Posted by: trevormeers | June 22, 2010

Gospel by Gizmo

“Here’s the Proclaimer you’re going to carry,” my travel partner said, and handed me a black box about the size of a shoebox. Maybe my mission is short on acrobatic shimmying through laser beams and wearing tuxes under wetsuits, but there’s still no suppressing a little jolt of Jason Bourneism when someone gives you a device called a “Proclaimer” with orders to carry it to a remote and exotic place.
 
The device seems crafted from spare parts under a desk deep inside NASA. A solar panel tilts out from the back, and a tiny generator’s crank handle folds into the side. The control buttons on the front are labeled with icons so that you don’t have to speak English—or any language at all—to figure out its operation, provided you understand the universal triangle symbol for “Play.” The Proclaimer seems built to survive on its own, ready for use by whoever happens upon it. All that’s missing is that da Vinci engraving of a guy with four arms and four legs that we left on the moon to illustrate what we look like.
 
The Proclaimer’s job is to broadcast a message (the complete text of the New Testament) to those who encounter it on some distant frontier, so tucking it into my canvas duffle produces the tingly buzz of playing with a space probe about to be hurtled toward Pluto. The idea of a Proclaimer at work kindles memories of watching the Mars Rover on TV, almost as if scores of these little drones will be parachuting down into a remote area where they unfold themselves, extend their telescoping legs, pop up a parabolic antenna and start broadcasting the Good News.
 
The Proclaimer, made by a New Mexico company called Faith Comes By Hearing, contains a microchip and speaker that can play the entire New Testament loud enough for about 100 people to hear. The company has produced units that play the Scripture in more than 460 languages, spoken in more than 150 countries. Faith Comes By Hearing’s other Gospel gizmos include the BibleStick, a $29 digital player about the size of a bulky USB flash memory stick that puts the recorded New Testament into the pockets of deployed American troops.
 
The Proclaimer unit I’m carrying into the Peruvian Andes is loaded with a recording of the New Testament in Quechua, the language handed down from the Incas and still the most widely spoken native dialect in the Americas. I’m told the recorded voice belonged to a man martyred for his faith. Despite my Mars Rover fantasies, the Proclaimer isn’t actually meant to be flung from planes into remote mountains with the hope that villagers will chance upon it like farmers discovering a smoking UFO in their cornfield. The idea is to hand-deliver the Proclaimer to a village, where a Quechua speaker will explain its use and encourage listeners to heed the message. In many parts of the world, such a rugged, self-contained audio version of the Bible is a game-changer, considering that about 50% of the world’s people couldn’t read the Bible even if you handed them a copy in their own language (which we’ll also do in Peru).
 
Leveraging such technology in the service of the Gospel is no innovation. Guttenberg’s press, after all, was invented to make Bibles a mass-market read, and many languages found written form only when missionaries set out to produce written Bibles for a native population. A recent Boston Phoenix article (enviably titled of “Holy Scrollers”) pointed out that e-book versions of the Bible are leading the charge into the e-book market, producing some of the most user-friendly, powerful experiences yet available. A few months ago, six of the top 20 paid e-books in the Apple app library were Bibles.
 
You have to look no further than my own church—at which one Sunday School teacher still uses an overhead projector and pungent transparency markers—to witness the quick adoption of electronic Bibles. At most of our small groups, people reading on their phones outnumber those holding a dead-tree edition. And it usually takes less than five minutes for the first guy to hold up his phone and say, “You know it’s interesting to see how that verse reads in the New American Standard…” or “I just saw that Matthew Henry says that in this passage we should understand that Paul is saying ….” How will pastors fill their studies in the future, when their groaning shelves of tattered commentaries are replaced with an iPad?

As for the Quechua, I’m anxious to see what they think of the Proclaimer when it’s set up among their adobe houses and cranked up on the first chapter of San Mateo. I hope it’s not just a fascinating gadget, but a message they’ll listen to time and time again after we gringos have traveled back to the world of libraries carried on a phone. I’ve read that the Proclaimer can replay the New Testament more than 1,000 times before its little digital heart gives out. My prayer is that, far from blinking out like a dying probe on a distant planet, the Proclaimer will play its last recording to an audience convinced many performances ago of the truth it’s carrying.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for a wonderful blog post. We are so grateful for your heart to spread God’s Word to the precious Quechua people in Peru. Please let us know what happens with the people when you turn it on for the first time.
    We pray for a safe, successful and secure journey.
    Jon Wilke
    Faith Comes By Hearing

  2. Well written!!! Looking forward to your on the grounds experience. Suspect it will revolutionize and excite your view of the power of God’s Word in audio in the language the people use when praying to God.

  3. What fun to read this! Your style makes me smile, and the hope you express makes me just a little teary. The man on the recording was, indeed, martyred for his faith. Romalo. He was a dear friend of our family, and a man determined to bring the voice of Jesus to his people in their heart language. Thanks for being the rocketship to his space rover!


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