Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
A while back, UMCommunications ran this story about a FrontlineSMS training with a youth group at Galilea UMC in Blantyre, Malawi. (This blog has previously reported about the FrontlineSMS project in Malawi.) At first, this may not seem like the makings of a significant story - just one church, only the youth group. Yet we should pay attention to this story, for it represents how the seeds of change are sown.
We may not think that "just one church" being trained in a new technology is significant. Sure, we may believe in the power of technology to transform the world, but partly we believe that because technology is ubiquitous. How much can technology transform the world if it's only in one church? Yet, as anyone familiar with tech development knows, before technology becomes ubiquitous, it must be used by product testers, have an initial roll-out, and be taken up by early adopters. Galilea UMC isn't "just one church"; they're among the early adopters that will make it possible for this technology to be used by many churches.
We may not think something that applies "just to the youth group" is significant. Sure, most churches want a thriving youth group, but it is often easy for us to differentiate between the work the youth group does and the "real work" of the church, work we associate with budgets and committees and the like. Yet budgets and committees are not the real work of the church. They exist to make real work, i.e., the application of the gospel in and to the world, possible. The Galilea UMC youth are already running programs that carry out the work of the church. Learning how to use FrontlineSMS is just as much preparing to do real work as is sitting in a committee, if not more so.
Indeed, our entire faith is predicated upon the belief that what a small group of mostly young people does in one particular location can transform the world. Jesus wasn't incarnated everywhere is some sort of global roll-out of God-with-us. He was born in one place, started his ministry in one town, and spent the entirety of his ministry in only that portion of the globe that could be reached by walking from where he started. Moreover, Jesus was under 35 for the entirety of his ministry, if not enough to put him in the "youth group" demographic, certainly enough to qualify him as a "young adult" in the UMC. We may presume that a number of his followers were too. Yet, despite starting out in "just one synagogue" with "just a bunch of young adults," Jesus' ministry, life, death, and followers have transformed the world, and we proclaim that belief as the good news of the gospel still today. The seeds of change must be sown somewhere, and a youth group in Galilea UMC, Blantyre, Malawi, is as good a place as any to do so.