- I am finishing up an Old Testament course on Abraham and Moses with a small class of three people — Marco, Lizbeth, and her mother Emma. Marco and Lizbeth regularly use their cellphones to look up the Bible passages.
- I Ubered up to a funeral home on the north side of Quito to attend the wake of Emma's father.
- Last night, one of my students, Maggy, messaged me on Whatsapp asking me what she should do when her pastor continues to preach and teach things that are not biblical. We had a productive conversation.
- My colleague Phil Strackbein, and MLC graduate Jason Zweifel (who is interning in Quito and helping the mission on the side), and I have a Whatsapp group in which we pass information along and share plans and questions.
- Both Phil and I tried something new this week and went live on Facebook just for a minute or so to say what we are teaching and to invite people to our October classes. This is part of our strategy to become a known entity in Quito. More on that a little later.
- Jason started working on posting on our Facebook page (goal of 3 posts per day) and communicating with the people who contact us via Facebook Messenger.
- I worked with Cindy, coordinator of our Facebook presence in all Latin America, to set up advertising for our on-the-ground classes here in Quito and also to blanket all of Ecuador with ads for our online classes.
- In addition, we offer daily Whatsapp devotions through cristopalabradevida.com, and I have used them as evangelism hooks for people. There are a few food vendors who are now receiving the devotions! Sometimes it's easier to invite someone to get short devotions than to get them to commit to a whole class.
Lots of cellphone use! And I didn't even mention my out-of-Ecuador ministry efforts with my online classes and contacts — that could be another topic.
Basic Overview of our Latin America Mission Strategy and its Application in Ecuador
Below is a diagram of our Process document which outlines our strategy in Latin America. The best way to conceptualize the work is to imagine an hourglass.
Through our promotions and presence in social media we reach a large number of people. For example, currently we have 1.12 million likes on our main Facebook page. Our team is developing a network of team members and volunteers who create content and interact with people specifically on Facebook and also other platforms, such as Instagram, as we slowly branch out. We have noticed a lag in our ability to reach the 20s age group so we are slowly getting into platforms, such as Instagram, so as not to leave out anyone out. The goal is to become a known entity so that we can reach more people with our online class signups.
The promotion step leads us to the narrowing part of the hourglass where people sign up from all over the Spanish speaking world — I just had a Venezuelan who is living in Ecuatorial Guinea, Africa, in my last session! — to take online classes. The focus of the classes is two-fold: we want to teach people to read their Bibles and to train them how to teach and lead others.
Through the classes, we identify potential leaders who may be candidates for starting their own groups and congregations. We further teach and counsel them always emphasizing the "chain of leaders" as we see examples in places like the book of Acts. Barnabas worked with Paul who worked with Timothy who worked with lots more people — 2 Timothy 2:2 has been a big inspiration for our current ministry model. As those leaders work with more people, the hourglass expands as it leads to its base. We pray for this multiplication movement to grow!
Our Ecuador-specific strategy follows this model with the added twist of also offering on-the-ground classes in an institute where we are renting a classroom. After consulting with a Facebook representative, we decided to form a Quito Academia Cristo Facebook page on which we can post specific Quito related items, events, promotions, etc. Right now, the majority of our general posts on the Academia Cristo – Quito page are copied and pasted from the main Academia Cristo page. Copied, not shared, because shared posts do not have as much reach as "original" ones do. We currently have 7,242 likes on our page (as of 9/22/2018). A huge majority of our signups and contacts come through the Facebook page, although we do make contact with people face-to-face and through our sign.
We are currently developing the Facebook page to reach more people with more varied content. This quarter we have goals to run "likes" campaigns to boost how many people are following us in Quito, promote all of our on-the-ground "entry" classes, regularly "go live" to promote classes, and post three times a day a spiritual message/picture. We have three "on ramps" to the program: our initial flagship course "Heme Aquí" (story oriented). our "Sanidad Espiritual" (Spiritual Healing) class (a more doctrinal-oriented initial class), and "Mi Hijo Mi Salvador" (My Son My Savior) which we will offer in December. All these goals concentrate on the top part of the hourglass. (We just started this effort here in Ecuador so we don't have many people very far in the program.)
My Cellphone Observations in Quito
Unsurprising to the attentive people watcher, mobile device use has skyrocketed in the world. Latin America is no different. From anecdotal observations of smartphones in far removed villages in Haiti to the plethora of articles on the subject [some of them are here and here], mobile devices are definitely the tool to use to reach people. Our own promotions in Quito reflect the same reality. For example in a class promotion we ran in August for a class, we reached 149,856 with a Facebook advertisement. 137,312 of those connected using a mobile device.
Despite the clear importance of promoting with mobile devices in mind, Latin America does present its unique challenges on that field. From my observations, people are strong defenders of their data. Most people add a few dollars to their cellphone account (almost all the little tiendas sell minutes and data), go for a few days and head to another shop to add a few more dollars. So, people do not seem to be mindlessly browsing the internet or Facebook very much during the day. You will see a few people using their phones on the buses, but most do not take their phones out for fear of having them stolen out of their hands. Also, although lines at banks are notoriously long, cellphone use in line is not permitted. Most people wait until they have wifi at home to use the internet. I learned this the hard way by sending out the homework for my classes (short YouTube videos) too late. The students need to wait for wifi or they will suck up their precious data. Perhaps this reality is reflected in the graph below which shows at what times people sign up for the classes — most in the morning or evening with a little bump at lunch time.
Mission Journeys Connection
When two Mission Journeys trips (short term mission trips through WELS) were being planned to come to Quito last May and June, we tackled the challenge of how to do worthwhile ministry when many in our group did not speak much Spanish. I had taken an online class the year before called Mobiles in Missions through Mission Media U and they suggested using cellphones as tool for bridging the language gap. We decided to try it.
We developed a short video (1 minute) and used it as one of the options the groups could use when meeting people on the streets. For one couple, Dan and Joyce (pictured below), the video was invaluable. We gave them a simple script in Spanish, "Hi, would you like to see a video ...," and they took off sharing it with probably a hundred people or more. The other group, which had more Spanish ability, preferred simply to talk to people on the streets. If we were going to do the street evangelism again with the cellphones, I would probably get extra speakers to connect to the phones so that the audio is better.
In general, the videos are like old fashioned flyers. On the street, they do get the word out, but don't draw huge percentages of people relative to people contacted. However, a number of people in the group shared the videos with their host families — they stayed with Ecuadorian families through a local language school — and found it to be a good tool. I often use this strategy when visiting people in their homes and they are looking for resources. I pull out my cellphone and show them where the resources are on our websites. The videos become more useful as a relationship develops. Perhaps that's one of the reasons food vendors are evangelized more than random people on the street. I visit them often!
Thank you for reading this article! I hope it gives you a snapshot into how we are using cellphones for ministry in Ecuador. I hope it also spurs you on to think of creative ways to reach and teach more people in your own ministries or in ours. Please send ideas our way!
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