Indigitous is a network pioneered by Tandem’s global partners to engage Christians around the world in using their digital talents to build God’s kingdom. One of the ways they do this is by running hackathons where people spend an entire weekend creating digital solutions to gospel issues. Tandem has participated in several of these hackathons. At one of these events, one of the projects was a visual storytelling of a Bible story in the Pukapuka language – a minority language in the Cook Islands.
About two-thirds of the way through the weekend no-one had volunteered to start working on this project and I was getting a little worried that, by the end of the hackathon, we wouldn’t have anything to show the project recipient – a missionary and Bible translator to the Pukapuka people. Especially as he had provided us with everything we had asked of him, including an audio file of the Bible story in Pukapuka with translation. So I pulled out my iPad and found an app I had downloaded some time ago but had never used – Sketchbook Motion. I had used the regular Sketchbook app before as it was useful to quickly hand-draw a sketch on a screen. I sat down and started my way through the tutorial and found that the animation effects on Sketchbook Motion were simple to use. Some ideas started to surface about how I could animate the Bible story that had been given to me. At this point I grabbed some paper and started storyboarding the scenes I would need and then started the process of constructing each of the animated scenes in Sketchbook Motion. Sketchbook Motion allowed each of the animations to be exported as a 10 second video and after a few hours I had all of the scenes animated, exported and I was able to stitch everything together in iMovie.
When I looked at the results, a few things were obvious. Firstly, kids could draw better than me and secondly, despite my artistic deficiencies, the animated artwork helped tell the story. People who could not understand the audio (which is everyone who does not speak Pukapuka) were now able to, through the animations.
A few years ago I met Barend, who taught at a Christian school and was very excited about the idea of running a hackathon event there. As we discussed the idea we realized that, to make it work in a school environment, there would be some limitations. It would have to fit into a school day, and would need to be something that school-kids could start working on quickly, without a lot of training. We had tried a few different ideas in the past, but none had gone past the drawing board. As I thought about the animation I had done with Sketchbook Motion, I realized that this app might be the solution we were looking for. We could get students to create animated Bible stories just like I had done – after all, my artwork was nothing special, I had no prior experience of the app, and I was able to complete a story in just a few hours all by myself. So we started to plan atrial run to see how it could work. Barend brought Emily, a teacher from another school, in to help with the planning. We decided to create some videos in Te Reo Māori, our national language, and one that had a few resources for Bible engagement. As we shared the idea, people started to get excited and Laidlaw College enthusiastically offered us their campus as a venue! We were even able to get a bunch of iPads loaned to us for the event. Hannah, an animator and graphic designer, flew up from Wellington to help be a mentor and judge. We also found someone to narrate our Bible story in Māori. Schools started to sign up and send students to join our first Indigitous Ed event.
However, not everything went as smoothly as we had hoped and there were a few hiccups along the way. We had arranged for the loaned iPads to be delivered to the venue the day before the event began, but they never turned up (we still don’t know why). We had to hastily arrange to borrow some iPads from one of the participating schools and use our own iPads as well. In the end we had just enough.
On the day, teachers and students commented on how organized everything was – it certainly didn’t feel that way! The students were arranged in teams of four, mixed between schools and matched so that each team had representatives with digital, artistic, and leadership skills. We started the day with several crash-course workshops in Bible interpretation, storyboarding, and how to use Sketchbook Motion and iMovie. Students then had three and a half hours to do storyboarding, animation, and editing to create a visual Bible story. At the end of the day we watched the animations that each team had created and celebrated their achievements. Hannah, who works professionally in the industry was amazed that they could complete the work so quickly.
Looking back on the day, we could see that as a proof of concept, it worked. There were definitely things we would need to tweak to make things work better in the future. We would have to make sure each team had two iPads instead of one, to allow them to work faster – perhaps also with an Apple Pen – to allow them more finesse in their artwork. We would also need to choose a shorter Bible story – the story we chose seemed short when we picked it but when it was all put together the animation came to be over three minutes in length . With these, and other minor changes, we can see the potential for an event like this to both create Scripture Engagement Media for under-represented languages, and also give young people a vision for how God could use their digital and artistic skills to help spread the gospel message.
In June this year, when I was down in Wellington I caught with Steve, an old school friend. Neither of us were believers when we were at school and we hadn’t seen each other since then, but now I was working in missions for Tandem, and he was the principal of a Christian school in Wellington. I told the story about the Indigitous Ed event in Auckland and he was enthusiastic to try it at his school.
In September we had an opportunity to run Indigitous Ed again, just at the end of Māori Language Week. We picked a shorter Bible story and made sure there were two iPads per team. We had over 30 students, and these students were younger – intermediate-aged. I wasn’t sure how things would go with younger students and a larger group, but it was amazing to see what the students were able to achieve. These young students were able to partner with God in creating media to engage people with Scripture in Te Reo Māori – and to do it all in one school day!
So where to from here? After the first Indigitous Ed event, we identified some key improvements that would make Indigitous Ed a better experience for the students, as well as delivering a better media product. The results of the second Indigitous Ed validated the suggested ideas for improvement. We now know that we can run this one-day event that engages students in using their skills to build God’s kingdom, and creates media content that helps people engage with the Scriptures in Te Reo Māori.
We would like to open up this opportunity to a wider audience.
- Would your school, or your children’s school be interested in participating in an Indigitous Ed event?
- Would you be interested in helping run one of these events? (Mentors for the students during the day help the process run much more smoothly.)
- Could you help provide audio for these Bible stories? (Currently, the most difficult part of the process is getting fluent, confident recordings of these stories in Māori.)
If so, please contact us and we’d love to partner with you to raise the next generation of digital missionaries, and communicate the story of the Bible in a uniquely Kiwi way.