, but it gives you an idea! I sampled everything on the plate...including raw meat, which I didn't know was raw until after it was in my system. Julianna's the brave one, since she ate it AFTER knowing it was raw! Tobin and Dean mostly munched through fries, and I confess I snitched some myself. Their French fries are pretty amazing!

After lunch, we went back to the office, where some of us with enough wi-fi coverage signed up as mentors with TMM. (Internet connectivity was often an issue...) Sami shared more information about some of the behind-the-scenes work on their platform: graphics, videos, and other content that users can take, personalize, and share. So believers in China, for example, can utilize these resources to share the gospel in their own circles.

(I hope I'm explaining these things correctly! My 48-year-old brain isn't wired for this level of technology!)

Nate, Loree, and I registered as mentors and worked on the first module of training through The Mentor Ministry. We left the Holy City Center that evening feeling overwhelmed (in a good way) and rather exhausted after our long days of travel plus learning all of this new information. We gladly accepted the suggestion of individually ordering room service for dinner. I think some (maybe all) of us were starting to notice some, er, digestive issues because of the unfamiliar foods...! I had a simple Greek salad with tomato soup from the hotel and then collapsed into bed. My night wasn't quite as restful as the previous one; jet lag kicked in and kept me drowsily awake for almost 3 hours in the middle of the night! But we had a FULL weekend ahead of us, so I was thankful for the couple of chunks of sleep I did get!
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Our Ethiopian Adventure Begins

Our Ethiopian Adventure Begins
On Tuesday evening, June 20, my oldest son Tobin and I began our journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Denver airport was unusually quiet, allowing us to check in, pass through security, and get to our gate with 2 hours to spare. The red-eye flight to Dulles departed Denver at 11:59pm and arrived at 5:21am. We made our way to the next gate and settled in, since our international flight didn't depart until 10:45am. Tobin promptly fell asleep, while I finished watching the mini series Shiny, Happy People. (I may do a separate blog post about that at some point...but I'll skip that rabbit trail for now.)

After a Chick-Fil-A breakfast, we met two other travelers on our team, Loree and her daughter Julianna, and began getting to know each other. Loree works for the Jesus Film Project. I was thankful we'd have other people with whom to navigate our arrival in Ethiopia, even though this was the first time any of us had been to Africa.

The 13-hour flight was uneventful. In between naps, I watched the excellent and sobering movie Till (highly recommend) as well as Soul. I blessed my friend MeLissa for her recommendation to wear compression socks, though I was happy to remove them once we got off the plane in Addis! We arrived at 7am, June 22, local time. Ethiopia is 9 hours ahead of Colorado. This means our total travel time (to include the drive to Denver and waiting at the gate for takeoff) was 26 hours. 

This is a glimpse of the line to get through immigration! And when I say "line," I mean something more like "herd" (my friends who have lived in southern Italy will understand completely). Unbelievably, it only took about an hour to pass through. We were thankful our visas had arrived via email without issue a good two weeks before we left the USA. Some of our teammates had visa-related difficulties too complex to detail here. All of our baggage was waiting for us, so our next step was to meet the host team members who were there to greet us and take us to the hotel.

I do not have any photos or video of city traffic...but let me tell you, driving in Naples, Italy, may have only partially prepared me for the chaos that is Addis Ababa driving. I was thankful to NOT have to navigate crazy intersections with NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS! Somehow, though, it all works. There is an ebb and flow, and though I nearly had a heart attack multiple times at seeing people calmly walking across streets jammed with vehicles, clearly they know what they're doing. I never once saw an accident. And jaywalking must not be a thing over there. We arrived safely (and without harming any pedestrians) at the Hilton, where we checked in and settled into our rooms. Aaaahhh! Shower and a one-hour nap!

(Above: Going through security is a must to enter the hotel.)

Next post: Our first day in Ethiopia was really our only time to actually be tourists!
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Faith + Passions in Action

Faith + Passions in Action
My son Tobin and I are headed to Ethiopia for a mission trip next week! 

Yes...this is a bit out of the blue. 🤣 As of Memorial Day, I didn't even know this event would be on our June calendar! Isn't God amazing?!

We have an incredible opportunity to join some missionary friends whom we have supported since the very beginning of their missionary career. We will get to be involved with their digital strategies team and see up close some of the work our friend does to support Christians in Africa with technology to help share the gospel, even being a part of evangelizing through digital means ourselves. I'm so excited to learn more about this! 

Another amazing opportunity we have is to be present at the premiere of the Jesus film for two people groups who will be learning about Jesus in their heart language for the first time ever! Teaching God's Word is a passion of mine...I can't even put into words how grateful I am for the chance to see the transformative power of the gospel in action. ✝️

You know...we wrapped up my 6-week Be Rooted program the day I learned about this trip. I'm in awe at how God used the very material I wrote and taught to Christian homeschool mamas to encourage and prepare MY OWN HEART for this adventure.

Being deeply rooted in Jesus.
Living out our purpose.
Exploring possibilities.
Pursuing our passions.

All of these topics are part of the discipleship & coaching program God led me to write and present this spring...and here I am, humbly and gratefully receiving this immense opportunity to pursue passions the Lord wrote on my heart YEARS ago!!

Oh, friend! Are you rooted in Jesus?? Do you know him personally, and are you living out your God-given purpose? I yearn for others to walk in this freedom and joy! Reach out if you aren't...I'd be honored to chat more with you about this.

And stay tuned for our Adventures in Africa!!! ✈️

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