Joyfully Loving Your NEIGHBOR as YOUR SELF(IE) - Being Quick and Slow with WhatsApp

Nancy Roebke (Lilongwe, Malawi)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

After earning a B.A. at Wisconsin Lutheran College and an M.A. from George Mason University, Nancy Roebke volunteered in the Lutheran Church in Bulgaria for nine years, then for another 13 worked as educator and mom in Wisconsin and Alabama. Since 2017 she is based in Malawi, Africa, working on the One Africa Team (WELS) Facebook page, developing WhatsApp groups for church and community, facilitating women’s Bible study groups, and volunteering for wildlife, environmental and gardening causes.

Praying to Joyfully Love Your NEIGHBOR as YOUR SELF(IE):

Being quick and slow with WhatsApp — Malawi 2017-2019

The irony does not escape me: why and how will a WELS missionary wife living in sub-Saharan Africa write about Gospel Outreach with Media? So what is best to do as I live my life and use my God-given talents: put down that phone — or pick it up?! How best to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" as James writes in his New Testament book of the Bible? It can be incredibly frustrating to be the connector between a highly plugged-in culture and one that is the opposite. Both cultures have strengths, weaknesses, obstacles and threats as they deal with life; the challenge is figuring it out and bringing individuals together around the Word of God. I could have added so many more photos to illustrate my points, but my skills and time ran a bit dry. I look forward to hearing your feedback, Gospel Outreach with Media conference participants. I hope you realize that coming to Malawi would help you understand the dynamic here even better. So that may happen some day…

Photo Exhibit A: How do we joyfully put Jesus and others before one's self in a new environment?

Are you so sure we are using technology for gospel outreach here? Having lived now over two years in the top two cities of Malawi, I have observed how the nitty-gritty life of dusty paths and hardened clay (sometimes paved) roads are for carrying water or transporting livestock. Along the roadside you can see open air markets selling goods and using fire to prepare "finger-licking good" food, along with resting and chatting. Most of this is done with no, or very limited access to electricity, computers or cellphones. This link elaborates how labor-saving electrical and fueled technology often are absent.

Photo Exhibit B: So do Malawians use technology like you and me as American Christians might? Or not?

Also am I losing my use of technology here? I am a trained historian and educator no longer with archive, classroom, library or museum as workplace. My time here has meant less of a need to use a laptop for lesson planning or reports compared to my years of working in the USA. I truly struggle with how a person like me with limited spoken local language skills does any good to help a well-established Lutheran mission with dozens of trained Malawian workers and their families already in place? With perennially low salaries, recurring floods and droughts, and challenging transport options, they certainly face other higher priority issues every day, essentially "life-death situations." But this is where our common Christian faith needs to be relevant and cross over cultures with or without use of technology.

Photo Exhibit C: What is a universal reality? What does every culture recognize as a serious personal and society issue?

Wouldn't you rather chat with my "official missionary" husband who set up an on-line connection, One Africa, with a thousand followers, allowing North American believers a glimpse into what God is doing here in Africa? We can easily record the upside to this situation of limited-access electricity: despite this, we see and hear powerful a capella choirs — such as the Lutheran Bible Institute Student choir and the Epiphany small youth choir — who perform without the benefit of sheet music or accompaniment in performance or even in practice. This forum also brings the stories and images of Lutheran pastors, their families, and congregation members across Africa — and provides a peek into life's challenges and joys off the beaten track.

Photo Exhibit D: Who is the real expert? Who spends time sharing the message? Will only books do it?

So maybe the Malawian Lutherans and their fellow citizens are not into "Gospel Outreach with Media" either? At first glance, it seems true that technology is hard to find in use. Lutheran Church of Central Africa congregations generally have no masterfully designed modern signage or websites to attract and inform members. Rarely worship is electrified. But, then again, their pastors strive to communicate via WhatsApp groups. What's up with WHATSAPP? This platform encourages information sharing while collecting and storing it. All the while it educates and amuses while nurturing personal or group relationships in comparatively inexpensive chats even here in Central Africa. Monthly WhatsApp bundles can be had for about two US dollars which can be a significant portion of their monthly income (see the 2019 CIA World Factbook and other sources).

Photo Exhibit E: So who is mastering this new way to communicate?

So, using this popular social media app, how well have I informally acted to communicate Christ in the three ways that we want to discuss as part of the Gospel Outreach with Media on-line 2019 conference? I thank the organizers and participants for encouraging me to reflect on and then share what I am doing and highlight what I am not doing but could be doing more of or in a better way to

1. show others that God rescued us through the work of His Son Jesus Christ,

2. take this message beyond our circles of Christian believers out to the unbelieving world,

3. use God's gifts of media and technology to carry the message to large audiences.

Photo Exhibit F: How do well do we with our partner Lutheran Church of Central Africa communicate Christ within the church walls and to our community?

Please join me in a prayer that gives us a useful perspective on our use of the transitory tool of social media in service of God's eternal Word:

Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for loving us. Please forgive us for not loving others as much as we have loved ourselves. Sometimes the pull of "the world at our fingertips" through technology and media means we ignore the living souls whom You love that surround us. We also are guilty of lifting high our own glossy images, worldly activities, and self-centered attitudes rather than Your perfect Name. Help us show others their own self-absorption too, humbly accepting that "all have fallen short of the glory of God." We see decay and death all around us even as the digital life has promised falsely that online we may outlive our frail bodies. Thank you for sending Your Son to rescue the world and to care for us eternally. Reassured by His life, death, and resurrection, may we treat social media as a tool that we can continue to learn how to use more effectively to showcase You and your gifts like forgiveness in Christ and wisdom to live well. May we share Your promises to the people around us with our mouths, our bodies, our phones, our computers, whatever devices come our way as we continue live in this tech-filled life. In Jesus' name we pray.

So I too, like you, move forward in Christ living for now in this world of technology. I would not consider myself an early tech adopter. We served as missionaries in Bulgaria (1994-2003) just as Google took over the world. Living the American dream (2003-2017) also meant adapting to new technologies that seemed so essential to professionals, but sometimes nightmarish to young families — all the while promising better communication. So now in Malawi for over two years, I am learning the methods of WhatsApp informal conversations on Christian and community groups. Actually looking at the statistics surprised me — and spurred me on to ask more questions.

What's up in my personal WhatsApp Network Usage in Malawi since June 2017?

Here is my crack at reporting my own usage based on the numbers that WhatsApp provided me. The report provides all phone numbers of individuals and names of groups in alphabetical order. This provides context of the types of people I reach out to as well as their locations and purposes of communication.

MESSAGES — I sent 25,985 messages while receiving 79,713. I am "listening" to what my chosen on-line community is saying to me 3 times the amount I am "speaking." I find these community connections that I established in the last 820 days refreshing, a new perspective on life: it's hard to believe that I send/receive an average of 128.9 messages daily! In those messages I sent 56 MB while receiving 236 MB. I know I may scan, delete, read carefully, refer back to, and re-read them. Clearly I am influenced by, and also am influencing, others through this format.

CHAT MEDIA — I sent 708.6 MB-worth of photos or videos while receiving 2.33 GB. Help! I am not that into the stats. I need to compare apples to apples, MB to MB or GB to GB. But now I have to analyze MB to GB. So I know that MB means "MegaByte" while GB means "GigaByte" and MB is less than GB. Let's put it all in MB: 1 GB = 1000 MB. So my 2.33 GB turns into 2,330 MB. Ah, I sent 708.6 and received 2,333: I received 3 to every 1 I sent. I may start wondering if I should allow two different group chats to send the same photos to me twice since it does mean time deleting even as I reflect on what others are doing and sharing.

STATUS MEDIA — Now what does this EVEN mean? Google, help me! I sent 244 KB and received 89.7 MB whatever it was. How can I interpret this and what good is this information even for me to know and understand? Again I sent less: 244 KB versus 89,700 KB (converted from MB). Feel free to set me correct on why WhatApp Status matters. Meanwhile I am exploring how this can be a way for me to communicate Christ. James Davis on July 29, 2019, on shared hundreds of ways to communicate in words or images (memes?) to "express yourself." WhatsApp Status is "an expression, written specifically and in a precise way to reveal one's views, thoughts and emotions in a creative style. WhatsApp status displays how uniquely and ingeniously you can put your thoughts in words. Updating status on WhatsApp or changing it from time to time simply defines your way of living or way towards life." So, yes, this seems like an underutilized opportunity for me and one I have not been checking on with my WhatsApp community members either. I will do more on this.

WHATSAPP CALLS — I made 430 of them while receiving only 336. This is obviously not what WhatsApp users are about, one every other day. But still these 418.9 MB sent and 360.8 MB received equaled a total time of "1 day, 24 hours." Not two whole days, mind you… I will not worry about this part of WhatsApp much since I think my people here usually prefer the text message format locally. This is useful for international calling mainly to our kids who are the family that "gets" WhatsApp's beauty versus other means of communication.

TOTAL BYTES — This again reinforced that I am "speaking" 1.18 GB versus "listening" 3.01 GB: So in one area of my life I am "quick to listen, slow to speak" and I hope, as the NIV Bible verse from James 1:19 continues, "slow to become angry" in this particular social media format or that it all is a waste of time and my life. So, now I feel I am immersing myself in my WhatsApp numbers. My mind is racing to "Who? What? Where? When? Why?" while the above provided more details than I would generally care (outside this GOWM conference paper) to know about "How much? How many? How big? How long?" So yes, who do I spend time with and on what issues do I communicate on? Maybe the next section of statistics labelled "Storage Usage" will prove interesting since it ranks individuals or groups according to their name and number associated with data amount.

So with whom do I communicate?

A. Number 1: My children/husband in a family group. Yes, having two children in college coincided with our move to Africa. We have shared 3,256 texts, 0 contacts, 0 locations, 692 photos, 7 GIFs, 65 videos, 4 voice messages, 14 documents, and 0 stickers. Also I privately communicate with my husband and children which are also top slots.

Here we can share our hopes, fears, joys, and tears openly as common followers of Christ as well as parents.

B. Number 2, 3, 4, 5: The Broader Community residing in Malawi's Capital City: an expat walking group with their separate social group as well as an international women's group with their separate social group. So, a word of explanation: official groups send out regular "official business" communication about their meeting agendas and invitations to official events. But then the group usually wants to set up a secondary "unofficial" group with all the incidental stuff that people like to share like community fun events or safety issues. Among all these are 130 members of an official women's group (87 of which are in unofficial one) and 106 in the walking group (54 in the unofficial). I would assume much overlap of people in the various groups.

Here is where I get a lot of information without always giving much back. I try to encourage people in their role of good citizens of Malawi. I have started a few private person-to-person conversations with some in this group which is easy to do when you can see the list of who is is in the group. In these large "worldly-focused" whole groups, the format does not generally go beyond "Merry Christmas" thrown out there from me as a Christian to currently atheistic, agnostic, or other-faith believers. This is where we may share but not too much. The others share their holidays and wishes as well. My philosophy: Better to save that for a personal conversation or private WhatsApp encounter. I have an idea of what individual people's interests are: but as a whole it is "eat, drink, and be merry' generally in a good civic sense since many are representatives of governmental or non-governmental groups from around the world or within Malawi. May God forgive me for the times I have not sought individuals out. May Christ's forgiveness motivate me to try again day by day. Also I can pray for the issues that this group engages in — very important! Also sharing these concerns with fellow Lutherans to pray about and discuss is useful.

C. Numbers 6-10: Community Learning/Volunteering and Conversations despite Move to Another City. Now come two Malawian women on the list who live in the city where my husband and I lived from May 2018 to March 2019: one who I would communicate with about visiting an orphanage and the other who I met through the Lutheran Church in Central Africa worship services. I feel like I did encourage them in the faith they have in Christ. They also were concerned about keeping and getting jobs as well as sharing with me about their lives.

Also I want to include Tingathe Trainer Volunteer group participation here since this was my first active WhatsApp group led by a Malawian professional who had me volunteer with their community-based vocational training group from February to April 2019. It was great fun to have them share photos even as I had moved away physically from them. I really did not overtly share my faith, but people knew I was associated with the Lutheran Church since I had come with my husband to do that. But it is great that some of my former students I now have met again at their new jobs while out and about town.

I took a Project Management short course while living in the second city: again very interesting to be immersed with Malawians age 20 or so. I think they would remember me as the older, white woman who brought cakes for treating as her kids in the US celebrated their birthdays.

I will also include here a student whom I tutored for taking the International English Language Test for work. We met weekly, but I often conducted informal lessons on WhatsApp, sending her links for further reading or examples as well as practice for the tests for her to do timing herself. We discussed Jesus on her prompting as she identifies with the Seventh Day Adventist beliefs to some degree and wanted to know what I believed.

D. Numbers 11, 12 and 13: Lutheran Groups with Varied Sizes, Purposes, Locations, Languages

Three special groups I need to mention:

  • WELS Mission Ladies which includes 28 missionary wives around the world

  • WELS in Malawi is our small cohort of Lilongwe-based WELS families including the Medical Mission worker family

  • Lutheran Church Central Africa capital city local congregation women's group

    These groups are very different for me: in the first one I witness conversations from people I still have never been with in the same room since these missionary wives are scattered around the world. But in March 2020 Barcelona, Spain we hope to change that with a world-wide conference.

    The second one is with men and women who are colleagues with the Lutheran Mission (Malawi). We gather to worship and study the Bible together with or without Malawian Lutherans.

    The third group has a Malawian administrator. Sometimes in Chichewa, sometimes in English, I try to pursue in-person or chat conversations, but look forward to more in-depth conversations as we get to know each other better. I have been asked to assist with leading a Psalm study which I conducted bi-lingually in English and Chichewa.

    E. Numbers 14 to 139: Everyone Else in Individual or Group Chats

    Honestly then there are other individuals with whom I have had conversations, but now do not recognize their names for classifying how I know them: Lilongwe or Blantyre, Malawi and Lutheran Church or Community contacts. Maybe I had a contact only on a single issue like viewing properties as well as selling buying/donating stuff when I did that as our mission was selling a couple of houses and household items: Constance, Danielle Payne, Liza-Betha, Asha, Rachel, as well as nine others with only a 265 Malawi or other unrecognized country phone number. God knows them and if I wanted I could still reach out to them via WhatsApp wince they are recorded as contacts.

    So the rest could be categorized:

    Individuals known from Lilongwe Lutheran Churches: 19 — Lilongwe community: 42
    Individuals known from Blantyre Lutheran Churches: 10 — Blantyre community: 39

    Family Special projects: 2 — Individuals known from Lutheran Churches in Countries outside Malawi: 11

    F. Numerous On-going Current and Past Specialized or Short—term Projects: Names of WhatsApp Groups

    Joining in Community Endeavors: Project Management certificate course members, Lilongwe Toastmasters—Guests, Community Christmas Choir, Community Literacy Outreach leader, IWAM Food Fest— HELP?, All Creatures, Turkish Cuisine, House of Adrina area 11, IWAM Interest, Tofu?, Logistics networking, Recipients: 114, Fundraising Professionals, Holly Christmas Choir, Groupie

    Groups I Am Energizing: No Name Walking Group WhatsApp for a weekly neighborhood walk, Knitting and Crafts — Lilongwe, Sing and Make Music, Succulents: Growing in Love, Women's Bible Study, Every Little Bit Helps (Blantyre group for flood relief material collection), Connections for Relief Donations, Volunteering IWAM, Song development group "Nyimbo-Atate Athu," Jane-Dried Mangos, A to Z Connect, LBI Leader Families

    Groups Coordinating One-Day/Weekend Visits or Travel: Iva and friends!, Extra Days in Barcelona, Evanses in BT Oct 19-21, Woodlands Gathering, This Saturday La Caverna, May19 — US Embassy, Next Tuesday Plan-Eat Coffee Hill Sale info, Map pick-up around 12 pm,
    Linga Wine flashback,
    Winter Series MTB

    Groups Serving My Desire to be an Educator here in Malawi: HelpStars Tutoring, Beatrice IELTS Prep, Connecting on childcare, Assist with English class, Chichewa cha Nancy, Naoko Lessons, Explore More, Tingathe Mtandile, MSOE Honors, Tionge English, Missing Umbrella?!, Connect to start tutoring, Ayumi HelpStars Talking Business — tutoring, Connecting you, Tomorrow plan!?, Job leads on St. Andrew's, Potential tutoring, New connection, Jam!, Connect!, Mangoes in Malawi, Hi from Nancy, Connection for Job Tingathe Money Making, Learning Chichewa, Learning español

    Groups Facilitating Official Tasks as Missionary Wife: Nancy's coming to LL, Lamb of God song for us, Husband Now on WhatsApp, Visit area 3 rental, Clearing Kabula Hill Home, Items needing a new home, Area 9 Rat Patrol, Apartment Area 3, Maggie Real Estate2, Safe Travels, Area 9 house visit

    In summary, finishing up this project for Gospel Outreach with Media has shown me that WhatsApp has been a sort of an office for me as I wandered in and out of short-term church and community projects over the last two years. I also could analyze my Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram use for myself. Thanks for the opportunity to share my WhatsApp experiences — it has given me a chance to remember past endeavors and contacts. I will continue to ponder how best to serve where I am.

    May God's love in Christ continue to guide our communications in all that we do, in-person live or on-line with social media like WhatsApp. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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  • Discussion

    lucas Ngulube (Emmanuel congregation) 2019-10-22 4:11:20pm

    Throughout your report I only hear of Malawi.
    Do you have any programs for Zambia?
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 5:38:48am
    Lucas, thanks for asking. As you may know, we users of WhatsApp communicate where we are. I live in Malawi. I do not call what I do a “program.” No official accountability beyond God’s law, Christ’s love, our consciences, communication norms which are in flux due to this new technology. Please explain what you mean by “program” before I try to answer.

    I am just staying close to people informally like family I do not see regularly or people I can see regularly if I make a time/place.

    We can communicate with people across borders fairly easily. I have some people in Zambia I know, but you are correct living in Malawi has influenced who I am connected with?

    Again more questions for you: Do you use WhatsApp? Do you have connections in Zambia? And how can you use WhatsApp (or be self-trained informally or ask friends for help)?
    Kristin Huebner (WELS) 2019-10-22 6:37:18pm
    Thank you for highlighting your insights and statistics. I love to learn and I know you only as a name , face, and fellow sister in Christ through a Facebook group. Isn’t it funny how that makes me feel as if we were friends?? ☺️ Reading this helps me to understand a little of life in another country. I am blessed with this knowledge; may God help me to use it to his glory
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 5:42:12am
    Thank you, Kristin. God can use us for His glory even as we are humbled that we are not officially in ministry. Prayers for you where you are too now. Our paths will cross again in Heaven through the Cross of Christ...
    Halle Blais (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-22 10:32:45pm
    I think that it is so great that you are able to live in a different country and still be able to spread your work under God with so many others and with us in this session! Technology can be harmful but it can also bring us this and that is so cool to see and so inspiring!
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 5:53:31am
    Halle, thank you for your comment. So, it is interesting to live in another country (beyond our birthplace) trying to figure out how “ to be all things to all people” for Christ’s sake with or without can you also do that where you are? How can we all as thoughtful Christians use our freedom from sin, death and the devil for our own good...and for the world around us? What does it inspire us to do? What words, images, conversations are best? What can we do when we and others need forgiveness? How can that also be on our words, images, conversations in social media?
    Dan (One Africa Team) 2019-10-23 3:26:03am
    Nice job, Nancy -
    I also find WhatsApp to be a great tool in keeping in touch with my colleagues in Cameroon and Nigeria. It has become my "go-to" for communication.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 6:24:34am
    Dan, thanks for sharing! So more questions about this for you if you want:
    How do people you know in Cameroon and Nigeria encourage themselves and others in Christ through WhatsApp?

    What pitfalls may there be?

    Any glitches in your opinion for the “go-to” communication in various countries around Africa...or the rest of the world?

    Do you think more Christians could be using it as part of the Great Commission for this generation?
    Kylie Kozinski (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-23 6:24:14pm

    Hello Nancy, this was such an eye opening post for me! Rarely have I actually thought that I could make a spiritual difference through social media but I admire your work with whatsapp.

    I think it is such a neat way to become a part of the community through whatsapp and be able to evangelize in a way that uses technology! Have you ever personally met with any ‘internet’ friends you have met from whatsapp?

    God’s blessings as you continue to reach people through different means
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 7:07:00am
    Kylie: thanks for your thoughts. I hope they get us all thinking.

    I think social media can reach behind walls, inside rooms and into minds—while so, so silent, it screams LISTEN TO ME!!

    So yes, I think it is important for me to gradually get to know the individuals who already are on WhatsApp groups that I am able to join. So yes, it has been meaningful to me to find out more concretely who is on a WhatsApp group and what/who they care about.

    This week this is happening in Malawi for me while in the comfort of my own home: I was able to gather home-recycled items from one previously unmet Whatsapp user for another WhatsApp user who will guide children’s art activities with them

    Why and how does that work? I made an appeal to the large WhatsApp group I belong to for two years already about saving tin cans and other common food packaging water materials (we have no city-wise recycling program). I took pics of items to show I save them and want to have them used beyond going to a burnpit immediately after food prep. I sent photo of cans as one item to collect...Private messages, known person referring me to unknown person, having a good reputation in community after volunteering and regularly attending monthly or weekly meetings, the time set up at a public place to exchange goods happens with tincans as ideas/WhatsApp announcements in case we missed anything else we are interested in...

    Now the questions are how to continue this particular to positively witness as a redeemed child of God caring about our use of what He gives us. Making the effort to communicate and then meet safely and successfully on tasks shows previously unknown individual WhatsApp users to see me more than a unknown number or name.

    Also it works vice versa: Coincidentally at another event I meet a person and know her name “from somewhere” I check on my group list and if this person is on there, I send a
    a follow-up “hi” via WhatsApp and a “nice to have met you today” with my name in case that is not clear...and keep connecting.

    The spiritual difference in these online or in-person conversation is not guaranteed to be immediate or overwhelmingly due to me, but I have found through one-on-one conversation it is more likely than if you have no connection at all obviously. This is where I want to engage others in a few interesting projects or have them see who we are and what we care about as Christians beyond others’ memes or reports...this made lead to them questioning and having a safe forum for sharing!

    Kylie Kozinski (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:08:27pm
    Thank you so much for the extended message! God bless your future ministries through WhatsApp.
    Amanda Backhaus ((Martin Luther College)) 2019-10-23 6:44:46pm
    Mrs. Roebke

    I greatly appreciated your work over in Malawi Africa. It is amazing to learn positive aspects and uses of technology across the globe. We often focus on the negative issues with technology and rule out technology all together. I loved seeing the statistics of who you are able to reach and how often you are able to listen and help.

    All of this work is amazing to hear about, but from your stats it seems that at times you receive an abundance of feedback from outsiders. Do you have help in all of these groups? Are you looking to expand these groups outside of Malawi, Africa?

    God’s richest blessings as you continue using technology to share God’s word with people in Malawi and supporting fellow believers around the world. Thank you for sharing a positive way to be quick to listen and slow to answer through technology.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 7:21:15am
    Amanda: I appreciated your comments! Just to be clear: this is not my job...but I receive more in these large WhatsApp groups as you know from my numbers. Sometimes I just glance at them, no comments from me, sometimes I detect a trend or can connect myself with individuals I see posting or I have met in person. Admittedly much of this is community issues not direct Bible instruction which sometimes I feel awkward about...but I would be available to those women or children who desire this in person. I wish I could do more to help via images to help other Malawian Christians witness their hope in that I could provide through photographing local scenery and imputting Chichewa/English Bible messages on my iPhone. I also hope to train these fellow Christians who adore WhatsApp to voluntarily create deeper Christian content also pending skill and cost...

    Pray for these opportunities....may be some volunteer trainers like me are needed? Who reading this wants to network on this opportunity? Or provide suggestions on the best way forward with the tools to do it...reading from past GOWM conferences I learned about the app Phonto which I have been using and is super easy in my humble opinion.

    But let us remember that me starting groups around the world is not necessary if YOU there can think how to do similar communication there...
    Amanda Backhaus ((Martin Luther College)) 2019-11-04 7:11:05pm
    Mrs. Roebke,
    Thank you for your response!! It amazed me to hear that you do this and hearing more about the process. I will continue to pray for you and your outreach, maybe someday hearing about more opportunities. To God be the Glory in all things!
    Alex Dimke (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-24 5:32:26pm
    Misses Roebke,

    I very much appreciated your insight into mission related use of Media when it comes to our churches in Africa. I especially appreciated the expansion of what Whatsapp is and what it means to the people in Malawi. Often times in the United States we can be blind to other forms of communication if they do not pass through our lives. We also can forget the cost of mobile coverage as it is mostly a commodity to us. This unique window hopefully will provide more insight into how Whatsapp is used in the mission field.

    I had one small question and interest in what your work concluded. It seems Whatsapp will only increase in popularity in Malawi. Have you been influenced or inspired by the use of Whatsapp in our Latin American mission field? Whatsapp has proved to be a unique tool in this setting for daily devotions and even the sharing of church services.

    Thank you for your work and this article. It definitely opened my eyes to the difference in uses of Whatsapp in different cultures.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 7:48:06am
    Alex: good comments and good musing in connection to WhatsApp in Latin America.

    I first learned to use WhatsApp the 9 months before coming to Africa...I know Spanish so I was part of the US-based short-term volunteer group led by WELS Kingdom Workers Medical advisors. A Facebook add explained how to join a free network of Spanish speakers with diabetes or those caring for diabetes patients. I think hundreds from various Latin American countries responded.

    I led discussions for my assigned group—about 25 in Paraguay. We provided each other general diabetes health reminders, eating well and exercising. We encouraged people to seek medical support in their local communities as possible. The goal was also to connect people to Academia Cristo for spiritual online support as well.

    This interest in physical and spiritual well-being could be a way to connect to local Malawian churches and their pastors. This needs to be explored yet. We hope to update you how this or another angle may develop...pray about this.

    I agree I forget Americans like you/your fellow students may not be on WhatsApp (unlike my own college-age students due to our long-distance family situation). It is easy to use (if I am using it it must be). I am also a Facebook and Facebook Messenger user and feel comfortable connecting to individuals in the local or world community as well as my Christian community. But again as a individual private user. I am sure other technology also could be useful...

    This WhatsApp format for personal relationship-building and witnessing seems to be appreciated by major areas of the world. In the US many are connected to family outside the US—surely they must also be using WhatsApp within the US yes, why not American Christians too if they want to witness to communities around their churches..?
    Alex DImke (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-07 6:31:51pm
    Thank you for your feedback!
    I hope that we as Americans may be able to make connections on a personal level with our missions and encourage via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. I love the way that you have used it in the past and appreciate further ideas from others. Hopefully we can use WhatsApp in our future minsitry here at MLC.
    Alex Dimke
    Jamie Bruckschen (MLC) 2019-10-24 5:43:13pm
    Dear Mrs. Roebke

    I find it incredible how you are able to use technology in a place where it is so difficult to find it. What a blessing to be able to share with others the good news of the Gospel in such a unique way. Sometimes in America we hear people complain that we use too much technology in our worship. I love that you are able to find a great use for it in other parts of the world.

    A question I have for you is how specifically do you use technology to evangelize? Are you able to openly talk about God and share the gospel with others? If so is it usually shared privately on WhatsApp conversations? Is it more like a Questions and Answer conversation? I would love to know how you reach people specifically if they had questions.

    Thank you for your contribution to the conference.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 8:00:22am

    I am still feeling my way around how to use technology like WhatsApp for Gospel Outreach. I hope to learn more here on this online conference too! I think WhatsApp is best used for Gospel Outreach in question-answer format between individuals who most likely have had the chance to be together in the same room or church before...I also would love to use WhatsApp to encourage more Malawian women to see it as a tool to lead spiritual discussions. I think I am in position to do that...just still in the process of it...

    But WhatsApp has some great features for sharing links, typing up Bible passages, sharing photos/memes and invitations to church. Also I think creating short-term small WhatsApp groups for individuals and local pastors could be done...having large pastor-led groups of “Interested in Learning More” chats may be useful. Also I am still understanding when it is better to have a Broadcast list (like BCC blind-carbon copy in emails) versus open group where we see list of names participating and can openly communicate privately then if desired...
    Jamie Bruckschen (Martin Luther college) 2019-11-07 6:15:31pm
    Thank you for answering my questions. I think that this is a great tool for outreach and I know that other mission fields use similar apps for the same purpose. You have some great ideas on how to advance your work and I pray that God blesses your work in Africa.
    Lexi Fischer (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-24 8:23:10pm
    Mrs. Roebke

    Your work and selflessness in Malawi is very inspiring and appreciated. It is very cool that you are able to relate to today’s society by using media and technology to reach out and talk to others about God’s word. I like that you have a focus on three points that you want to get out and highlight. It is important to make sure that the main message that is shared is that God rescued us from sin by sending his Son to die for us.

    I was wondering if you do all of the communication yourself on the WhatsApp? Do you send and answer all the questions or do talk with the pastor and respond and send messages together?

    Thank you for all the time and work you put in in Malawi.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 8:20:50am
    Lexi: Glad you are here in this forum! Thank you for your kind words, but we missionaries and families are not perfectly selfless...only Jesus was. He definitely inspires us to become less self-centers as we are forgiven by Him. What do you do over there at MLC that compares to the WhatsApp communication I do for fun?

    The “three points” were from the Gospel Outreach with Media coordinators. I confess my communication on media is not 100 percent ...and I am thankful for God’s forgiveness in Christ.

    This information is about my private WhatsApp account. But I love connecting, supporting the people here. We gather around Jesus, the Bible and local church work, but neither me nor my husband are directly overseeing it...we get to report it or support it but NOT direct it...but I do my own WhatsApp community communication making choices: Is it worth my time? How much time should I give as a volunteer that can serve as a bridge to diverse individuals in this unique community? And sometimes as a bridge I was washed away by apathy or selfishness only to be re-built by God’s saving grace...

    Local Lutheran Church Central Africa pastors encourage each other on WhatsApp too...I am not privy to all that though :) My husband may influence Publications and Communications used or produced here. The WhatsApp angle to showcase God’s love in Christ most certainly could be further developed. The GOWM online conferences are providing helpful suggestions how that can be passed on to local leaders for possible applications in local settings...
    Luke Schlomer (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-25 4:42:55pm
    Mrs Roebke,

    It is always awesome to hear about the ministries being done all over the world in places like Malawi. Always being surrounded by technology and social media can make us lose track of what is important. I am glad we can use an app like WhatsApp to show other Christians about the work being done in Malawi and still keep in touch with family and friends from all over the world.

    Reading this article left me with a couple of questions. Do you know how long the WELS has been sending missionaries over to Malawi? How far have we expanded with missions in Malawi?

    Thanks for the article on your experiences with the work being done in Malawi. God’s blessings!
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-26 8:30:09am
    Luke: you caught an important point I was making about social media distracting us. Do I love my neighbors as much as my self(ie) and related iPhone activities. I guess I do not feel bad to find out my personal WhatsApp communications centers on my family. This tool is one we did it have as missionaries in Bulgaria from 1994-2003. But social media limps too...only God’s communication to us is perfect.

    We have only been here two years and need to catch up on the 50+ year history of WELS Outreach here in Malawi. Over 40 Malawi Lutheran trained pastors serve over 140 congregations numbering 40,000 souls. Please friend the Facebook page WELS One Africa Team for more on work throughout the continent of Africa. It is a colorful picture of past and current personalities, endeavors leading to a glorious future in the Heavenly Kingdom where I have no doubt that the communication will be even more amazing that WhatsApp or anything we know.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-10-31 3:05:32pm
    Hope my readers who submit questions and comments will also check back to see additional comments and questions to inspire future learning, reflection, and action.
    Skylar Cotten (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-11-04 5:52:50pm
    It is great to see that you share your pictures and what you are accomplishing in a different country. The use of technology is helping you to communicate with others and spread your love of volunteering and helping others.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-11-13 6:19:55pm
    Skylar: Thanks for participating in the conference. May you also continue in using technology to show love for others. Use this link right now to connect your community to ours
    Josie O'Brien (MLC) 2019-11-04 7:13:44pm
    Ms. Roebke,

    Thank you for sharing your personal life with all of us as an effort to communicate the Gospel to those all over the world. Your story makes me feel like I know you personally, and I think that really helps me and all people alike become more apt to engage in the conversation at present.

    You have been vulnerable and have posted your personal life as well as more posts about religion on all different media platforms. Have you had any backlash that made me think again about how you are sharing the gospel? If you have had negative encounters, how do you overcome it and keep doing this so fearlessly?

    Thank you for your contribution to this conference and for letting your light shine in Malawi!
    Nancy Roebke 2019-11-13 6:20:46pm

    Yes, being vulnerable is part of mission work. We live here as foreigners—not always comfortable because we did not grow up here. But you could argue Christians anywhere are “in the world, not of the world” looking forward to going to our perfect Heavenly Home.

    You definitely can see this as you follow our Facebook group

    It is difficult to know about backlash due to having so many different encounters which are not face-to-face. For instance, if a person disagrees or would to disparage me, they can easily do it without me knowing. I probably would just wonder why this person does not seem so open to communicating anymore. It would be hard to know if it is backlash or just a moving on from a once-open and close relationship to a more formal “too busy for you all” kind. With that, I feel like I could try a later time or they would know how to find me if I keep consistent contact info.

    So far no government backlash in Malawi, but wisdom is called for. We Christians are not trying to be political power-brokers. We need to pray for our world leaders to be wise and govern well.

    Also we have to say a prayer for people to understand every time we speak and for us to listen even effectively while remaining calm no matter the reaction.

    Thanks for responding! Blessings there as you share the message and yourself wisely!
    Haley (WLC) 2019-11-08 12:57:28am
    I really liked the pictures! It will always be interesting to me what different cultures consider important such as technology or social media. No matter what we consider most important, or what they consider most important, we can and will always be connected through our faith and love for God. Technology really helps more people learn about Christianity and it helps keep the community connected no matter our location.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-11-13 6:21:20pm
    Haley: thanks for your response. It is interesting how easy to connect with Christians around the world. But is not the only way. It is amazing too how the original Bible has gone so far from its first geographic confines—God definitely is on the move! We believers sometimes fail each other, but we definitely can forgive each other and then continue to encourage each other too. Keep trying in your own way to do this too wherever you are!
    Kaylan B. (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-10 1:19:25am
    I enjoyed looking at the pictures! Having pictures, rather than just words, really adds to the overall message and puts things into perspective. On top of that, I truly believe a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes we become so consumed in our lives here, that we forget what is happening all around the world. Technology is advancing rapidly and it is always great to hear about what new advances are being made and how these advances are benefiting our world. Thank you for the wonderful post!
    Nancy Roebke 2019-11-13 6:22:09pm

    Yes, I love the visual richness available to reinforce our Christian beliefs too! But no matter the “look,” we love to listen to God through the message and need to judge all situations by it. It is also interesting to note how we get used to stuff we see all the time. We may need visitors with fresh eyes to appreciate what is happening...we have been the fresh eyes to Africa, but with being here over 2 years we are growing accustomed to it here too. Thanks for sharing and hope you all can continue to follow and encourage others too as well!
    Tyree Marquis (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-12 3:49:06am
    I would like to thank you for you post. I always think spreading the gospel is a great benefit. The fact that you travel and help others who need to hear the word of God and the messages of the Bible is wonderful.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-11-13 6:22:49pm
    Tyree: thanks for your comment. Continue to learn more here:
    May you also serve wherever you my early 20s I certainly had no idea that I would live for years outside the US...but it has been happening. May God keep us in His care no matter where.
    Nancy Roebke 2019-11-13 6:23:50pm
    WOW! Thank you to all the readers. I hope to see you all on social media soon! I will look you up!