by Trevor Freeze
If you think the Jesus.net conference is just another weekend getaway, you should spend a couple of minutes talking with Grace Sumbillo and Mark Ty.
Traveling more than 9,000 miles from their homes in Metro Manila, Philippines, to The Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, N.C., Sumbillo and Ty know this is more than just another startup website project.
They know this five-day conference — with people from more than 20 countries represented — is more than just a chance to buy a new widget or learn about the latest Internet fad.
People in the Philippines are just like people in the United States. They’re hurting and searching.
And they oftentimes go online.
“It’s God moving,” Ty said. “It’s not really about us. It’s about God moving people to this website.”
In the Philippines, that website is HopeKayGod.net, their version of PeaceWithGod.net, the Internet Evangelism website launched by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in April of 2011.
“We chose ‘Hope’ because the word ‘Peace’ in the Philippines means not fighting,” said Ty, the web developer of the project. “We found ‘Hope’ is more universally known in the Philippines.”
HopeKayGod.net hasn’t even been up for two months, and barely any online advertising has been done, yet people are finding it. And they’re finding a video presentation of the Gospel of Jesus in the local language of Tagalog.
In the last week of November alone, more than 2,000 people stumbled upon HopeKayGod.net, with more than 75 making decisions for Christ and over 20 percent filling out a form to be contacted for more information.
“My background is in IT,” Ty said. “To be able to use my work skills in ministry is very exciting.”
And the Philippines’ project isn’t even officially launched yet. Along with Portugal, Mexico and two versions in the U.S. (one English, one Spanish), the BGEA is expanding its Internet Evangelism ministry.
And the potential is staggering.
In the past 20 months since launching more than 6 million people have visited PeaceWithGod.net, which features a clear video presentation of the Gospel.
More than 1.4 million people have indicated they made a decision to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior. More than 185,000 have filled out a form requesting more information. The BGEA’s Internet Evangelism team then follows up with five discipleship e-mail lessons and as well as answering any other questions the new believers may have.
“Everyone who asks a question, we respond to them,” said Bob Hill, BGEA’s Director of Strategic Planning and Project Management.
The challenging task of responding to all the inquiries has been met by a volunteer base of 270 trained e-counselors and discipleship coaches. Soon that number will nearly double as training qualified online coaches continue to expand.
But in the Philippines that number currently sits at two.
Sumbillo is in charge of the e-coaches for HopeKayGod.net and while her two trained e-coaches are very efficient, she is in the process of training 10 other e-coaches.
She hopes to have them up and running by February, when HopeKayGod.net plans to officially launch around a Hillsong United concert at Araneta Collesium in Manila that will help promote the online ministry.
“We’re surprised that even without much promotion people have found the website.”
Questions range from general curiosity about God to specific ones, such as “Why does God allow bad things if He loves me?”
“It’s an exciting ministry,” said Sumbillo, describing how a Philippine woman living in Canada found the website and prayed to receive Christ. “It’s just the work of God.”
BGEA’s work in the Philippines dates back to 1977. A young 15-year-old by the name of James Tioco was one of the 412,000 people who came to the 1977 Billy Graham Crusade at Rizal Park in Manilla.
Tioco was one of more than 22,000 who came forward to accept Christ into his life and has been on fire to spread the Gospel ever since. From Operation Christmas Child involvement to 2006 leadership roles in both My Hope Philippines and the Franklin Graham Festival in Manila, Tioco has fanned the flames of evangelism in his country.
Then he heard about using the Internet to reach people for Jesus and he was all in.
Quickly a partnership with the Philippines formed and a site was built using the Tagalog language.
“I can see a lot of churches using this for their evangelistic ministry,” Ty said. “What I like about this website is you’re looking at real people talking.”
And that’s part of what the Jesus.net conference is all about. Getting people together, who are in some form or another under the Jesus.net umbrella, to talk about their specific online ministry and to learn from each other.
“It gives people an opportunity to all get on the same page,” Hill said. “It’s a movement. We just have to make sure we’re all moving the same direction.”
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