Posted by: calloftheandes | August 27, 2013

In Virtual Realm, Trio Strives to Share Relevant, Moral Message

Video tease: Wielding a broom, Larry Castro goes wild dancing the Harlem Shake; Matt Parker remains unruffled by the ruckus.

Where in the world do some 665 million people check in every day to play games, share photos and chat about the news?

A trick question to be sure. But the answer is Facebook (FB). From countries around the world, people launch an Internet browser. Then they open their social media accounts like FB, where others have already posted comments, or maybe links to content they wish to share.

Social networks are a new marketplace of ideas, and many believe that people of faith should be involved there. A new website, Control Z, exhorts online viewers and listeners to consider a life-changing event, an encounter with Jesus.

Control Z, under the auspices of HCJB Global Voice, conveys a message that poor choices, while not undone, can be forgiven. A person’s life can be redirected, just as errors in writing can be changed with a favorite computer keyboard shortcut, Control Z.

As one of three producers for ControlZ.fm, Matt Parker excitedly talks about “likes” showing up on the site, indicating its spreading popularity. A “thumbs up” symbol is the commonest way of showing one’s approval.

Video tease: What does Bryan Rubio have to say about ground beef? Watch this short video (if you speak and understand Spanish) and find out. The story begins at 1 minute five seconds.

One of his associates in this online venue reaching out to Spanish-speaking youth is HCJB Global colleague Larry Castro. He appears with Parker in a short Control Z version of an Internet rage, the “Harlem shake.”Another co-worker is Bryan Rubio, who graduated from the mission’s Christian Center of Communications. His father hosts a program that airs on Radio Station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador.

“We all work together on the news site—writing stories, videos and coming up with ideas that we hope would generate discussion,” said Castro, originally from the Houston area. Parker grew up as a missionary kid in Brazil.

Their collective experience in South America serves to help them create and find content for today’s young people, but they face a steep learning curve. They want to invite young people to meet the Savior without coming across as preachy, or for that matter, religious. Declined interest in the institutional church characterizes the post-modernist era, a time when belief systems reject concepts of absolute truth.

Even prior to the advent of FB, the authors of a book, Virtual Christianity, offered the idea of community ties without institutional links. The matter of reaching youth with the gospel is under constant study.

Some Control Z content is zany and maybe even its popularity unexplainable. As with similar phenomena of the digital age, Castro finds that photos of kittens and dogs are a big hit. Meanwhile, the trio has also tackled thorny issues such as bulimia and homosexuality, pointing visitors to sound answers but with sensitivity to the opinions of others.controlZ2PNG

“We are creating content that is relevant to teenagers with solid moral biblical values,” said Parker.

Acknowledging a need for continuous creativity, he deemed as effective their efforts to reach out to those just entering or just leaving their teen years, or as it is known, an age 13 to 20 demographic. Not only are people clicking “like,” he said, but many also leave comments (a few posts got 120 comments in July).

Doug Weber collates Internet statistics for Control Z and the mission’s many endeavors into the virtual realm. He perceives a good correlation between the youth venue’s “likes” and what he considers a more significant Internet metric, People Talking About This. With online campaigns and contests, a website can boost the “likes,” which may not have an enduring quality. Weber said that People Talking About This better reveals how much interaction is taking place with the fans. (Fans are those visitors who have clicked “like.”)

While burgeoning numbers do not say it all, Weber has recorded since the January launch of the youth-oriented site its fan base growing from 68 in January to the July figure of 28,460. With the People Talking About This metric, Control Z zoomed from 1,482 people in June to 5,052 in July.

Increasingly, the team uses communications messaging called memes, according to Parker. The memes serve as very brief units that carry cultural ideas, symbols or practices in the forms of text or speech, gestures or perhaps rituals.

Even as young people flee the organized church, they retain Internet use. In Ecuador in fact, worldwide web use is rising as more and more get connected.

“In the past few months we have been trying to reach our target audience with content that is thought provoking and entertaining,” Parker said. “As we began to navigate and interact with our audience we realized that how vital it was to connect the website to with our Facebook page.” With more than 1 billion account holders, FB is the world’s biggest online social network.

Historically, HCJB Global has ministered through healthcare, media and education. Regional offices have operated in different countries, but more recently the mission’s leadership established a “virtual region” so as to present the gospel in that realm.

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