Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

First World Technology in a Third World Country

I’ve always been interested in technology (computers and anything related to it) and use this to the best of my ability, especially when I’m working in my office. As I’m away from my office fairly often, my cell phone has now become a handy device to check my email (and to do Facebook updates!) But as a missionary in rural Swaziland, where most houses do not even have electricity and not a single house has running water, modern technology has little use.
Last week I was visiting a lady in her primitive house together with one of the caregivers of Shiselweni Home-Based Care. She is in constant pain, has swollen legs and sores forming on her skin. The caregiver had enquired before whether the client was HIV+, but she seemed reluctant to speak about this. When I visited her, the client took out her “clinic record” card – a document each patient receives when going to a clinic for the first time on which diagnosis and medication are indicated and handed it to me. It’s not the first time it’s happened. I don’t know why they do it, but it might be because I’m white and that they think I am a medical doctor. I had a look at the card, but the diagnosis gave me no indication of what was wrong with the woman. Neither did I have any idea what the prescribed medicine was for.
And then I thought of a possibility. The Swaziland cell phone service does not allow me to go onto the internet with my cell phone. But then I realized that the area in which this woman’s house is located, is fairly close to the Swaziland / South Africa border. I changed the network on my cell phone and found that I could connect to the South African service provider through which I could go onto the internet. I Googled the name of the medication and immediately found that this was indeed anti-retroviral medication (ARV). It was the weirdest feeling, sitting in this primitive homestead, with someone who has absolutely no idea what a computer is, let alone the internet or Google and finding answers which will enable us to raise the standard of our care for this individual. One thing we will do, is to ensure that she takes her medication regularly as prescribed and also to ensure that she has enough nutritious food to eat.
I couldn’t help wondering where this could lead to in the future. We’ve already had situations where clients had severe wounds. The caregivers could take photos of the wounds with their cell phones and we then showed the photos to a pharmacist who helped us to decide on the best medication and method of helping each client. For people in Western countries, this may sound fairly primitive. In our situation, where doctors are scarce, public transport is expensive and where people are so sick that it is very difficult to transport them, this technology might, in the words of Neil Armstrong, be a small step for man, but a giant leap – if not for mankind – at least for the people in rural Swaziland.

Monday, June 14, 2010 - Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Culture Shock, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Swaziland, Theology


  1. Wow, such an experience you are having and I thnak you for sharing it

    Comment by justdc | Monday, June 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. I have done the same thing! Does this have any bearing on “Affluence: A Western Missionary Problem”?

    Comment by Dan | Monday, June 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. Dan, that’s a very interesting question. I was wondering about the same thing, even as I was busy searching the internet to find an answer to the medication. Within the circumstances I feel comfortable with what I did, but I do feel that there has to be some control even when using this type of technology for the good of others. I wonder how other people would react to this.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, June 14, 2010 | Reply

  4. The Houston Medical Center is made op of different entities. I once read there are over 50,000 working there. The use of iPhones, etc. are prevailing in our health care systems. There is an app that allows you to hold it up to ones heart and it will give a read out. Many doctors use such devices to constantly monitor patients e.g. obstetricians, cardiologists, etc.

    The physician used to see many of their patients in their homes. Today many doctors are technicians. Not too long ago I was trying to find some help for a doctor in Haiti. There was one doctor serving a population of roughly 700,000 in a rural area. I asked a semi retired doctor if he would consider helping out for a short period. He told me that he felt he couldn’t because he would not have access to technology i.e. tests, etc.

    We are fascinated with what technology can do, especially what’s new. Specialist can perform surgeries remotely but a machine can not express love and compassion. We do need tools but your caregivers give the love they so desperately need.

    Ken & Maggie

    Comment by Christ's Company | Monday, June 14, 2010 | Reply

  5. I think it is a Romans 8:28 thing . . . God using all things together for good for those who love and serve Him.

    Comment by Wendi | Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | Reply

  6. I copied the following from a reach company:

    Globalization is the increased interconnectedness of all the people on the face of the earth. It is the opposite to segmentation, a concept used in market research to separate buyers by segments that share similar needs or characteristics. Thanks to the Internet, mankind can now more easily, rapidly, and cheaply move and share cultural values, scientific knowledge, consumer goods, material products and human capital. This ever-increasing ability to communicate and share with one another is globalization, an evolution that brings about the possibilities of enlarging the scope and reach of human work and human solidarity in the world.

    This is speaking from a secular perspective but it certainly give us the capability to connect from a Christian and Spiritual. I communicate with individuals all over the world all day long, often through the night. I’m talking about missionaries, pastors, etc. from all walks and places. Technology has given me the capability to encourage, pray for, and help from my desk at home. I think in many ways it is far more effective sometimes. This morning I emailed a prayer group scattered throughout the world concerning a missionary in Yucatan, Mexico. His mother was seriously ill and he lacked the funds to go back to the US. Not too long afterwards the missionary received a telephone call telling that they wanted to pay for a plane ticket plus any expenses. One of the individuals in our prayer circle is homeless, living on the streets of San Diego. He emailed me and told me he had twenty dollars to his name but wanted to give one dollar to help the missionary get home. Technology is a God send. It allows us to be connected.

    Ken & Maggie

    Comment by Christ's Company | Wednesday, June 16, 2010 | Reply

  7. […] after the victims of HIV & AIDS in a home-based care program. Earlier this week he wrote a story on the use of technology in this extremely poor area of Africa, where even running water and […]

    Pingback by some reflections on ethics, technology, medicine, and a real life story from extreme poor Africa « my contemplations | Friday, June 18, 2010 | Reply

  8. I blogged about something similar a few weeks ago, and you might find it interesting – see Notes from underground: Technology and changing rural lifestyles.

    Comment by Steve | Sunday, June 20, 2010 | Reply

  9. Steve, thanks for the insight into mobile banking. When you step back and use Scripture as a template against the world, you see an entirely different picture. Most of us are amazed and excited about technology. Standing back you can see that Revelations’ prophecies are closer than the world wants to admit. The speed that things are happening is incredible. We can not be slothful in our Christian faith.

    Ken & Maggie

    Comment by Christ's Company | Sunday, June 20, 2010 | Reply

  10. I just wanted to mention one more thing. Many missionaries have found that electronic readers have been extremely helpful. There are a number of devices on the market and some can use different brands of books. Most will store up to 15,000 books. A book can be downloaded in roughly a minute. Missionaries find it difficult to transport or receive books. One missionary told me that she has read all over her books many times. I am thinking about raising some money for such devices to be given out missionaries and those ministering. What do you think?

    Ken & Maggie

    Comment by Christ's Company | Monday, July 5, 2010 | Reply

  11. […] Next, and interesting story about the use of technology in primitive conditions for medical purposes – First World Technology in a Third World Country. […]

    Pingback by Hope in Swaziland — Missionary Blog Watch | Thursday, July 7, 2011 | Reply

  12. Did you see that there is now an Android app that can do the blood test for malaria?
    Another point, your post should have been named Third World Technology in a Third World Country because mobile phones are the first technology to have wider and more varied use in the developing world than the developed. The 24 million Ghanaians own 17 million cell phones. As the median age is around 15, this means that only young children (on average) do not have a mobile phone.

    Comment by Foibled | Thursday, February 16, 2012 | Reply

  13. Because most phones can plan MP3 files, they are becoming a major means of distributing and listening to Scripture recordings. In some countries you can get an audio verse of the day on you phone, in many cases in a variety of languages of the country.

    Comment by Foibled | Thursday, February 16, 2012 | Reply

  14. Appreciating the commitment you put into your
    website and detailed information you present. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t
    the same unwanted rehashed information. Wonderful read!
    I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to
    my Google account.

    Comment by Dirk | Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | Reply

  15. Now that it is 2016 is technology more advanced inSwaziland?

    Comment by Sandra M. Garofalo | Wednesday, November 9, 2016 | Reply

    • Hello! I was curious about your mission Issues, I found an article from 2010 while I was researching for my computer class at Colorado Christian University. I am not sure how to get connected with you. Sincerely, Sandra M. Garofalo

      Comment by Sandy Garofalo | Wednesday, November 9, 2016 | Reply

  16. Too quiet for too long. We need more communication between missiologists. Join the Missiological Discussion Forum now!

    Comment by Steve | Saturday, August 5, 2017 | Reply

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