Pretty much every day, I rack my brain to find examples for how churches can connect with science and technology to enhance their ministries.
On one such day, I thought of my friend Matt York, Executive Director of illuminAid, which “brings life-saving information to remote communities without access to internet or electricity.” Because the intersection of technology and science can be activated in almost any congregation in America, I decided to ask what led him to use his skills in video technology for the kingdom of God.
In fact, the word “activated” came up a few times in our conversation. Let’s start in the middle of how his life in a local church connected with his call to a ministry of technology. Then I’ll fill in the blanks of how we got there.
You and I have been part of Bidwell Presbyterian Church for at least two decades. How did this congregation influence what you do now?
The church at large and the local church—where we met in fact—played an immense role in recruiting me from being a pew sitter to an activated Christian in the world, doing things and fostering relationships to improve the welfare and livelihoods of people around the globe.
The Inconvenience of Agnosticism
(Matt wasn’t always a Christian, and so I asked him) How did you come to faith?
My wife Patrice and I were in a place in life where we’d built a house and were raising kids when we suddenly hit a rough spot. That’s when I realized I didn’t have anything to hold on to; there were no handrails.
Being an agnostic was really inconvenient. So I started attending a church in Chico in my late 30s, and the message resonated. It was too incredible to be false. There wasn’t an altar call or a particular moment, but over the course of a few weeks, I came to faith.
How did you hear a call to do this work?
To rest on your laurels and obediently show up in the pews for an hour once a week—that wasn’t enough. Christianity is supposed to be your life. It needs to speak to your life and change it. I heard that loud and clear; maybe, my ears were attuned to the message.
I’m really grateful that my call applies my technological vocation to ministry—not overt Christian ministry perhaps—but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m doing God’s work through illuminAid.
Let’s hear more specifics about illuminAid.
We partner with international nonprofit organizations like Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, and World Vision, to serve the poor globally, specifically by delivering video cameras and battery-powered or cordless video projectors to places where there is little-to-no internet service and little-to-no electricity.
We are communications consultants helping to make highly localized videos right in the community. Then we transport those videos to remote places and show them on a wall without a fancy screen or classroom. Our screens can be the white walls of a church, school, community center, an agricultural fertilizer warehouse, or a farm equipment facility. In whatever space is available, we capture lumens with digital cameras and spray lumens out through a lens onto a makeshift “screen.”
Our work supports non-government organizations (NGOs) as they convene people and teach them about basic needs like hygiene or health, hunger alleviation, or other disciplines like farming or reproductive health. We help community members make videos that convey pertinent, believable, and reliable messages, and we provide the necessary technology for them to be viewed in places lacking basic utilities.
That’s the fundamentals of what illuminAid is.
The Bible and Matt’s Work
I know the Bible has really guided your work. Can you share an influential verse or two?
Ephesians 5:15-16, “Be very careful then how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil” (NIV). How do I make the most of every opportunity? These projectors and cameras—the Lord delivered them to us in abundance. They’re small and inexpensive, and our work is to put them to good use helping NGOs and other development organizations to communicate with those they serve.
James 2:22, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (ESV). I don’t want to undermine grace and the fact that we don’t need to earn God’s favor, but God is overjoyed when we reciprocate. We work because we have been saved, because of his grace.
...You can learn more about illuminaid here.
...Drew wrote a related newsletter on bringing science to the mission field, “Mangoes from Heaven.”
...I take up the topic of technology and Christian faith in chapters six and seven of this book.
...FaithTech Institute outlines another way to bring technology to the mission of evangelism in “3 Reasons We Need Tech Missionaries.”
...This article steps back and says, “Get Ready: 5 Tech Trends That Will Impact Mission.”
The Ministry of Technology
Can you describe one of your cross-cultural experiences?
I was in Paraguay working with NGOs to keep the covid-19 virus from spreading. What is a good mask and what is a bad mask? What does social distancing mean and why should we do it? How do you wash your hands? How often and why? We were helping our Paraguayan partners encapsulate their curriculum, their wisdom, and try to achieve their objectives, which are tied to behavioral change. So, in a way, we are ultimately behavior change communications consultants. We help amplify others’ messaging and extend the range of who they can reach.
Side-by-side with ministry partners, we seek to alleviate suffering in parts of the world that are off the grid entirely. We help NGO partners deliver fundamental information by providing basic technology and the know-how to apply it.
Two Sides of Technology
But not all uses of technology are good, are they?
We were with Save the Children Nepal when a Nepalese national was marveling at the small portable projector I was using. He was quiet for a while and then said, “You know what? This is like a gun; it can be used to hunt for food or kill someone.” He knew that, in the wrong hands, this technology could accelerate the spread of misinformation or further oppress people.
Or it could be used to enlighten and empower people… So yes, technology is a tool. We ask how God wants these devices to bring the most benefit to persons in need. We target people in remote places who lack simple things and may even feel forgotten. For example, there may not be enough calories in their village to go around. Yet, if they can adopt a new agricultural practice that increases yields by 5%, then they’ve got kids who no longer suffer from stunted growth, and there’s a reduction in infection, among other benefits. Cameras and projectors can be used to do incredibly great things in certain environments.
One Last Thought
Is there one final message for the church?
We need to become activated Christians, fulfilling our potential to be God’s hands and feet in the world. I think the church probably needs to do a better job of challenging the regular attendee to serve in some way, shape, or form.
Matt, thank you for being a concrete example of how our faith can and should activate us to use science and technology to the glory of God.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.