The good news is that the church is growing rapidly in many parts of the developing world. However, the bad news is that this is precisely where Biblical teaching and preaching resources are scarce and unaffordable. Nevertheless and perhaps surprisingly, many in the developing world do have access to the internet via internet cafés and recycled phones from the West (available when people upgrade). Other digital technologies offer new ways of doing things.
The challenge and the opportunity
Perhaps the most formidable challenge to offering teaching literature to the nations is the cost of freight. Typically it costs three or four times the price of the book to put it in the hands of a remote pastor. So the internet provides a very low cost alternative solution for those who have access to this technology.
A team of volunteers and staff have reformatted around 2000 chapters of Michael Eaton’s Preaching through the Bible for A4 paper, one sheet per chapter. These can be sent as attachments to emails or downloaded from our website www.slices.org.uk.
The reformatting has been carried out in a way that makes it easy to preach or teach from and anyone can receive Slices on a computer with an Internet connection and a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat (available as a free download).
Impact and the future
Over a period of 5 years, many thousands of slices were distributed directly by email to a list of subscribers. Currently they are available for download only.
Development of this material has been very time-consuming and with such a wealth of material available it has been halted for the time being. It would take a pastor 40 years to preach through the 2000 available at the rate of one per week! Collections are available for distribution on CD ROM which of course, are very light to post.
Also available are Slices in Other Languages - a translation programme which makes Slices available to the non-English reading world; initially the focus was on Spanish for South America and now it is on Russian.
There are some limitations to the use of this approach, of course, and this is certainly not a complete answer. Printers are less common and expensive to run, paper is costly and reliability is an issue. Nevertheless pastors can access this material online, and Bible schools and large churches do have printers.
We have also piloted an email teaching letter specially formatted for phones and tablets. This is much more flexible than PDF files because they will respond to the particular device being used. This is particularly effective with smart phones, which are particularly popular in Africa where the land-line phone generation has been skipped almost entirely.
We have also experimented with other digital technologies, such as wind-up audio players, and are also working towards the use of e-publishing with books for tablets and Kindles. These are, once again, partial solutions and also present some challenges; some of the poorest regions do not have regular electricity, for example.
So the best current solution, though it is the most expensive, remains a physical book and this continues to be the core activity of the Trust, at least for the present.