I am a tech guy and I like new gadgets, but for some reason I never really saw the use for smart phones. That could be because I am not really a fan of phones in general. If I am using a phone, I take care of the needed business on the call that I am on, and then I’m done with it.
About two years ago I inherited my brother-in-law’s old iPhone 3G and over time my opinion has changed. As per the title of this post, I now believe that missionaries should have a smart phone, and here is why:
1. My Bible is always with me
A few months ago I heard a pastor mention in a sermon that we all take our cell phones with us wherever we go, but what would happen if we did the same thing with our Bibles? In the words of a dear friend, why have OR when you can have AND? With a Bible app, when you have your cell phone with you, you also have your Bible.
Early on I downloaded the ESV free Bible app. ESV has been my translation of choice lately, the app is very well done, and I already mentioned this last part…it’s FREE. It also works well offline. I like the YouVersion app as well since it is being populated with translations from around the world in hundreds of languages. Alas, if your internet connection is flaky, so is the app.
This is not meant to be a review of Bible apps, but here is something that I think would be very helpful…the new Lutheran Service Book (Hymnal) has a pastoral companion with recommended verses and prayers to use when visiting parishioners. Something like that would be very handy on a phone.
2. Everybody’s doing it
If my kids came to me with that answer, I can already tell you what my reply would be. In this case, it actually holds. The increase in the use of mobile phones, even smart phones, in Africa has been astronomical. I have seen a lot of people in West Africa with iPhones, Blackberrys, and any number of Chinese knock-offs. The major cell companies in Ghana have Android phones from Samsung for USD $150.
The basic principal is that you need to reach people where they are. Increasingly smart phones is where people are. If you are going to tap into this media, you need to know how it works. Before you buy one, you may want to spend some time at cell phone shops and observing people around you to see what are the most popular models. It would make sense to buy what everybody else is using. Also a good research project would be to find out how they are using it.
3. A camera always at the tip of your fingers
When you live in a foreign country, you see all kinds of interesting things. I can’t tell you how often I have wished I had a camera with me. Like the time I saw two guys on a motorcycle with a cow….
The cameras on smart phones are getting so good that there is talk of the point-and-shoot digital camera market becoming extinct. The other day I went to a naming ceremony. I had my iPhone and a point-and-shoot camera with me. The battery on the camera was dead within a few minutes of my arrival. Sadly, my old iPhone, which is always fully charged, does not have a good enough camera on it so I had to borrow a camera from somebody else.
If I had a new smart phone with a good camera on it, I would always be ready. (Did you hear that, honey?)
4. The killer of wasted time
I find myself often waiting for something. Whether I am in line at the bank, at the hardware store waiting for my items to be loaded, at the mechanics, etc. We do a lot of waiting in Africa.
I have only recently become a fan of digital books. About a year ago I started buying books from Amazon on my Kindle app. I was doing some research and I needed the books NOW. Not being a fan of the small screen on my iPhone, I used the iPad exclusively for my reading. Then just a couple of months ago, for various reasons, I put a book on my iPhone, and will never look back. As has been mentioned many times, it is always with me. If I have a few minutes of down time, I pull out my phone, open the Kindle app, and I am right where I left off (and my youngest child cannot remove the bookmark like she does on my paperbacks, which seems to bring her great joy).
WARNING!!! Don’t forget that being a missionary is first and foremost about relationships. It does not matter if you are Bible translator, church planter, medical doctor, or computer guy, relationships must come first. I write this to myself probably more than anybody else, don’t let your smart phone get in the way of your ministry. Those times sitting and waiting may be the prime opportunity to talk to somebody.
5. The Internet
For probably at least 95% of Ghana, the only option for internet access is via the cell network. My firewall at the office is sharing the connection of a 3G USB modem with the local office and four remote locations. This means that your cell phone could become not just a secondary connection to the internet, but perhaps your primary.
For example, if electricity goes off (did I mention that electricity was off yesterday from 8 am to 4 pm?), you can still connect with people around the world. With tethering you could provide internet access to your computer. I am not one to check email on my phone, but for some that would be a nice convenience, especially if they are travelling.
So, what am I missing? There have to be more than five reasons for missionaries to have smart phones. Add your own in the comments section, or perhaps note the reasons why missionaries should NOT have smart phones. I can think of some of those too.