Monday, June 15, 2009

Resource: Skype and Its Potential for Missions

I love Skype. We use it for all of our calling (in and outbound). It saves us money and has allowed us to do things we wouldn't normally have been able to do (like letting grandma see her grandson regularly via a free video conference). So, I have regularly promoted personal use of Skype.

What excites me even more about Skype is its potential for missions.

What is Skype? I am no expert, but here is my explanation. It is a VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) platform. This allows you to make 'phone' calls over the internet. All you need is an internet connection and the program (which is free to download).

What's the cost? Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls are free anywhere in the world. On top of this, you can purchase a local number and an unlimited calling plan. At the time we purchased all of this (about a year ago) it cost us around $60 . . . . for a year!

On a recent trip to an Asian country, we were able to log on to our Skype account and make and receive U.S. calls as if we were making local calls.

What is the potential benefit to Independent Baptist missions?

Many of our missionaries are already using it. It allows them to call home very affordably (even for free). It also allows home to call them with the same benefits.

That is how it is already being used. This is awesome! However, let's take it to the next level.

It is my experience that neither Independent Baptist missionaries nor IB laypeople are completely satisfied concerning their connection with each other. It isn't uncommon for missionaries to feel disconnected from the ministry of their sending and supporting churches. They can feel as though they are all alone. In some isolated fields, this can bring unnecessary stress and pressure. On the home front, pew-setters often feel they are disconnected from the work their missionaries are doing on the field. It is my conviction that connecting members with their missionaries is a key factor in mobilizing a church for missions. I believe it increases passion, sending, going, giving, caring, and much more. There are many ways in which this connection can be fostered.

Here is one of them:

Imagine a missionary on an isolated field. There aren't any working close by who are of like faith and practice. If it weren't for the connection he is able to maintain with his sending church, he would feel the isolation much more, reducing his overall effectiveness. But his sending church has taken many active steps to avoid this. One of the steps involves the use of Skype. The pastor voice and (when possible) video conferences with the missionary weekly. This allows him a way to affordably and very personally care for the member of his church that is working overseas. In addition to this, once a month the missionary joins the church for a Wednesday service. Part of these special services includes a video interview conducted by the pastor. During this time, the church can see and hear the missionary and vice-versa. There is also time given for some members of the church to ask questions or make comments. This part of the service is closed as the missionary hears and sees the church praying for him. The rest of the service is seen by the missionary on the other side of the planet.

This is a scenario that can be a reality in almost any church. Many already have the equipment they would need to make it possible. The rest could make the worth-while investment. Video conferencing would be possible for any missionary on a field that has high-speed internet access (which includes many fields that you wouldn't normally think of). Voice conferencing usually just requires dial-up access. There are many possibilities. It is not too difficult logistically Be creative.

Disclaimer: Skype to Skype calls are encrypted, and should be perfectly secure. However, Skype is 'closed source', and many have raised concerns over how secure it actually is. It seems to me that it is secure enough to use comfortably even in restricted-access countries (China being a possible exception). Because of Skype's 'closed' nature, it is difficult to be certain though. Right now third-party encryption platforms (such as PGP) are not able to be used with Skype. Again, I do not think it is anything to worry about. Certainly, there are less worries with Skype security than there are with typical emails and even phone calls.

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