Lifted Off the Page
God's Word travels new avenues to reach audiences in the digital age
”Send your light and your truth to guide me; Let them lead me to your house on your sacred mountain.” Psalm 43.3 (CEV)
On your morning walk, the first 10 chapters of Romans come loud and clear through your iPod headphones. At the office, you open an e-mail testimonial from a well-known gospel singer. Before bed, you sign on to an online community, where friends you've made across the country share the good news of how the Bible has transformed their lives. You post your own words of hope and a favorite Bible verse before signing off.
The new rituals of a 21st-century Christian life? Every one of these moments is a meeting with Scripture. Yet not one of them involves turning a single page.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1439, the technology changed the world. A flood of Bibles subsequently appeared, unleashing a message of hope to a wider audience than had ever been possible in the days of manuscripts.
The modern age had an analogous explosion of information that is changing the world in its wake. It’s a very good sign that the Bible is involved in every aspect of it. New ministry programs ensure that Scripture is available across media and the gamut of new technical gadgets and wonders — everywhere that a new generation is looking for answers.
Outreach is happening through nearly every new device. Take the cell phone, which is now in 85% of U.S. households. The American Bible Society recently tested sending out 10 days of Proverbs as text messages — short written messages sent from one cell phone to another — which is the preferred means of communication for the under-35 set. Another program is making the entire Bible available to any phone that can reach the Internet. By visiting the website ABSbibles.com, “people can read the Bible’s messages of inspiration, strength, courage and hope on their cell phones wherever they are,” says John Cruz, vice president of Bibles.com.
Tomorrow's Words and Sounds
Music devices bow to the winds of change, as anyone who remembers the 8-track or the humble record player can attest. Today the most common format is the MP3, a digital file that can be played on computers and portable devices. The American Bible Society has just launched a Scripture listening program on MP3, titled 40 for God. In just 40 days, a listener can download these spoken files, also known as podcasts, for free and listen to the entire New Testament.
Even Gutenberg's printed book may be due for a shake-up. The American Bible Society has just released the Contemporary English Version Bible for the new Sony eReader and the Amazon Kindle. These new gadgets have the portability and heft of a small book but replace paper pages with a computer screen. Each device can hold about 200 books at a time — and can even allow readers to take unlimited notes in the digital margins.
For some, this makes them a shoo-in for Bible study. Jason Hart, a tech-savvy Bible reader, is quickly falling in love with his Kindle. It makes searching his notes easier and lets him bring the Bible into the rest of his digital life. “I took a screen shot of a passage in 2 Peter that I've been memorizing,” he says. “Now it's my screen saver, so I can memorize it.”
The dawn of these technologies is full of possibilities. One person hungry to see them arrive is Scott Wennermark, a digital ministry expert working with the Bible Society. “We're trying to find ways to be relevant and intersect, to reach more people with the life-changing message of the Bible,” he says. “In a digital format, the world becomes your audience.”
The Speed of Light
Two aspects of the digital age are exciting to Wennermark. One is economic. Once Scriptures become digital, they can travel instantly, widely and cheaply. “We are trying to do more with less, frankly,” he says. “We want to be good stewards of the money that God has entrusted us with.”
The second aspect is interactivity. If you hand out a printed Bible, you may never know whether or not it gets read. But information sent through the Internet or through text messages travels a two-way street that can be easily measured. Scripture can begin a dialogue, one that can branch out and become a relationship that develops in extraordinary ways.
Abigail Tanori, the online community manager for ABS, has worked to recruit and manage volunteers for digital ministry efforts. Wennermark and Tanori have harnessed the interactive nature of the Internet and created an extensive library of popular singers sharing their inspiring stories about the Bible on video. Visitors can go to ScripturesFromTheHeart.org and sign up for an “e-devotional” — 40 days of these stories delivered to their in boxes. They have also created a promotional Bible Society widget: a way for Internet users to share these videos on popular social-networking sites like MySpace.
But their biggest success so far has been ShareYourStoryNow.org. On the popular Web site, strangers connect and share the ways that Scripture has touched their lives. Wennermark calls the site an “Ebenezer's stone,” a place for people to remember what God has done. “It can add fire to their faith about a God who hasn't forgotten about them in their deepest, darkest times,” he says.
The territory is intimate and powerful: divorces, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and mourning are all on the table. Tanori and her volunteer team moderate the site, but most of the traffic is a conversation between everyday people whose lifeline is the Bible.
Mona Sun is a good example of the power of this digital ministry. At 75 she doesn't drive. One of her children is always on hand to take her where she needs to go: to the grocery store or to services and meetings at the Princeton Alliance Church. But she reads what others have posted every day, without fail, and shares Bible verses and personal insights from a long and active church life. She has become so active that administrators named her an official site volunteer.
Sun was raised as a Buddhist in Hong Kong. She was introduced to the Bible as a student, and she asked one of her teachers to help her become a Christian. After garnering advanced degrees from Yale and Union Theological Seminary and raising 10 children, she brings a lifetime of study and prayer to those who need it through ShareYourStoryNow.org. “Hope starts with one person,” she says. “And it is radiated through the environment and the community.” At Sun's computer, she can move at the speed of light.
More Than Information
The possibilities are exciting. What else is in store when the world's best-selling book encounters the digital age?
Through centuries of innovation, the reach of the Bible has gone beyond its worn leather covers. The information age promises a wider audience for an eternal message. Its transformative power is finding a spiritually hungry world looking for answers on paper and on film, on the display screen of a cell phone and coursing through the channels of the Internet.
A Mother’s Pain
Corinne Ruiz faced a nightmare no mother should ever have to endure. Her only daughter died before her 15th birthday, the victim of a rare heart disease.
Corinne thought of suicide after Olivia's death. “I was very angry with God,” she says. “Why my daughter? Why my family?” She discovered ShareYourStoryNow.org while deep in her grieving. The messages of hope helped her realize that, in all the years of darkness, God had never let her down. “He has been with me every step. Every tear that I have cried, he knows.”
Sharing her story was a big step. She cried when she received the first response. But helping others — especially grieving mothers — was worth it. She found strength in Acts 14.22: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
“My friendship with God was something I didn't have before my daughter died,” says Corinne, who now volunteers on the site. “Through tragedy, he has given me new life.”
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