Sea of Voices: Evangelism in a Post-Modern Cyberscape

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As I’ve been clearing out my computer, I discovered a paper I wrote on emerging communication technologies and evangelism. Part to find a home for it and part to share it publicly, I’m posting it here.

Direct and Indirect Communication: The Growth of Immersive Media

            Fred Craddock in “Overhearing the Gospel,” speaks on the two types of communication; direct and indirect. In direct communication, the sender is addressing the message specifically to the audience. The audience is meant to realize they are the object spoken to and the message is for them to apply. This approach, however, not only lacks subtlety but can incite a defensive response from the listener as he or she might feel under assault. Indirect communication offers something different. It allows for the audience to overhear the message. Overhearing is when the sender gives a relevant but indirect message that the audience will internalize. Craddock writes, “The two factors in the listener’s experience- distance (history) and participation (contemporaneity- are the two basic ingredients in the experience of overhearing (Overhearing the Gospel pg. 101).”

            How audiences can participate with messages has changed with the advent of interactive media. Online multimedia and virtual reality have become platforms for audiences to overhear the message through an immersive experience. In the essay, “Immersive Media Experiences,” the authors discuss the importance of immersive media, “New paradigms for media production, distribution and consumption have been emerging, introducing different sensory modalities and audio-visual surround effects, for an increased sense of presence, and also enabling participation and social interaction in the media chain, thus increasing the sense of belonging and contributing to the success of the services being provided (Immersive).”

            One application that immersive media is being used for is in therapy. OCD, autism, and PTSD are just some of the disorders virtual reality therapy is helping treat. In “Computer-Assisted and Web-based Innovation in Psychology, Special Education, and Health,” written by James Luiselli and Aaron Fischer, discusses the use of virtual reality therapy, “VRT exposes patients to virtual situations of increasing intensity and duration, seeking to provoke anxiety and then tear away that anxiety through repetition, as in a typical exposure therapy (Computer-Assisted).”

            The use of indirect immersive media is being found to be an effective tool in marketing, journalism, and advocacy, as well. The ability to transport audiences to virtual representation or share in a virtual experience is a valuable communication resource. When the deadly Nepal earthquakes occurred in the Spring of 2015, there was great urgent need to respond to the damage. Traditional direct media showed the weeping masses and the fallen buildings. The images were tragic, certainly, but perhaps not powerful enough for some. RYOT, a pioneering virtual reality group of advocacy journalists, went to the devastation with 360 cameras. Coupled with narration by actress Susan Sarandon, RYOT made “The Nepal Earthquake Project.” The video gives the viewer control of where to look as they are bombarded with the sights and sounds of the disaster’s aftermath (RYOT). This kind of media gives a stronger narrative and appeal as audiences discover the scope of the story and internalize the message. The experience crafts a deeper participation.

            Where direct and indirect communication will retain their uses, indirect messages overheard through immersive media is giving the informers, the persuaders, and the entertainers new platforms. While still in its infancy, virtual reality and other immersive media are becoming more accessible and adopted at exponential rates. It is foreseeable, in the near future, that this will become the norm for media consumption as communicators embrace the media.   

Evangelizing Post-Moderns

For all outcries of technology’s pervasiveness being unnatural, there is nothing quite so human and natural as man’s creations. Where Scripture says mankind is made in the image of the Creator God, humanity reflects this in its prowess with innovation. However, this becomes a flaw where technology is used not to enhance but replace the natural.

As the world has advanced technologically, culture has also shifted from pre-modern faith to modern idolatry of man’s knowledge to post-modern skepticism towards truth. Post-modernism would reject an idea of absolute truth. While everyone is bound by the same facts, “truth” is an interpretation. This also becomes a flaw when everyone’s truth becomes acceptable and correct.

A world of technology surrogating fulfillment and skepticism of messages called truth can seemingly be a challenge to the evangelist. It creates a culture where revelation is diminished or non-existent. Even for the Christian, post-modern technology allows us to experience a cherry picked Bible with a tailor made concept of God and His Church. This grand struggle is not new, though. God’s call to return from sin and accept Him as Savior and Lord has persisted through time, regardless of the zeitgeist. Similarly, Christians have had the same model of communication throughout history. Evangelism must be rooted in relationships.

The Great Commission commands Christ followers to go and make disciples. It is not a passive suggestion but a clear call to the front-lines. While the Gospel is potent on its own, Christians are described in organic terms of bearing fruit and being a body. Called to Christ-likeness, the message pierces through the self-absorption of technology and skepticism of subjectivity by coming alive through the obedient Christian. In “Communicating for Life” by Quentin Schultze, he writes of the authority of the message when genuine, “Person and message should be united so that what we say is a product of who we are and what we believe, not just a reflection of our eloquence (Communicating).”

Relationships are the basis of all the evangelism in the Gospel. While technology did not allow for broad seed sowing at the time of Christ, mass media has never been as effective in persuasion as the tangible. Frederick Buechner writes in “Telling the Truth,” how empathy is necessary in evangelism, “But to preach the Gospel is not just to tell the truth but to tell the truth in love, and to tell the truth in love means to tell it with concern not only for the truth being told but with concern also for the people it is being told to (Telling).” Love from sender to receiver must be understood for a message to take root. This is not to reject technology or different-minded individuals as conditional to Gospel-sharing but to state the essential need for love. Is this not the reason technology fills personal voids and post-modernism used as a crutch, to deny man’s tragic status as fallen short of God’s glory?

As the world rejects the need of a Savior and Lord, Christians must not only communicate but display the message of a life lived victoriously in Jesus. James Smith addresses a post-modern Church in his book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism.” Smith relates to the command for followers of Christ to be like a city on a hill, “Nothing is more countercultural than a community serving the Suffering Servant in a world devoted to consumption and violence (Who’s Afraid).” Whatever platform the message is delivered from and whichever ideology it is delivered to, the Gospel must be shared in Christ-like selflessness and unconditional love. 

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Middle East Profile

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Some of the best food in Edmond and OKC are some of the Arabic and Persian restaurants, which reveal the growing population of Arabs and Persians of the Middle East calling Edmond home. While more Middle Easterners become our neighbors, there is likely no greater ostracized groups than the various Arab and Persian peoples. This hypocrisy against the Great Commission and Christ’s mission is one of the largest obstacles to reaching them with the saving truth of the Gospel.

Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Iraq. Just some of the many Arabic countries with strong representation in Edmond. Persians of Iran are also an increasing population in the city, as well. While nationally, culturally, and religious diverse, they all hail from the Greater Middle East. While hard to estimate, various statistics would support, that together, they represent close to 1-2% of Edmond’s population. As students of the University of Central Oklahoma, they make up over 10% of the school’s international body (most coming from Saudi Arabia). Edmond holds one of only a few mosques in the state.

Predominately Muslim, Arabs tend to follow a branch known as Sunni Islam with Persians usually following Shia Islam. In almost all Middle Eastern countries, Christianity is a minority with little Gospel presence due to restrictive laws against evangelism. While persecution and religious extremism do exist, the vast majority of Middle Eastern culture is marked by hospitality and honor. Those living here in the US will express their pursuit of a better and peaceful life.

The great struggle to impacting the Arab and Persian peoples of Edmond with the Gospel is the unchristlike fear and rejection from Christians and churches. To this, I have much to say but fear it would begin to be a rant. I will summarize only with this. You will find no such fear, rejection, or hostility in the Word of God. If you bring it, your bring it from your own sinful heart and mind and I ask you to repent. However, it is because of this spirit that almost no Gospel work is present in Edmond (or throughout Oklahoma, for that matter). I know of only one church planter working among the Persian people. I don’t know of any among the far larger Arab people groups.

FORMER MUSLIM BECOMES CHURCH PLANTER

The real need for salvation to come to the Arab and Persian peoples is for obedient Christ-followers to be willing to pray for, befriend, and share the story of Jesus Christ. This is an act not of fear but hope, not of rejection but love, not of hostility but of obedience.

3 KEYS FOR REACHING MUSLIMS

For the Arabs and Persians:

-Pray for genuine Christ-followers to build kingdom-worthy relationships among Arabs and Persians.

-Pray for the Muslims of Edmond to recognize Jesus as more than a prophet but as their divine Savior and Lord.

-Pray for an Arabic church to be planted in Edmond and OKC, growing and multiplying.

-Pray for the Persian church and that others will join it in reaching Persians with the Gospels here and abroad.

God is Faithful!

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Its been a long 30 days since the last time I posted. It has been a month of fervent prayer and preparing for whatever outcome. One full of ministry but also of waiting. For while Sarah and I have been praying and seeking to pursue ministry in Edmond among internationals, I have for almost a year and a half been seeking employment. With less than 30 days before we would pack everything and leave Oklahoma to move in with family, all our prayers were answered.

desert
2010, Oman

10 years ago, to date, I began as a missionary with the International Mission Board. After 2.5 years in the Middle East, working among Afghans and Pakistanis, I returned home (engaged to my beautiful bride, I might add) with an awakened heart towards international ministry. As Sarah and I got married and moved to Oklahoma, we recognized the immense need for outreach right here in OKC and Edmond. While we frequently pursued ministry opportunities, it was days before the birth of our firstborn in 2016 that I truly felt a tug on my heart. I had let the urgency of the Gospel grow quiet in my my life and felt a growing spiritual discontent with where I was leading my family and myself. For the past couple years, we prayed and discerned God’s will, eventually recognizing that I needed a different career and a job that put me closer to home.

Giving up the comforts and securities of a job I’d known for 5 years, I have been job-hunting for a position that would allow us to live co-vocationally, supporting ourselves in ministry. Yet, over a year passed since I started searching. While we were certain of our calling, we began to wonder if perhaps we were to serve elsewhere. The past month has been filled with prayer on getting a position or forced to move in back with family across country. No interview had turned into an offer and I had packed half our belongings, preparing to leave Oklahoma.

Draper Clan packed and ready to move!

29 days till I was unemployed and then the phone rang. An offer. A generous offer at a career that will not only be a joy to work at but also give the opportunities to minister. And just like that, 2 years of prayer about how we might support ourselves is answered. Now, we may even greater focus on the task of sharing the Gospel and disciple-making.

God is faithful. He never promises the road to be easy but He does promise to be by our side. He never says we won’t “fail” but He does promise that He is victorious. His work will be accomplished and He will receive the glory.

As we begin this next chapter of our lives, please pray the following:

-For the Sarah and I to find opportunities and communities to evangelize and disciple.

-For us to remain teachable and humble, learning from those who have gone before and, ultimately, from our Heavenly Father.

-For us to find partners and co-laborers in Christ, so we may sharpen one another and expand outreach.

-For the unreached peoples of Edmond and OKC to meet their eternal savior, Jesus Christ, and that church-planting movements may begin in their cultures and languages.

Just Start A Conversation

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This past Sunday, I (Stephen) went to the house church we attend. This was a special time as it concluded an outreach ministry. The leaders of the church had recruited local Christian college students to help survey, prayer walk, and evangelize throughout OKC, with a special focus on internationals. Concluding several days of work, the students had several great stories to share.

The students had gone out in small groups, praying and talking to people, prayerfully sharing the Gospel with whoever would chat. Several of the students expressed initial awkwardness when approaching strangers but overtime saw how these conversations would lead to Gospel opportunities. This “ah-ha” moment was further cemented by the testimony of a special guest. He had been a refugee from a war-torn region. He came to know Christ when a pastor approached him and poured into him. He has since grown to be a minister, himself. The theme throughout all of this was that evangelism isn’t to be feared, isn’t complicated, but is urgently needed.

While it may seem scary to go up to a stranger, especially a foreigner, and share Jesus, its important to remember we are not alone. Jesus promises to be with us in the Great Commission. We’ve been sent out with the promise that God is already by our side. With that comfort, how do we actually share?

One of the most effective approaches to evangelism is simply to follow Acts 1:8 and be God’s witnesses. Tell your story! Bear witness to what God has done through you.

*How was your life before Christ?

*How did you come to Christ?

*How has your life changed since?

This simple method is personal, relatable, and easy to remember. Its your life, after all!

To give the Gospel a bit more structure, there are many ways to present it. 3 Circles is a simple approach with a strong visual element that can easily be drawn on a napkin. To ground it in Scripture, I am partial to the simple explanation using the Romans Road. The important point is to both find a way that works well for you and still be open to how the Spirit might have you share.

Please lift Sarah and I up as we seek to tell the story of hope in Jesus to those who have never heard before.

A Walk in the Park

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Its been far too long since Stephen and I have written. Unfortunately, for almost a month, the babies have been sick and Stephen has been busy with his job search. We’ve also not been able to prayer walk much as the weather has been too chilly for walking with an infant. That said, we have been prayerfully searching for new ways to meet internationals, some we’ll be sharing in posts throughout this week.

Now that the weather is finally turning to Spring, we have been looking forward to both prayer walking and meeting people. One of the key areas we look forward to is in Edmond’s wonderful parks. Hafer Park is one of the best for this! With several playgrounds, a walking trail, and a pond, it has several areas that people hang out. Many internationals frequent Hafer to exercise or take their kids to play and, due to being close to UCO, is a favorite spot for the international students to enjoy.

Last summer, we participated in an outreach opportunity with our church, Edmond First Baptist, and met several internationals at Hafer. Stephen chatted with a group of Indian men looking to play volleyball and I connected with a Korean woman. Even as we take our own toddler there to play, we continue to see international families relaxing at the park.

I understand its an awkward thing to approach strangers, especially people who are different from yourself. However, the thing I know, from my own immigrant experience and from meeting countless internationals is many of them are desperate for relationships. Many immigrants are lonely and afraid to talk to strangers out of fear of rejection. So many are hoping to be welcomed!

Be courageous! Don’t be afraid of the unknown, as we have God’s promise He is with us, guiding us (Isaiah 41:13). Stephen and I can testify about the many wonderful interactions we’ve had, simply by greeting people with Christ-like love. In fact, just last week, I had a great experience with a Muslim woman from the Gulf Arabia. I was out walking and saw her, garbed in her hijab, walking alone. I had no idea how she might respond but I decided to simply start a conversation. She was very happy to talk and we even exchanged numbers. We are now looking forward to making plans to meet. By inviting her into my life and getting to know her more, we may begin having spiritual discussions and lead to an opportunity for her to meet her Savior, Jesus Christ.

With the turn of the weather, we look forward to leading a prayer walk in Hafer Park next week and also meet people. If you would like to join us, it will be from 5:30pm to 6:30pm on Tuesday, April 2nd. Whether you are able to join us or not, please pray for the following:

-For God to prepare the hearts of those we meet, to be receptive to us and that our conversations may point to Christ.

-For Stephen and me to draw nearer to the Father, discerning His will in where and how to go forward in obedience.

-For new opportunities to be revealed on how we can meet internationals and invite them into our lives.

Spiritual Beachheads

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A reality I believe is too often ignored is that we live amidst a great spiritual war. While I shy away from going to great extremes to shout “Onward Christian soldier,” I also recognize the battle that goes on in my own life and in others. There is an enemy. A defeated enemy, crushed by Christ, but still an enemy who moves to frustrate, deceive, and tempt.

It is the reality of spiritual warfare that I believe in the necessity of prayer. Particularly, the necessity of praying over people and places. As I had mentioned prior, Sarah and I are starting our international outreach ministry in prayer walking key areas of Edmond, OK.

Last Thursday, we were joined by a church family in walking throughout the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma. We prayed over the students, administration, and even specific locations, praying that God may raise up opportunities to create spiritual beachheads in an area and among people who don’t know Him. It was a blessed time but one that brought to light the great struggle and task ahead. However, there is hope.

Unlike the wars of our world, the spiritual battles of the faithful are not won with weapons. It is in our obedience and submission to God that we experience the victory that He has already won. We have nothing to fear. We are on the winning side. We must simply obey and live victoriously.

Tomorrow, this Thursday, we will be prayer walking at Hafer Park in Edmond. This park is notable for being a lively gathering spot for families and Sarah and I often see international families there. In fact, we’ve even met some through outreach gatherings of Edmond First Baptist Church. We will be meeting the playground near the pond at 5:30 pm. If you would like to join us, message me at xtiannetizen@gmail.com or simply show up. Regardless, pray with us that God will allow us to sow seeds and build relationships that will lead to salvation at the park. Pray specifically that Sarah may connect with other women and pour into their lives. Pray also that God may allow us to gain a foothold at UCO among the lives of international students.

South Korea Profile

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A country with a large Christian population. Churches are a regular sight. Missionaries being sent from this country all over the world. You might think I was talking about the US but I’m referring to South Korea.

While Christianity took time to grow in South Korea, 30% of South Koreans profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, with over 15% being evangelical. This is phenomenal compared to many neighboring East Asian countries, with nearby Japan having more than double the population but only 0.5% claiming to be Christian. Its evident that God is working mightily among South Korea.

LEARN ABOUT SOUTH KOREA’S GREAT MISSIONARY MOVEMENT

South Korea is saturated with a Gospel presence but is far from a “Christian” nation. In fact, despite a large Christian demographic, more than 30% are non-religious with nearly 25% following Bhuddism. The true spiritual condition of South Korea is a country accepting of Christians but not willing to call Jesus their Savior and Lord.

In Edmond, Oklahoma, East Asians make up a tremendous number of the immigrant population. Among them, South Koreans are the leading people group among all internationals attending the University of Central Oklahoma. For students, already seeking their identity and future, now is the time for bold men and women of the faith to introduce them to the hope found in Jesus Christ. Presently, there is no Korean church in the NE OKC/ Edmond area.

The largest people groups in Edmond and OKC also include South East Asians, Chinese, Arabs, and Vietnamese.

For the Koreans

-Pray that they may recognize Jesus as Savior and Lord, including nominal Korean Christians.

-Pray for Korean Christians to gather and form a church in the NE OKC/Edmond area.

-Pray that the Korean church will multiply among its people, fervently obeying the Great Commission and making new disciples.