Listen to Learn International

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Tech Distributed
We live in an exciting period for the application of technology in missions. It must have felt a bit like this when monks began to realize what the printing press was going to mean to the Bible-copying industry in the years following 1455. Or as a bit less over-the-top example, when Jim Truxton realized in 1944 that the skills he had been honing as an fighter pilot through the war could be used to serve missions, and started what is now the Missionary Aviation Fellowship.

What's so exciting? Computer technologies are now well into a filter-down stage, where you can benefit from digital efficiencies without owning a computer or knowing how to work in Windows or OS X. Tech breakthroughs developed for commercial or military goals empower NGO's and mission organizations in many ways - the mobility of information once it is digitized, miniaturization of equipment, enhanced communications at grassroots levels.

Take mobile phones, which have connected people in developing countries more quickly than anyone anticipated. You can stand in a Kenyan gamepark watching giraffes browsing and describe the scene to your family back home in Canada as though you're calling from next door. A fisherman can check before he lands where the prices are best and choose his port accordingly. Africans who are outside the banking system can send cash by phone quickly and securely. These technologies change lives.

Our students carry four months' worth of learning in their shirt pocket. If they're far from the grid, they can pack a compact solar charger - soon they'll be able to velcro a flexible solar panel on their shoulder. If security demands they conceal their study materials, they can use a micro-sd card no bigger than a fingernail. These technologies change learning. Or rather they make the same learning we take for granted available everywhere.

In Listen to Learn, we use these technologies for an enhanced take on a Christian staple - spoken preaching and teaching. The portability of our PAL units (Personal Audio Library) combined with their high capacity, simplifies the task of delivering teaching to marginal but real-life situations. And although the latest technologies are in play, PALs are easy to use - they bring benefits of the digital revolution without requiring the steep learning curve of mastering the computer.

The pace of change show no sign of slowing. It's a challenge to predict the opportunities that cheap smartphones, undersea fibre cables and satellite delivery will offer in the next few years. For sure we'll have an even bigger canvas to draw on. Investing now in Listen to Learn will position us favourably to take continuing advantage of the new world of global communication.

Our Flattened Earth
I have been a fan of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat since it was published in 2005 and its follow-up Hot, Flat and Crowded in 2008. He makes the case that technological advances are changing fundamental aspects of our societies, our economies and our world. By opening the door to hundreds of millions of eager new knowledge workers, by removing obstacles of geography and infrastructure and communications, we have effectively undercut the entitlements which automatically accrued in previous generations to those with the fortune to be born in North America or Western Europe. We have made the world a flatter place.

But how to apply this to the church? To our kingdom mission? A book by Bob Roberts Jr., Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World (2007), helps fill in that gap. "...The future is about the decentralization of the church to where it's every person in every domain of society in the pew connecting with domains and people globally. That is a radically different church from what we have seen... It's not about missions; it's about globalization. People have become global beings. The problem with the word global is that it says ‘way over there.' That is incomplete. It's way over there and here at the same time. That is why it's glocal."

We want Listen to Learn to be a glocal organization. It will take teaching prepared by men and women all over the world, make it available and portable, reshape it into the languages that people live and love in, and put it into the hands of local pastors who are doing the work the church needs to be doing in their communities. Thinking globally and acting locally; using global resources for local ends.

Teach the Teachers
We all like the idea of matching grants. Make an affordable donation, then see it matched by our company or a foundation or USAID or CIDA. We value the multiplier effect.

Teaching the teachers is also a 'multiplier' process: invest into those who in turn stand every Sunday and teach 100 or more of their flock. The better the learning, the better the teaching. That's one of the emphases Paul makes in 2 Timothy 2:2: "And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

Another emphasis in that quote, though, is that we have a clear mandate to 'give forward' what has been left in our care. "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you" and then "entrust [it] to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." We in the west are rooted in several centuries' worth of strong biblical scholarship and teaching - more so than in parts of the world where Christianity has expanded later. This is a resource - a deposit entrusted to us - just as much as is our money. We should invest it creatively and wisely.

An Inheritance of Missional DNA
Many - maybe most - underrate how inventive we Christians have been in communications.

We have been adept through two millennia at adapting technologies of the day to the Great Commission. We have learned to fly planes so we could carry the message into the jungles - have even designed specialty airplanes to do the job better. We have built short-wave radio stations halfway up mountains so our message could girdle the globe, and have packaged "fm radio stations in a suitcase" for more granular delivery to villages or refugee camps. We have reduced more languages to writing than all the academic linguists put together just so we could translate the gospel of John - and now we blog, podcast and tweet.

God has been our model in this, of course. We see him in face-to-face conversation with Adam & Eve - as personal as it comes. Yet we also hear his voice echoing out of the darkness to Samuel, see him writing on the wall for Belshazzar, hear the thunder from Sinai and see the blinding flash on the Damascus road. We are observers at the world's first instantaneous-translation session at Pentecost, and are promised that we'll cross rich new communicative boundaries when we no longer see dimly through mirrors on this side of eternity. We have a creative missional DNA because we're made in his image.

We stand in a long tradition of inventive media usage. L2L wears that mantle proudly.


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