How To Build Faith

Walking on Sea Ice
Credit: Bee in Finland

Back in '95 when I worked for Nokia I used to visit our sister factory in Oulu. Situated in northern Finland, Oulu is some 200kms south of the Arctic Circle. It get's pretty dark and cold in winter, and a popular attraction is to walk on the sea.

Which is pretty cool. Especially for someone who grew up on the coast in South Africa, instructed scuba, and has sailed across an ocean.

Cool is one word. Daunting another. I only ever set foot on the sea. Out in the distance, miles from shore, locals enjoyed themselves.

It would take a lot to get me to walk very far onto the ice. Even then it would only be with a local guide I knew very well, intimate with the area. Even though rationally I can see the ice can support me, I can believe it will. To put my faith in the ice needs more than just rational belief.

There's a visceral element to faith that is deeper than logic. In fact faith often requires that depth to trust [someone] even when all the 'evidence' points to a different conclusion. Trusting your spouse's isn't cheating, even when it appears they are.

Those people comfortable out on the ice have been doing it winter after winter for years. For generations. They understand the reliability, and are intimate with all of the moods of the ice.

Ultimately, of course, it's a decision. You choose to have faith and walk, or choose not to and don't. Or you choose not to, and live a life of continual risk assessment. Not that faith should ever be 'blind' just that there are more factors at play than can rationally be explained.

Unfortunately not enough people leave the beach and walk further from their comfort zone each day, so they develop neither the science nor the faith.

How're you going? Do you trust in your education, your job, your income, your status, your relationships, your country? They are all as illusory as the seasons. Enjoy them, but never cease to step out of your comfort zone. Never cease to step away from the shore, just a step extra each day.


The Church Needs Moonshot Projects

Have you seen this TED Talk by Astro Teller (great name), the leader of 'X', previously Google X:

[ted id=2460]

He suggests that the criteria for X projects need to meet three criteria:

  • Large intractable problem that affects millions of people
  • Radical solution
  • Breakthrough technology

They call the projects 'moonshots,' in reference to JFK's challenge to get a man to the moon and back (alive) by the end of the ('60's) decade.

As the logical outcome of my last post regarding the Church and technology, I put forward that the Church needs 'moonshot's' of our own.


Some quick context:

  • 1.2b people are learning a second language in the world (that we know of)
  • 800m of them are learning English – mostly to improve their economic opportunities, many to raise themselves out of subsistence
  • There are 1778 languages in the world that are yet untouched by any books of the bible, nor have a translation project. That equates to 1.5b people who cannot access the bible in their own tongue.
  • But that doesn't include the people whom cannot read to begin with, some 17% of the world's population.

Hope Is Not A Strategy

So here's the thing, if we're serious about the great commission, to “make disciples of all nations,” we need to be serious about how we reach the vast majority of humanity. Because even if people do have a bible in their own tongue, that does not mean they've heard the gospel, met a Christian, or read a bible.

Simply hoping that the people in our middle-class, suburban church are going to reach one more person, is not a strategy.

The harvest surely is plentiful, and the workers few. This is a scale problem.

Not Marketing

Don't get me wrong – I'm not advocating that this is just about getting information out to people. Making disciples is not about EE3, the “Roman's Road”, 'Crusades,' and definitely not about tele-evangelists. We're not selling Coca-cola.

I agree that faith is about unconditional love rather than a rules based ideology, and spread via relationship. Most people I know who came to faith, were because of a deep friendship. I would argue that one or more relationships were instrumental to all people whom came to true faith.

No, most people look at how their believing friends negotiate the challenges of life: illness, separation, poverty, death; experience their genuine love for others, then become open to the prompting of the Spirit. I get that.

This leads them potentially to a conversion. The birth of a relationship with God.

Not to discipleship.

For that there needs to be mentoring, and personal research. A 'renewing of the mind.' Not about indoctrination, quite the opposite. The injunction is to read, research and learn to test for yourself God's will.

Clearly this is impossible without being able to read, or read in an understandable language.

More Than Discipleship

But this is far more than discipleship. This is also about social and economic justice. Remember that earlier stat? 1.2b people learning a second language. That's because many people in the world don't live in a middle-class suburb with 2 cars, and access to police, healthcare, education or work.

There's are two competing trends addressing this, both of which centre on a form of unequal information dissemination:

1. Information Access

Google, who we referenced earlier, Facebook, and to a lesser extent Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon; are all racing to connect the rest of the planet to the Internet. And they're pouring billions into this: cellular networks, satellites, even balloons.

No matter how altruistic their intent, they are still capitalist, secular, non-state, private organisations that will benefit from the exponential economic growth of a connected planet.

2. Divisive ideology

The competing trend is a dissemination of divisive ideologies, intolerant of commmonly agreed basic rights. Rights such as equality of women, access to education (for women), sexuality, even the right to divorce.

This trend is counter the mass provision of Internet access. They want to keep people in the dark.

Don't misunderstand, this is a race condition. And the Church isn't part of the race.

Not really.

Or not to any real extent.

The Danger of Leaving This

Growing your church membership by 10% is not the answer. (In Australia Christianity has shrunk by 7% in the decade to 2011, and church attendance halved) It doesn't even come close, to your own neighbourhood, let alone to the marginalised in your country, never mind the factory workers in China that made your Nikes and iPhone.

If we don't consider seriously how we're going to build relationships with people of all geographies, languages, and socio-economic statuses, one of two other movements will: Either technology companies, leading to secular consumerism, or alternate, extreme ideologies leading to injustice, violence and war. Both compounding the problem.

Either way, we don't fulfil the great commission. Either way, people that need to know the unconditional love of God, pragmatically in their lives, are left unloved.

Again, please read my comments in context. There are many Christian based organisations doing the right things. From Wycliffe Bible translators, to Baptist World Aid, to Missionary Aviation Fellowship, to Worldvision, and many others. Even the work of my school friend, Paul Williams, in bringing Christmas joy to orphans in Siberia.

I know this.

They're doing great work!


So my question is “How?”

How do we solve the scale problem?

How do we actually turn the dial on poverty? Access to education? Social injustice? Hunger? Disease? And yes, how do we share God's love with not only an unbelieving world, but one that has no access to even hear the message in a language they can understand?


My proposal then, is that we need our own Moonshot projects. With an added criteria or two:

  • Large intractable (social injustice, poverty, hunger, disease) problem
  • Radical Solution
  • Breakthrough technology
  • A solution that facilitates self-perpetuation: e.g. Each person we teach a language translates the bible into their native tongue; or the girls we teach to sew teach others how to stand up for equal rights.