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Redefining ministry through communications technology

The United Methodist Church is redefining what it means to be in ministry with the world, and it’s doing it through emerging technology. In 2015, the number of unique mobile phone users around the world passed 50 percent of the world’s total population[1]. Mobile phone access has saved the lives of those who do not have access to the conveniences of modern medicine and timely communication.

In remote villages in Africa, it’s not uncommon for the nearest health clinic to be a day’s travel away, or for villagers to make the long journey only to find out that a doctor isn’t there that day or that needed medication isn’t in stock.

Through SMS, or short message service technology, community workers are able to send alerts about developing health risks with as much time as it takes to compose a text message. Women receive messages to wash their hands before breast-feeding and before handling food, and these messages worked to save lives. Health care workers are able to monitor the drug stock in clinics as outbreaks emerge.

The Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, a United Methodist clergywoman from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a public health care worker, was an early adopter of information and communication technologies for development, or ICT4D. Musau said that during a February 2014 cholera outbreak last February, messages sent through Frontline SMS — a free text-messaging system that does not depend on Internet connection — stopped unnecessary deaths. She simply sent texts reminding people to boil their water before drinking and to wash their hands frequently.

The Rev. Neelley Hicks, director of ICT4D at United Methodist Communications, says, “We’ve never in the history of The United Methodist Church been able to communicate across the globe in these ways without leaving our homes. In this new age of technology, we can do that.”

ICT4D projects through The United Methodist Church involve educational solutions such as providing schools with pre-loaded content for their computers and tablets. They involve disease surveillance in the form of monthly SMS reports that help workers monitor outbreaks when there is disease in a region, so specific action can be taken. They involve working with communications and technology partners to provide wireless links to extend network connectivity from connected locations to areas without connectivity in the aftermath of disasters.

Being in mission no longer solely conjures up images of summers spent building churches in remote villages. It now involves helping conceptualize what happens in those buildings and the resources needed to thrive and continue.

United Methodist Communications is leading the ways we think about building relationships through communications technology, and we want people to come to the Game Changers Summit to strengthen relationships throughout the year, beyond a week-long mission trip and build support for these global programs as they begin to scale.