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Texas Church Uses Skype to Connect with Missionaries
By David Chenault, Deacon, Broad Street Church of Christ
Although the 200-member Broad Street Church of Christ in Mineola, Texas, has funded foreign missionaries for several decades, most of the church’s members have never come face to face with the preachers they support. But thanks to a little modern technology, all that changed on a recent Sunday morning.
“Hello my brothers and sisters in Mineola,” said Francis Agyare in heavily accented English as he waved to Mineola congregation. Using the Internet to transmit his image and his voice from Africa to Texas, Agyare’s face was now six feet tall and being displayed on a large screen at the front of the church’s auditorium. As the entire American congregation waved back their greeting was acknowledged by a huge smile across Agyare’s face.
Russell Reeves speaks with Jerie Ababio during a video conference call Mineola to Tema, Ghana.
Because they live in separate villages scattered throughout the western region of Ghana, West Africa, Agyare and three other missionaries got up early on a Sunday morning and drove several hours to Tema, a larger, centralized city where there was a better chance of getting a good Internet connection. Armed with a laptop, a video camera, a cellular Internet card and a Skype account, the four missionaries sat quietly waiting for the American congregation to call.
Suddenly, the connection came alive, and the men and the congregation that supports them, separated by 6,000 miles, worshiped together…digitally.
The four men took turns speaking, greeting specific members of the Broad Street church who have visited Ghana in the past and thanking the church for its support. The men then led the Mineola Christians in a brief, intercontinental worship service, complete with prayers and congregational singing from both sides of the Atlantic.
“This is a big deal to these foreign missionaries,” said Russell Reeves, a deacon at Broad Street and a member of the church’s mission committee which organized the video conference. Nancy Gibson, another church member, offered her own opinion, “It is a big deal for us as well.” Gipson fought back tears as she watched the foreign faces on the screen. “It is so amazing to see these men. It is just so amazing.”
But the virtual trip to Ghana was only the start.
After signing off with Agyare, a video call was made to Allende, Mexico. Once again the screen came to life, this time with Cesar Galvan, a preacher in Allende. He was wearing a headset and sitting in front of a large group of Mexican Christians looking on from behind.
“We are very blessed,” Galvan said in Spanish, “that we can use this type of communication to visit with you in Mineola.” The two churches, joined by the Internet, prayed and sang together.
Galvan’s conversation was interpreted by Javier Vargas who once lived in Allende, but is now a deacon at Broad Street. During the interpretation, Vargas looked at the screen, paused, then looked closely at the screen a second time as he realized that the Allende church had a surprise for him.
“The lady sitting directly behind Cesar,” Vargas explained to the Mineola audience, “she is my mother.”
While speaking with Cesar Galvan during a video conference call between Mineola and Allenda, Mexico, Javier Vargas spots his mother in the background.
“We didn’t know if we could pull it off,” said Reeves discussing the doubts that the mission committee had in planning the day. Reeves had used Skype, an online video conferencing service, while traveling to Serbia a few years ago. He said it was then that he first saw the potential for a church to church connection.
“Here are people who have heard these men’s names for a very long time. They’ve contributed their money to these men. Now they can put a face to a name, and can actually hear their voices.” Reeves paused, then added, “I think it touched them.”
The video connection struck a personal cord for Glynis Good, who has traveled to Ghana twice. “I cried,” Good said reflecting on the video call. “It made me miss these guys that we got to know. I’ve heard people talk about seeing Tony’s dimples and Alfred’s smile. It was wonderful.”
Sunday’s session coincides with Broad Street Church of Christ’s annual mission emphasis month held each September. The month typically ends with a special congregation-wide contribution specifically earmarked for mission efforts. The response to the video conference calls was so positive, however, Reeves admits it may be done more than just once a year.
“I’ve heard some people say they’d like to do it every week,” said Reeves with a smile. “But I think that may be too much,” he conceded, hinting at the technical challenges of getting a reliable Internet connection to a third world country.
Next Sunday morning, the church plans to hold its first-ever “Mission Fair.” Members will set up booths around the building to highlight many of the mission efforts the congregation currently supports, both in the United States and overseas.
For more information, email David Chenault at email@example.com.