Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Conversation with Sid Rice of Literacy and Evangelism: Technology Drivers

This Post continues the conversation I had with Sid Rice, the director of Literacy and Evangelism International. See Part I on Leadership and Part II on the World Mission Scene. This third part focuses on how LEI is leveraging Technology in light of developments on the world mission scene:

Russ: That’s fascinating. We mentioned Collins’ work earlier. One of the things he talks about is technology drivers: Strategically choosing technology. This is the third instance you’ve brought up of how 21st technology has dramatically impacted your ministry: being found on the web by the man in Malawi, this PEACE program wiki, and now you’re leveraging some great digital opportunities. This strategic leadership.

Sid: I remember a hearing about book titled Go Digital or Die, but I haven’t found it yet – it may have been an article I saw. I think it’s incumbent upon us to leverage all the myriad of tools. The digital arena allows hundreds of thousands of churches to avail themselves of our curriculum. They can download it with no charge.

As an aside, I’ve said no charge a couple of times, and at first, coming out of corporate America, that didn’t feel quite right. And yet, I look back over the history of LEI – for 40 years all our ministry has done is come alongside people, churches, mission agencies, Wycliffe bible translators, bible societies across Africa, Asia and elsewhere. We’ve come alongside other ministries and partner and say here’s our linguistic expertise, let’s craft a bible content curriculum to teach people to read and share the story of Christ and wrap that gift of the story of Jesus within the socially critical gift of reading. And we’ve done it at no charge. We’ve always given it away. We’ve never put a royalty on top of the curriculum.

Again, coming from corporate America, I scratch my head and go “what is with this” and it finally came home to me that the reason is because our target market, our mission, that half of the world is the poorest of the poor, the most suppressed and oppressed indigent impoverished segment of our society. When you read the book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman talks about the unflat world. The Illiterate half of the world is the unflat world that has no chance. For us as a mission agency to put a royalty on top of that curriculum would suppress them even further. And that’s not what Jesus would do. So we’ve always given it away.

When we came into our co-operative agreement with the Saddleback PEACE plan, we said let's just give our stuff away faster. Let’s give it away on a platform that can do it significantly faster than we can in a hard copy. It’s in a digital realm, and we’ve embraced that. There’s a whole training issue that we’re running to catch up with because good training is critical to the success of using our curriculum. A key part of success is to be able to have that training in place so that people can use your material effectively.

Russ: That’s the huge thing about the digital realm. Everything is expected to be free. Everything is expected to be available. And you are known by the quality of your content. That is what defines you. Wikipedia being the terrific example of that.

Sid: It’s pretty interesting. Within the PEACE plan, it’s called the Peacepedia and it’s a malleable wiki. People can actually go into the website and delete our primiers. Its that free and open.

Russ: But there are controls…

Sid: There are controls beneath the surface, and it's also an environment where you’re talking Purpose Driven churches that will have access to this. As we look at our website, we’re looking at content management format – not quite as GUI as the media pedia format so there is a little more control there. As I was talking to our technical guy I said ‘I want both worlds’ and he said the software hasn’t gotten there yet where you can have truly wikipedia components to a harder architecture. Hey, it’s a work in progress.

Russ: Have you been in conversation with the Presbyterian Global Fellowship. They’re building a similar Presby-pedia or Missional-pedia of their own.

Sid: I haven’t, and I do need to have that conversation. I remember the conversation thinking ‘we’re doing this with a 25,000 member church in Southern California’ They’ve got this bigger vision. I wonder how much duplication of effort and work is going on and should there be some more collaboration.

By the same token, we’re also working with the Assembly of God out of Springfield MO. We just finished a hard copy curriculum that is training at a Bible College level to use our curriculum. It’s like we’re going in different directions. And they want to be able to access our materials digitally as well. They're another driver to us to host our material on our own website.

Right now there are just a lot of people pursuing the same ministry goals. And that’s good. Sometimes you wind up tripping over each other towards the end. I don’t know that that’s all bad. Within our sphere of partnerships we’ve given birth to Literacy and Evangelism Fellowship of Kenya, an independent daughter organization that is working on the same types of projects that we work on. We need to be in constant dialogue with them because we are targeting strategic languages as are they. We need to be sure that if they’re looking at a language that we’re coming alongside of them asking how can we support you, how can we garner investments in North America to funnel in your direction to support what you’re doing. It seems like we’re also going in tandem directions doing a lot of the same things:

Within Presbyterian Global Fellowship, downstream I can envision just a natural link, a page saying here’s who we are, here’s our heritage, this is what we’re doing. Click here to enter into the world of literacy missions with LEI. Lots of opportunities to connect.

To be continued tomorrow

Soli Deo Gloria