Sam’s heart was broken when he looked at the destruction caused in his community by human trafficking. He looked at the people being exploited and at the home-wrecking sin for those who pay to use them, and he decided he had to do something.
Sam was a skilled developer who knew a bit about SEO. With that in mind, he worked on a strategy to use SEO to disrupt sexual trafficking. With a Google Grant, he put up ads for people looking to hire sex workers and directed them to a website he made that explains the harmful nature of the practice. It was making an impact, but Sam knew he was only reaching a fraction of the customers.
“That was only for people who are searching for the first time,” Sam says. “Most of the time, the way that people buy sex online is not through Google searching. It’s through online listings.”
So Sam pivoted his strategy and put listings on classified websites where people find escorts online. “If you’re looking to buy sex, there are three things you need to know first. Contact us and we’ll tell you,” said one typical ad.
Responses to the phone number placed in the ad were overwhelming, so he needed an efficient way to respond. At an Indigitous #HACK event, he pitched the idea of using a chatbot to respond to the messages. Four people joined the project and at the end of the weekend, he had a chatbot helping him and a team of volunteers respond.
“What we wanted was the chatbot to be the first layer of screening. Once they hit the point where the chatbot isn’t able to answer, we would seamlessly notify a human on the other end and the human can jump in and continue the conversation where it left off,” Sam says.
Using tech skills for missions
Sam saw a real problem affecting his community and used his skills in SEO, development, and leadership to create a scalable solution able to reach a large number of the people who go to online classifieds to hire sex workers.
When most people think of Christian missions, they don’t think of SEO, web development, or chatbots. But all of those tech skills and more are vital to missions in the digital age. Sam’s tech skills are making an impact for God each time a person turns away from sin and decides not to hire that escort.
A tech guy’s place in the church
Dhenn never thought there was a place for a “tech guy” in the Church. His church usually just had him run slides. When a friend invited him to an Indigitous #HACK event in Manila, he was skeptical. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking, ‘How in the world can Christians make disciples using the Internet and technology?’” Dhenn says.
But his outlook quickly changed. He joined a project about gospel storytelling because it resonated with him. “It has been my passion to share Jesus in different creative ways,” he says. At the end of the hackathon, Dhenn’s team created Go+Share, a platform designed to reach young millennials struggling with anxiety, significance, and depression.
“We realized that since most millennials are active on social media, that is a good place to reach them. We made graphic images of their reality and several spoken poetry videos with a hope that we can connect to them without pushing the gospel or forcing them to change. Jesus alone can change them,” Dhenn says.
Dhenn’s group used their tech skills in graphic design, videography and video editing, social media, and development to help bring the gospel to struggling millennials who spend much of their time online. Most people don’t think of those tech skills as skills for missions, but in the digital age, it’s time we start.
New era of missions
What do you think are the skills you need to be a missionary? Do you need to be super outgoing, the type of person who enjoys striking up conversations with strangers? Do you need language skills so you can communicate in multiple languages?
In addition to those more traditional skills for missions, today’s mission field needs coders, designers, marketers, podcasters, gamers, videographers, and more. People are searching for answers about faith, God, and life online. We need missionaries to make the websites, apps, videos, and social media content that they find through those searches.
The mission field needs people like Sam, like Dhenn, and like Ashley.
Designing experiences for God
Ashley is a missionary with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, but she’s not what most people think of when they hear the word “missionary.” Ashley has a background in UX, design, and web development. At IV, she is the director of experience strategy. Her job essentially is helping the people seeking God to feel known by Him and to feel like there’s a role they can play in the Great Commission.
“In the secular world, we have these companies that are doing a lot of work trying to discover the pains and goals of people and they’re trying to intentionally design the experience so that you buy more from them,” Ashley explains. “As I dug into the design-thinking, experience-strategy world, I was convicted that we love the idea that a company sees us and gets us. And if people can feel seen and known by a company, how much more should they feel seen and known by missions organizations or Christians who work for the God who deeply knows and sees them?”
As people search online for God for questions about their faith and for ways to get involved in missions, they find InterVarsity content that was designed by Ashley to speak to them, to help them feel known, and to bring them on a journey to finding their unique place in God’s mission. The Ashleys of the world, the Sams of the world, and the Dhenns of the world are essential to bringing the gospel to the world in the 21st century. For those of us who have tech skills, those skills matter to God, and as Christians, we should use those tech skills for missions.
*Editor’s note: For security reasons, some names in this article have been changed.
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)
- What tech skills has God given you? Pray about ways to use those skills for missions. How can your skills help people come to know God?