Digital Evangelism & Demonstrating God’s Love
In Indonesia, Technology’s Reach Opens a Door for Christianity’s Unreached.
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Technology is a change maker. It “changes the way we think and carries with it worldview implications.”¹ The way we think influences our behaviors and actions. These include how we view and do evangelism.
Over the past decade, Indonesia has been experiencing rapid digitization and technological advancements, opening avenues for digital evangelism. Indonesia’s technological landscape is unique: “most Indonesians have skipped the digital evolution from personal computers to laptops and tablets, and gone straight to smartphones.” This is partially due to the rapid digitization and a shift in consumer behavior influenced by booming technology startups like GoJek.
Technology’s Reach and Evangelism’s Unreached
GoJek started as a motorcycle ride-hailing app that enabled more than four million ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers to use smartphones. With its simple, well-designed interface, GoJek rationalized existing habits of travel and transaction. Now, people from different economic backgrounds use GoJek. As GoJek grew to become Indonesia’s first “unicorn,” they now have services like GoPay and GoFood, which are on-demand gig economy services. As more lower-to-middle income people see an opportunity to earn extra income, more of them adopt smartphones to use the GoJek app.
In 2020, there were approximately 192 million smartphone users in Indonesia, ranking Indonesia the fourth-largest smartphone market worldwide. The Australian Trade and Investment Commission reports that internet penetration in Indonesia is 64.8% and is set to continue growing: “smartphones are the key platform with 96% of internet users accessing the internet via their handheld devices.” Moreover, Indonesia’s demographic dividend gives Indonesia the capability to become a high-income country by 2045. In other words, Indonesia has the capability for further technological adoption, presenting more opportunities to share the gospel via digital technology.
Despite these technological advancements, there are still millions who have neither heard about nor believed in Christ. As Christians, Jesus commissions us to evangelize and make disciples of all nations. In evangelistic circles, some interpret these “nations” to be Unreached People Groups (UPGs). A people group shares “a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, class or caste, [and/or] situation.” When a people group numbers more than 10,000 and less than one percent are Christians, the group is considered “unreached.”
Globally, there are still about 7,400 UPGs, and 236 of them are in Indonesia. This Southeast Asian country is the biggest archipelago in the world with more than 17,000 islands. On the inhabited islands live more than 260 million people, making Indonesia the fourth most populous country in the world. Well-known for its diversity, Indonesia has more than 700 languages, 300 ethnicities, and six official religions. Among these religions, Islam comprises 90% of the people, making Indonesia the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Reaching these diverse and dispersed groups requires the aid of digital technology.
Digital Evangelism & Responsible Technology
In the 1400s, Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized Bible printing, enabling mass printings of the Bible to be distributed across Europe. Likewise in this century, as technology grows exponentially, telecommunications and the internet enable information to conveniently and quickly proliferate. This presents a golden opportunity to have the gospel reach more people via telecommunication and internet technology — digital evangelism.
A handful of organizations have started to do digital evangelism in Indonesia. Indopartners Agency, a mission organization in Arizona, creates and publishes evangelistic content on websites and social media. SABDA is a digital Bible organization in Indonesia, similar to YouVersion, that has a Bible App which contains different translations ranging from English to local dialects. Another organization created a TV cartoon with contextualized characters and settings. The cartoon introduces a Christian character who came from one of the UPGs. JAARS uses radio audio Bibles in local dialects as one way to spread the gospel to the UPGs. These methods enable millions in Indonesia to hear about Christ.
Yet, what about the UPGs who don’t have access to such “advanced” technology? This poses a challenge for how to balance between introducing technology to these UPGs and a more traditional missionary approach.
To address this challenge, we must first consider the meaning of technology. In relation to society, Stephen Monsma defines technology as “a distinct human cultural activity in which human beings exercise freedom and responsibility in response to God by forming and transforming the natural creation, with the aid of tools and procedures for practical ends or purposes.” Usually, we only see “tools and procedures” as technology. Yet, they combine with the human cultural activity of shaping God’s creation to form a more holistic view of technology.
James Huggins argues that generally there are two types of misguided reactions to technology: First, total rejection, where people completely isolate themselves from technology, and second, total acceptance, where people believe that all technology is valuable — sometimes called “technicism.” Yet, there are people who react indifferently too. Given Huggins’ definition, a more nuanced approach seems possible, which is to cultivate responsible technology — we are to create and use technology in ways that honor God.² This approach requires discernment and wisdom from the Holy Spirit as we live in a fallen world where sin has corrupted every aspect of creation, including technology.³
Technology Solutions in Search of a Problem
For all the potential of technology, we also need to acknowledge its fallenness and limitation as well. Nicholas Wolterstorff mentions that “technology does make possible advance towards shalom; progress in mastery of the world can bring shalom nearer. But the limits of technology must also be acknowledged: technology is entirely incapable of bringing about shalom between ourselves and God, and it is only scarcely capable of bringing about the love of self and neighbor.”⁴ When new technology is introduced, it does not merely adapt to the culture, it eventually creates a new culture.⁵ This transformation can make technology’s impact unpredictable. In the book When Helping Hurts, the authors show how what we think of as helping people using technology might not actually be helping them.
Take a case study from UNICEF where they were trying to help the people in Cambodia prevent poor sanitary diseases by eliminating open defecation. The solution they tried was building latrines for people to use. At first glance, this seemed like a good solution. Yet, people continued with their traditional habits. The real solution only came after the team listened more and worked together with the locals to understand their underlying needs. The problem turned out to be a lack of awareness about the implications of defecating outdoors and adding a bit of privacy for the latrines.
Thus, before offering help, outsiders need to take the time to actively listen to people they aim to serve. Without first listening to and understanding their local and expressed needs, bringing outside technology to help solve perceived “problems” is misguided. We may waste resources solving an imaginary problem and not the real problem which they actually ask for help with.
Jesus’ Holistic Ministry Is Our Model
Just as technology is a change maker, we too need to be agents of holistic renewal by discerning when and how we should introduce new technology to glorify God. When we do evangelism, we’re not just proclaiming but also demonstrating God’s love. Whenever we seek to help someone, we must include them in the process by first walking alongside them. Implementing holistic evangelism is not easy, but it’s possible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself gave a prime example in His ministry.
When Jesus proclaimed God’s love, he also demonstrated it by healing the sick and casting out demons. When Jesus healed a blind man, Jesus asked the man what he wanted. This shows that Jesus respected the man’s choice, and came alongside him. Sometimes, because of his spiritual insight, Jesus did help people who didn’t realize they needed help. But as sinners, we typically lack such supernatural insight, which is all the more reason why we must live humbly among the people we want to serve. Thus, whether it be a ministry of proclamation or of seeking justice for others, holistic evangelism focuses strategically on how others can know (head), feel (heart), and experience (hand) God’s love to its fullest.
Holistic evangelism acts as a guardrail. We need it because we know that our approaches — both technological and relational — are imperfect due to sin,⁶ which is why Christ has died for us and calls us to redeem every square inch of creation.⁷ We are overjoyed by the love of Christ where it’s like a cup overflowing with joy that we just can’t contain, hence we want to share this good news with others holistically.
And this reformation of God’s creation is not a violent overthrow, but rather a progressive renewal.⁸ Although the phrase digital evangelism implies efficiency and quickness, holistic evangelism, especially to remote UPGs, will take time and might feel inefficient even with the aid of technology. A person with a technicist worldview might be tempted to solve evangelism challenges using technology as efficiently as possible. Yet, Jesus bounded himself within time when He came into this world, and used His time for holistic evangelism ministry.
Holistic evangelism ministry provides a necessary counterbalance when introducing new technology for God’s glory because it focuses not only on worldly problems but also on a spiritual problem that can never be solved except by God’s love. Humanity’s need for something more than technology can provide resonates with the words of St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Through this holistic approach, by God’s grace, we’re able to fulfill the cultural mandate of stewardship and dominion over these God-given technological resources, carry on the great commission by spreading the good news and making disciples, and fulfill the great commandment of loving God and loving others — especially unreached people groups.
¹ Derek C. Schuurman, Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015). Kindle edition. Location 101.
² Ibid, Location 371
³ Ibid, Location 1127
⁴ Wayne G. Boulton, Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey, From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), page 253.
⁵ Derek C. Schuurman, Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015). Kindle edition. Location 1328
⁶ Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World: a Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), pages 54–69.
⁷ Ibid, page 98.
⁸ Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2005), page 89.
David Widjaja is the founder of MyNeighbor (TetanggaKu) app. He works at Deloitte San Francisco as a Risk & Financial SAP Treasury Advisory Consultant. He went to Calvin University to study Information Systems and Business, learning how Faith integrates with Technology & Business. He has volunteered for several Digital Ministries NGOs both in the US and Indonesia.
Ivana Setiadi is a teacher assistant at Pelangi Kristus, a Christian school in Indonesia, and is currently pursuing a MA in Bilingual/Bicultural Education degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been involved in a digital evangelism ministry to reach the UPGs in Indonesia since 2016.