Hacking for Jesus

The Geek shall inherit the earth.

Try this experiment. First, think about something important you love to do. Whether it’s in your career, in your major, or in your free time, envision yourself doing something incredibly meaningful to you. (If you’re thinking of ministry, you’re the best, but you’re getting ahead of me — for the sake of the exercise, pick something else, you wonderful over-achiever.)

Second, picture a missionary. What do you see? What are they like? When you hear words like ministry, missions, and evangelism, what do you think of? Think about it for a minute before reading on.

Here’s the important question: how similar are these two mental images?

Let me tell you a story about how InterVarsity enabled me to respond to both prompts with the same idea.

Hack4Missions

InterVarsity’s Urbana conference has always been innovative and exciting, but Urbana 15 introduced something especially new: a hackathon with 190 participants, along with a few dozen mentors, project sponsors, and organizers. Every afternoon we worked on 12 different technology projects, tackling challenging problems presented by mission agencies. Projects covered a wide range of needs: Bible translation software, a video game about the life of a refugee, a social media campaign for Christian testimonies from Olympic athletes, and beyond.

We had a very simple rallying cry for the week: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

A typical hackathon is often a nonstop event for 24 or 48 hours, yet our Hack4Missions teams only had 9 hours of real development time at Urbana. That’s a drop in the bucket for a software project. And yet, when we presented our projects on the final day, we all had real, tangible results. None of us were done, by any means, but we all had amazing outcomes, given the constraints.

I told my team at the end of the week:

“What we accomplished this week … was literally more than we could have accomplished without the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty convinced I witnessed a miracle.”

Hack4Missions was a bold and risky experiment for Urbana but, by any metric that matters, it was a complete success. Not only did we produce meaningful results for the mission sponsors, but all of the programmers, designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and dreamers in that room got to do ministry using the skills and talents God gave them.

Shaped by God

In May I came on staff with InterVarsity as a web developer, so Hack4Missions is especially close to my heart because through it God called me to employ my gifts, education, and passion in ministry with InterVarsity.

But it’s important for you, too. You don’t need to be technical in any way to see the value. Think about our experiments at the beginning of this post. When people hear words like ministry, missions, or evangelism, it is very common to picture a pastor in a church, or a missionary preaching in a village, or similar images. We don’t tend to picture artists, scientists, and business peopleor programmers.

But, just as the body has many members, the work of sharing and living the Gospel takes thousands of shapes, and one of those is shaped exactly like you. Hack4Missions helped me and 189 new friends find our unique shape, one that contributes to God’s work.

Connecting with Others

Hackathons are an excellent way to grow and connect the community of believers who have tech skills (or who believe in technology, even if it’s not their skill set). Urbana’s Hack4Missions was such a huge success that it has launched Indigitous #Hack, another hackathon for missions to be held at dozens of sites on November 4-6, 2016. We are looking for interested participants, hosts, sponsors and mentors. As digital missionaries, we will create, use and leverage technologies to solve current problems and challenging issues of mission organizations. Contact Mark at Campus Web Ministries if you’d like to be a part of Indigitous #Hack in November.

Staying connected is critical to the success of any ministry. For techies like me, that means getting involved in groups like InterVarsity’s Ministry in Digital Spaces and the independent community, Kingdom Builders. If you’re not into tech, I may not be the right person to recommend a larger community, but let me challenge you to look for one.

Continue the conversation. Please contact me with any feedback, questions, or suggestions! I’m exploring and discovering all of this right along with you, and the more voices we hear, the more we learn from one another.

Let’s change the world!

Andrew Fallows

Web Developer, Campus Web Ministries

Andrew believes that every place where communication happens is a place where the gospel belongs. That’s why he’s so happy to be part of InterVarsity’s online and digital ministries. Andrew joined Campus Web Ministries in 2016 to build and improve websites for InterVarsity’s diverse collegiate ministries. He is also working with the Ministry in Digital Spaces team. Andrew is an InterVarsity alumnus from Rochester Institute of Technology. You can find him anywhere online with the username “kaldrenon”, especially on Twitter, Steam, and his personal blog.