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The Vision: Meet the Geeks

The Vision: Meet the Geeks November 27, 2020

The Vision, pp. 197-203

Malachi Freeman has asked a whole bunch of missionaries to come to his Tennessee compound so that he can sell them on his graphic novel Bible. I’m not sure how he chose which missionaries to invite, or how he got in contact with them. I’m curious why he didn’t just find out when missionary conferences were happening (I think this is a thing?) and go then—or why he didn’t contact missionary ending agencies to sell them on it (which seems more efficient).

This is my biggest critique of this section: this is the wrong audience to approach.

Last week, Asher and Cheyenne (and no one else) were walking around feeling the after-effects of Cheyenne’s near death experience. The context was this meeting: they were setting up and waiting for it to begin.

So Much for Planning

As this section begins, Asher worries they’ve been stood up, because people haven’t arrived yet. Does this meeting not involve RSVPing, or arranging for where to sleep? This is weird. Debi tells us that while missionaries are coming from every part of the world, some have sent their wives or pastors because they can’t leave the field. This meeting is bizarre. At the last minute, a long line of cars shows up at the gate.

Where did the cars come from? The local car rental? Where is the nearest airport? Why did everyone arrive at the same time? The logistics of this make no sense.

The Tech Miracle

Asher begins his powerpoint presentation on the fancy LCD screen gifted to the ministry by a businessman. He shows the missionaries a map of the world that is somehow color coded for how people people have heard the gospel AND what language groups the Bible has been translated into. Its data is so detailed that specific areas where missionaries are working are lit up to show that more people have heard the gospel in those towns.

No. No to any of this. Making maps and color-coded illustrations is actually really really difficult, especially when you’re trying to code in actual data. Speaking of which, exactly what data are they actually using?

Debi constantly elevates new technology almost to the point of magic. We see this with the herbal brew as well—even in the decision to use factories in China to mass produce the brew. Most of all, we see it in the idea that a graphic novel Bible combined with the internet will convert the world. It’s true that new technology is important. But a liquid crystal display screen with a snazzy powerpoint isn’t going to magically convince veteran missionaries that they’ve been wrong their whole lives any more than a graphic novel Bible will make people instantaneously convert.

“PUBLISH” the Gospel to All Men

So, let’s turn to the meeting:

“God says in Matthew chapter 13, when asked concerning the end times: ‘And the gospel must first be PUBLISHED among all nations’. We may be among the last publishers before Jesus’ return. The job that has not yet been done is no ours to do.

“God commanded us to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’. Yet for two thousand years people have lived and died without ever having a chance to hear.

“It is clear that the world will never be reached by our present methods.”

Insulting much?

They’ve invited a bunch of missionaries to come here so that they can tell them that what they’re doing won’t work. Okay. Cool. Also, there is no collaboration here. This isn’t a conference where they’re learning from each other. Nope! They called all the missionaries here to be schooled! 

Also! I grew up hearing that the gospel must be “preached” among all nations, not “published” among all nations—so what gives? I’ve looked it up, and the King James Version does say “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.” However, the New American Standard, which I was taught to see as the golden standard, says: “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” Other translations say “proclaimed.” In fact, it looks like the King James is the odd one out in using the word “published.” κηρυχθῆναι appears too mean preach or proclaim.

This got me curious, so I found a dictionary from 1708 and looked up the word “publish” (some days I really love the internet). The dictionary gave this definition: “to make public, to spread abroad.” That was the only definition offered. If that’s what “publish” meant when the King James translation was written, I can see why the translator used that word! It is not, however, what “publish” means today, and this is why you have to look at the Greek. 

Seriously, people.

These Can’t Be Real Christians

Asher tells the gathered missionaries that Timothy Vick’s health has had a rebound, and we learn that they are “incredulous” and surprised at this news. Remember, Vick is the missionary in Thailand that Debi sent her miracle brew to. They all know who Vick is, which is somehow the least odd thing here. What’s strangest is that none of them appear to know the standard Bible meeting way to respond to an announcement that an infirm person’s health is improving, which is not with incredulity but by saying “Praise the Lord!” and “God is good!”

Given that they all know Vick, the simplest explanation for this section seems to be that Malachi belongs to a specific fundamentalist denomination that has its own missionary sending board, and that these are the missionaries he invited. If so, though, I don’t see him being allowed to do this without getting the denomination’s approval.

I feel like I’m putting more work into this making sense than Debi did.

Making Missions Work Obsolete

Anyway, Asher next addresses the missionaries with:

“You are all well acquainted with the 247 page, illustrated God’s Story book that Malachi wrote a couple years ago.”

If they’re acquainted with it already, why the need to have them all physically come to Tennessee?

Anyway, here’s Asher’s pitch:

“The Last Publishers ministry has received thousands of amazing testimonies from all over the world in regards to the God’s Story book. It is effective for two reasons. First, it’s readily received and read without the prejudice that Christian literature sometimes generates. It goes where Bibles and even missionaries are not allowed. Secondly, it teaches as God chose to teach: through stories of God’s working among men. God’s history, if you will.

“This has been the most successful preaching method of all time. This chronologically told Bible story book is a missionary that will not grow weary and quit, will not be distracted with sick kids, will not pause to eat, will never get malaria or dengue fever, does not have to pay rent, can live in a village undetected, can go to a country closed to the gospel, is willing to work day and night, and gives a clear nad accurate message again and again for years to come. If a hostile government destroys the book, it can be replaced for three dollars or less.”

I feel like if I were a missionary, I’d find this insulting. You’re telling me I spent my whole life working to convert people and spread the gospel, and the whole time, my job could’ve been done better by a graphic novel Bible?!

This is why, again, this is the wrong audience. They should have invited missionary sending agencies, to urge them to switch focus, or better yet, wealthy evangelical businessmen, to convince them to fund this idea. Instead they’ve invited missionaries, so that they can tell them that their whole approach is wrong and that they should discontinue their current work to become printers and book distributors. Right.

Relationships Matter, People!

Our beliefs are formed within the web of our relationships, experiences, and current life trajectory. This is one reason missionary work, when done effectively, is about forming relationships. Malachi is wrong. Handing someone a book is very very rarely going to change their beliefs by itself. People’s relationships and life contexts are incredibly important to their choice and formation of beliefs—perhaps more so than anything else.

Do people sometimes change their beliefs? Absolutely! But people who completely change their entire belief system (for example, converting to a different religion) typically do so when they’re at specific points in their lives: leaving home for college, dating someone new, going through a divorce, moving to a new part of the country. Outside of these breaks in one’s life, people are rarely willing to upend their lives by converting to a new religion and belief system.

At moments when books have played an important role in historical change—say, by challenging existing ideology and opening minds to new ideas—they’ve done so within a greater context of friends, family, and community members. Think young activists in an authoritarian nation, reading illicitly printed books, for instance. Even Radio Free Europe during the Cold War—yes, we fed subversive information into these countries, but I suspect that those influenced by this content were likely those most likely to have social contexts that made space for them to do so.

And those individuals were were influenced by this knowledge quickly formed networks, or looked for others who were like-minded. People are social animals. Ideas don’t spread outside of a social context.

If Asher’s description was how things work—if people are more likely to convert after reading a graphic novel Bible than after forming a relationship with someone who is a Christian—then Jack Chick had the right of it, and the United States could be converted if Christians just lit dropped Chick tracts over every park and public place.

It doesn’t work this way! This is magical thinking!

Also? This feels like a really lazy way to convert people.

The Geeks

No really, that’s what this section is called: The Geeks.

Not to be confused with: The Greeks.

But I digress.

It’s still Asher speaking:

“Fellow ministers, may I present the men who will get the gospel to the whole world.”

Now a group of very young men stood up to be introduced to the older, wiser ministers of the gospel. These were not sophisticated or fashion conscious individuals. None looked rugged or brave. They looked bookish, nerdy, definitely not frontier missionary material. After an awkward silence, the geeks sat down.

There was a shift of movement among the audience, not a positive one. Murmurs of dissatisfaction could be heard. Had they traveled all this way for a waste of time? Where was Malachi? Why had such weighty matters been entrusted to untried youth?

Asher stood his ground. He looked at the men with the sobriety of a prophet of old. “For the younger generation the internet is a constant source of information.”

What message is Debi trying to send here? This is one thing that makes this book confusing. She’s maybe trying to critique middle aged and older individuals dismissal of youth? I am so confused right now!

Also! WTF is with the “definitely not frontier missionary material” comment?! Amy Carmichael was told this too, and she—wait, do non-evangelicals know who Amy Carmichael is? And Mary Slessor—but I’m guessing many of my readers probably don’t know her either. My point is this: I grew up reading missionary novels, and they all started with the main character being told they weren’t cut out for the mission field. Debi ought to know this!

Not frontier missionary material, my foot. 

The Internet Is Magic

Back to Asher:

“Ah, you say … not many people have a computer in the country I work in, and even if they did, who knows how to use the web or find a site?”

It was the young geeks’ turn to laugh. “You, my dear old missionaries and ministers, are behind the times.”

I have found Debi’s secret talent: insulting literally everyone.

“The youth of the world all know how to access computers and can use them before they are able to read.”

Cheyenne moved over by the door nad peered out where she stood, thinking to herself, It’s not working, Asher. These old guys are yelling no inside … I can year their cries. 

Asher wasn’t finished. “To prove my point I will demonstrate. Cut the overhead lights, Shy.” Cheyenne’s heart leaped. He used my pet name in public! 

Oh lord. 

The long and short of it is this: Asher makes the map light up, with one light for every hundred people who have either spent at least one hour on a God’s Word website, or downloaded the whole book from one of the websites.

The map began to light up. Color by color started to fill certain sections of the map.

“Jesus said that eh is the light of the world.”

There was an audible response.

Asher says they had “as many as a hundred thousand hits in some of these areas where colleges are located.” Which. Fine. But I don’t see it? When I was in college, the website I spent most time on was Homestar Runner.

Anyway, the missionaries are wowed.

LOL, Missionaries Don’t Have Money

Asher goes on:

“The gospel has a new way to be published and we are going to make it happen. We need wise men to set up prayer chains. We need missionaries to help us find translators that can be trusted to do a good job. We need printers, storage facilities, and people on the ground who and see to the distribution. We need money. We need more young geeks who walk in truth and are willing to be the new missionaries for today. Will you stand in the gap?

Again—this is the wrong group to approach! If they need translators, they could approach sending agencies, or Bible translation groups. If they need people on the ground to distribute books, once again, sending agencies would be the best group to approach—sending agencies have distribution channels to missionaries already set up.

I really, really don’t understand this meeting.

All … Done?

That’s the end, and we don’t get anything else about the missionaries’ responses. They were wowed by the light show, the end. Of this chapter, I mean—not the end of the book.

Bah. Such a weird book.

I still don’t see the point of this entire missionary meeting. The whole plan as discussed before was: make lots of websites, fund websites with magic berry brew sales, and bam! The whole world is converted! I can see needing more translators, but I don’t understand why they’re making a pitch for money, or why they’ve called missionaries out of the field just to tell them that the way they’re trying to convert people is crap.

And I’m very confused about what Debi thinks about “geeks.” That whole bit just felt … off. I know she was being all “haha old men don’t know how the internet works,” but her liberal use of the word “geek” and her ample comments about how awkward these young men seemed like way more than was needed.

Anyway! We’re now almost 2/3 of the way through this book! Yay us!

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