As Reformed Christians, we believe that God’s Spirit is busy extending his rule all over creation. This includes technology, but does that mean that:
- God is at work even through the smartphone a teenager frequently uses to access pornography?
- the Holy Spirit is working through the computers that university students use every day—the same computers that cause constant distractions with social media and the never-ending flood of bad news happening around the world?
- there is hope for people who didn’t grow up learning technology and feel left behind or even forgotten?
Yes! The next three stories illustrate ways that God is at work in all three of these scenarios thanks to ministries of the Christian Reformed Church.
As a teenager living in Burkina Faso, West Africa, Djibril was regularly accessing pornography on his smartphone. The sense of guilt he felt for doing so was becoming overwhelming.
Even though Djibril felt guilty about watching pornography, he never stopped using his phone.
One day, Djibril came across a website that offered advice for people like him who were struggling with lust and pornography addiction. The program was part of a youth-centered audio series from Back to God Ministries International’s French ministry team.
“We gathered 15 youth volunteers who wanted to share messages with their peers,” said Marc Nabie, BTGMI’s French ministry coordinator in Burkina Faso. “Many of the volunteers have struggled with the same issues that they were now discussing.”
Djibril comes from a Muslim background. When he heard the honest words from someone his age who had struggled with the same issue he was now facing, he felt compelled to call the Christian ministry center that produced this message, even though it was from outside his religion.
“I realized through listening that other young people are facing the same problem as me, but also that there is a solution in Christ,” Djibril told Nabie.
After that initial call, Nabie connected Djibril with a volunteer who lived in Djibril’s region. The volunteer was willing to answer Djbril’s questions about overcoming temptation and about the Christian faith. In Djbril’s case, his parents accepted the offer of having Djibril meet with a volunteer and allowed him to do so.
Several months later, Nabie was scrolling through his own Facebook feed when he saw something that made him smile. It was a message posted by Djibril to all his friends professing his faith in Christ. Djibril had realized that his phone could be a tool for God’s kingdom.
As a mental health expert and practitioner, Irene has an interest in studying the effects of technology overuse on the mental wellbeing of individuals and groups.
“Is this a technology that is supporting real human connection or one that’s taking the place of real human connection?” she’ll often ask.
She recently had the opportunity to test this. Irene is the director of the Center for Counseling and Wellness at Calvin University, and this summer she taught three sections of the course “Practicing Mindfulness in a Time of Pandemic.” It was one of more than 20 three-week courses offered this summer in the university and Calvin Seminary’s A Christian Witness in a COVID-Shaped World series of courses.
Most of Irene’s work is done in one-on-one, face-to-face clinical settings, so the classroom setting and the medium of delivery were less familiar. But it didn’t take long for Irene to see how technology had opened doors to learners from all walks of life and from all over the world.
“Having older and younger folks in my class, it’s exciting to see those connections happening, to hear stories across the lifespan—people still learning how to individuate from their families, retired people looking back, others who are watching their own kids go to college, mid-career folks who are struggling to keep up with multiple commitments,” Irene said. “I just love that intergenerational mix.
“The denominational diversity has been a blessing, too,” she added. “It’s been an opportunity to bring the best of the Reformed worldview and also share with one another in broader Christian community to inform each other’s response to what’s happening in the world.”
Through the COVID-Shaped World series, Irene and hundreds of students ages 17-90 from 23 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and 13 other countries in Asia, Africa, and South America seemed to find real human connection.
“Ultimately, when so much is taken away through the radical upending of a global pandemic, we come down to the basics of what life is: us as creatures, made by our creator, existing for our time here on earth with God,” Irene said. “It’s not an existential place most of us have been trained to be at peace with. These courses have provided an opportunity for people to find meaning in this new landscape, to discover deeper values, to explore guidelines for how to live when so many things have been stripped away, … to learn how to tap into the goodness that God gives us in every moment.”
Lois is 90 years old, but when she looks at changing technology, she concentrates on the way it has helped her connect to the world right from her rural home in the midwestern United States.
“I remember when we limited everyone to five minutes on the phone,” said Lois, who asked that her name be changed to protect her privacy. “Technology has surpassed what I understand, but I’m grateful I can talk long distance all the time.”
Lois estimates that the Today devotional messages have encouraged her in her faith for the past 50 years. Yet as her vision began to fail her, the way she accessed Today changed.
“My husband and I always used to read Today together. He passed away 15 years ago,” Lois said. “Then, when I no longer could read the regular print, I used the large print.”
Recently, Lois’s daughter-in-law helped her set up a smart speaker in her home. The speaker helps her with nearly every part of her daily routine, including her devotional time.
“Living alone (as a person who is legally blind) wouldn’t be possible 25 years ago,” Lois said, adding that her smart speaker “tells me what time it is, calls my son for me, and turns on my lights.”
About 8,000 people have joined Lois in adding Today’s feature to their Amazon or Google speakers.
“I think I concentrate on the message more now that it’s read to me,” Lois said.
The hope that technology offers Lois goes far beyond her own home. During COVID-19-related church closures, she enjoyed listening to her pastor online. She knows that others around the world are finding hope online, too, because she’s been a long-time supporter of BTGMI’s ministries to unreached people groups.
“God says in the Bible that the world won’t end until the whole world knows,” said Lois, referencing Matthew 24. “I never thought that would happen, but now, through media, God’s Word is spreading so quickly in places I’ve never even heard of!”