The role of IT in mission: guest blog by Neil McKnight
One Sunday after church, I had a wee chat with John Hamilton. I asked, “What’s all this about computers and Wycliffe Bible Translators?” John suggested that I go to Wycliffe’s CheckITOut evening…
Over recent years missionaries around the world have been forced to embrace new technologies and use more and more new tools for many different tasks when carrying out their work both in the field and in many different support roles.
I went to the CheckITOut event as suggested and they took some time to explain the role of IT, but more importantly, the need for experienced IT personnel throughout the world.
The vision of Wycliffe Bible Translators is to start a Bible translation project in 1,967 different languages by the year 2025, and it is estimated that these projects will have the potential to reach over 200 million people.
To meet this goal they are currently utilising around 5,500 staff in 97 countries, which in itself is a staggering amount of people. Yet they have approximately 2,500 positions vacant in roles around the globe.
Over the years they have had different manual systems and ways of gathering information, keeping track of people, recording translations, working with the local people, but as new technologies have evolved, so have the people and the systems.
One of the big areas is people management. If there are people posted around the world carrying out their roles, or possibly even on holiday or at a conference, it is important that the organisation knows exactly where they are during their travelling and time away. If there happens to be some sort of a natural disaster or a civil war breaks out, basically anything that could put individual in danger, Wycliffe may need to know all sorts of important information that could be relevant in those different situations. Heights and weights could be important in the event of an evacuation; blood types in the event of an emergency; copies of passports and important documents; any sort of information that may normally be taken for granted could be important in difficult situations. This needs to be stored centrally and in a way that can be easily managed. A Wycliffe member from N. Ireland currently manages this project from his home near Ballyclare.
For people working in areas where there may be no power, there is little point in giving them a case full of equipment that all depends on electricity to operate, or possibly an internet connection to be useful. Nowadays, along with that case of essential equipment, Wycliffe may also issue two other cases: one with a solar panel and one with a small satellite dish which has the ability to connect remote workers to the internet.
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Another fantastic use of technology is in using video capture to record sign language, and using software to over lay the person with a female face, or an ethnic face, or an adult or child, enabling the sign language translation to be distributed in many different ways, but actually all created from the one initial motion capture. This technique is used commonly now in the film industry to bring to life animated or CGI characters, but to think to use it in this way is just astounding.
One of the inherent problems with all this use of technology is that it brings with it its own problems. Computers generally break down or fail to function correctly, printers need fixed, cables break, all sorts of things that a lot of the time we take for granted. However when you don’t have a tech savvy family friend or a local computer shop to walk into, it can be a bit of a problem. So backup and support staff with specific IT skills play a big role in keeping equipment going, training people in new systems and fixing everything from the network to the microwave in the office – just because it’s perceived they can.
There are many different ways that experienced IT workers and enthusiastic computer hobbyists can help out both at home and abroad, and for a more comprehensive list please visit either the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK or Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church websites for more information.
Neil is a friend and fellow member of Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast, N. Ireland. Having attended Wycliffe’s CheckITOut event, he wrote this piece for the church quarterly newsletter.
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