*Disclaimer: we do not work for Facebook or are promoting Facebook in any ways. (But we actually love Facebook a lot now =D)
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jon and I are from San Francisco, which is the tech bubble of the world. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Apple, to name a few, are all headquartered in Silicon Valley. Because we were so immersed in the tech world, we took for granted the importance of technology, particularly social media, in our lives. Using technology was as simple as breathing air. We would "Yelp" for speciality shops, "Google" local events, "Amazon" anything we wanted delivered to our doorstep, check an app for movie times, bus times, store openings/closings, and used Apple Pay or Venmo to pay others.
Now that I live and work in the developing world and have distance from these companies, I actually have a grander appreciation of them because most of these companies don’t function locally. For example, to see what the movie times are, I actually have to go visit the theater. To pay online vendors, I have to physically go to the bank and deposit money into their accounts. If I am looking for a certain item, I can't just "Amazon" it, but I have to go to 3-5 stores and hope to find the item I am looking for, which usually consumes most of my afternoon. Additionally, if we want to find a good place to eat, we have use the good old method of trying it out in person and learning first hand if it's a 2-stars or 5-stars establishment.
However, the tools that do function well here are mainly Facebook and WhatsApp, and these have been instrumental in navigating daily life in Coban, helping us reach out to our new Coban community, grow our missionary community, and keep us connected to our home. The amount we need and rely on technology as missionaries is tremendous and God has worked powerfully through it here, particularly social media.
In Cobán, Facebook is used differently than how we used it in Silicon Valley. Here, it is used as a fundamental business, information, and communication tool. A small local business may or may not have a webpage (if they do have a webpage, it's not always updated or maintained), but they definitely have a Facebook page that has the (somewhat) most updated information. Most likely, they also won't have a landline phone, but they'll receive calls through WhatsApp. One reason for this is that cellular data for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram is free with most data packages you buy for your smartphone. Thus, it is much cheaper to run business through cellular service than purchasing a wifi connection. For example, a good prepaid phone plan costs about $15 a month while an internet café will charge about $2 an hour and installing wifi at a home or business is even more expensive. Economically, this is great for small businesses because it lowers their barriers of entry into the market. This has been true for us, since we have learned to rely on Facebook and WhatsApp to start and launch our school.
Needless to say, Facebook has been a valuable tool for us and it has helped us find community and advertise and grow our church and school. When we first arrived, we joined a Facebook group for Guatemala missionaries and this allowed us to connect with various missionaries in our local area, a big answer to prayer for a new family starting in a new place! Through it, we developed a local missionary Facebook group and it has been amazing to be connected to an amazing body of Christ, and to love and support each other, and glean important advice from the local veteran missionaries. Additionally, we use facebook, imessage, facetime and email (and these blog posts/emails newsletters) to keep in touch with our friends and family back home. Connecting through technology has been a lifeline for us here as missionaries and we appreciate it more than ever!
Another interesting way Facebook is used here is for local journalism. Though there are a few newspaper companies in Guatemala, most of them are dying out, since people rely heavily on their phones and Facebook for their news. Each city or state generally has a few well known journalists that manage a Facebook page and subscribing to those pages is how people find out about traffic, weather blockages, crime, events and any local news. These pages are literally people’s names: Sam Chun Informa, Nelson Yalibat – Noticias, Otoniel Rivista. These journalists run around town making video stories, sharing reports of traffic or weather, electricity outages, and any public service announcements. Before we knew about these local news sites, we once drove ALL around town asking strangers on the street where the local town fair was, turns out it was only advertised on Facebook. These news pages are not only important for day to day life here in Coban, but they ended up being a huge answer to prayer for one major part of our mission: Enrolling students.
If there is one way that God we have seen God move powerfully in our lives, it's through the people that He has placed in our lives to support us in our mission here. I will dedicated another blog post for all the "men and women of peace" that He has brought to us to partner with us and help us, but for this post, I will share just how God works so perfectly in our lives.
A few months ago, Jon joined a "Bolivians in Guatmala" WhatsApp group and met a Bolivian gentleman who now lives in Cobán. When Jon went to a coffee shop to meet his new Bolivian amigo, a local journalist walked in who happened to be friends with this new Bolivian amigo. Turns out, this local journalist was none other than the famous "Sam Chun Informa" journalist that has over 150K followers on Facebook. He was introduced to Jon and Jon invited him to come visit our school. This happened exactly two weeks before our fist AMI School Open House. A week after meeting Sam Chun**, he came to visit our school and ended up doing an interview on his page. This ended up getting hundreds of shares, thousands of likes and helped get our AMI International School name out there.
Sometimes, when Jon and I are out and about town, I hear whisperings of “AMI” or “Sam Chun.” Jon and I find it funny because as some of the few Asians in town, we are so used to being pointed out as the "chinitos." Aside from not being called "chinitos" as much anymore, Sam Chun's interview really helped our open house event: we had around 300 people come out to hear about the mission and vision of the school. We had to improvise and hold three back to back informative sessions since the classroom couldn’t hold more than 70 people (Oh we of little faith, only thought we would get a max of 70 people attend our meeting... and only prepared materials for 100 people). We are blown away by this and did not imagine that God would work so effectively and powerfully. Literally just two weeks before our Open House, only a handful of Cobaneros knew who or what AMI International School was and we were fretting about how to publicize our school. We are blown away by God’s providence in such an unimaginable way!
So overall, I just want to say "THANK YOU Silicon Valley and all our many, many, supporters." God’s design is perfect, and in many steps of this mission, it has felt that God has perfectly placed skill sets, networks and technology exactly where we need them at the time we need them. Thank you to our interns, Julia and Gloria, who are so knowledgeable about all things social media, design, movie making and technology purely because they grew up in the digital age! They have designed almost all of AMIIS marketing materials using Canva! Thank you to our friends like Paul Kim who let us use his facebook ad credit to advertise our school! Thank you Dpark who has been our virtual graphic designer/advisor and thank you Mery Choi who helped us get AMI International School on Google maps! There are so many ways that God has used our techie friends to help our mission in UNEXPECTED ways. The ways they help may seem small to them but they are INVALUABLE here! Thank you again to all our friends and supporters! Starting a school can seem IMPOSSIBLE and UNIMAGINABLE at times, but we are so grateful that we have a God that provides!
**Fun fact: Some indiginous Guatemalans have asian-sounding last names like "Chen" or "Chun." They are not of Asian descent, but these are just common-ish Mayan last names.