More than 150 people from around New Zealand gathered at Auckland University of Technology in Manukau to attend the Digital Discipleship Conference (DDC), held August 9-11, 2019.
With the aim to inspire and empower churches and individuals to be and to cultivate digital disciples, the conference brought together a community of people from different generations who are passionate about using technology and the digital space to share their faith.
A handful of New Zealanders had earlier felt it would be beneficial to conduct a local version of DDC, the first of its kind in New Zealand, after taking part in the Australian event the past few years.
“We were hoping to have 50 people engage on the weekend, and we had 151 people attend,” said Victor Kulakov, Discipleship Ministries leader for the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC), who supported the organizers. “We truly see the huge need in this kind of conference, where people are inspired, equipped, and empowered to be and make disciples in the digital space.”
DDC founder Rachel Lemons Aitken challenged attendees to dream big as they explored what they could start in the digital space.
“The digital discipleship movement reminds us that God has given us permission to dream,” she said, “and to use our creative and technical expertise and talents to reach people for Him.”
The theme of “Story” was creatively explored throughout the weekend, with Tulaga Aiolupotea bringing graffiti to the screen and explaining how a person’s identity in graffiti tells their story. His testimony had the teen attendees on the edge of their seats.
On Saturday (Sabbath) morning, Adventist Record editor Jarrod Stackelroth shared the power of stories, as well as the opportunity Christians are presented with by a God who can reclaim broken stories and use them for His glory, even in an online space.
One uniquely New Zealand contribution to the conference was the Māori welcome from Shane Harper, who on Sabbath afternoon conducted a session on the importance of traditional stories and images in a Māori context and the passing on of those stories through generations, both through story and art.
Senior Human Rights Communications and Media advisor Andre Afamasaga tackled the question of how Christians should share their beliefs and opinions on social media in an age of heightened political divisiveness, and in which people prefer to receive short communications. He concluded that, while social media has exacerbated divisiveness, the online platforms give believers a new platform to reflect the inner workings of the heart.
“If hate and fear are already in our hearts, then it will simply pour out online,” he said.
Afamasaga warned attendees that, left unchecked, Christians who are motivated by fear are susceptible to “othering” and demonizing fellow humans.
With the call to dream big, and the opportunity to network and converse with other creative people, a new community of digital disciples emerged.
Some came as beginners to learn, while others, like Maika Peehikuru, with a background in information technology, were pleased to get some relevant insights and tips on “putting your church on the map” from digital marketer and workshop presenter Laura Hutchinson.
“Burn the Haystack” podcasters Jesse Herford and Joshua Stothers brought their unique contribution to the conference as hosts. Stothers also presented a moving story during a worship segment. Chaplain Keira Bullock and musician Jay Okesene led out in praise and worship throughout the sessions, ensuring the focus of the event was on more than just technology.
Both NZPUC president Eddie Tupa’i and North New Zealand Conference lead pastor Ben Timothy attended and said they were pleased to see such a strong commitment among the attendees to share faith in a digital world.
When Kulakov closed the conference with an invitation to dream big and attend next year’s DDC, there were cheers that the conference was already on the calendar.
“This conference came about because several people contacted our office expressing a need,” Kulakov said. “Adventists in New Zealand were looking for space to explore digital platforms for means of discipleship. And, as such, it was a learning curve for the organizers with such a diverse skillset among the attendees.
“Even before the conference ended, people started to take action,” he added. “Some started new Instagram accounts and YouTube channels to share their faith.”