Building a Culture of Encounter - The New Era of Mission

 

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For many people the first and last thing they do each day is check their cell phones.  Social Media is the new hangout it’s a place to chat with friends, share experiences and find information. It is no longer exclusively a leisure activity, but a way of life. So much so that in many regions of sub-saharan Africa, cell phones are more common than access to electricity.

444 million people in Africa have cell phones, these include some of the poorest of the poor. Mobile phones in Africa are not just a communication device, but also the primary channel to access the internet as well as a vital tool to access various life-enhancing services.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles are called to mission, particularly in Africa and social media offers a unique opportunity to engage with people who would rarely, if ever, enter a church.

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Pope Francis himself is a major proponent of the use of social media by members of the church, to connect with one another, as a method to teach religion, and as a way for religious leaders to connect with their congregations.

“The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Pope Francis said in a Vatican radio address for World Communications Day in 2014. “This is something truly good, a gift from God.”

According to the Centre for online Evangelism there are millions of Google searches each year for answers to the most pressing of life’s questions including,  “Is God real?”; “What happens when we die?”; “How do I know I’m saved?”; “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

Global Media Outreach confirms that between 350 000 and 2 000 000 people read the gospel message online every day! That’s staggering!

To understand the power of social media, look at the example of Fr Ray Kelly who almost ‘broke the internet’ in 2014 with his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ at a wedding ceremony at his church in Oldcastle, Co Meath.  The singing priest was captured on home video during the wedding ceremony, and this was posted to YouTube. Within a week it achieved nine million hits!  At the time of this article, the video has been viewed in excess of 62 million times.

In the words of Bishop Paul Tighe, “If we withdraw, then we’re leaving those areas to the trolls. We’re leaving it to the bullies.”

Jesus commanded his disciples, that’s you and me, to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15 NKJV. In Psalms 96:3 (NKJV) it states, “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all people,” and in Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...”

The gathering places of the nations today are on the internet.  The conversations are happening on Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.  As the Holy Father says, “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.” Simply put, this means that we need to build authentic relationships, we need to engage and let our voices be heard, not only in the flesh, but in the online world, where so many souls are wandering, lost and searching.  It is our duty, as disciples and as missionaries, to brave this new landscape and spread the good news to those who need to hear it.

Jesus used parables and the modern day parable is a social media post. It’s our way of telling and sharing our stories. To engage in it you need to be willing to listen to others and to converse with them. The smallest act of “liking” or “sharing” a post on social media, helps to spread the message.

Let us embrace this new world and make use of social media to spread our mission message and values.