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A Passionate Plea For Smart Phone Limits

Brian Cooke was working in a hostel in Malawi when he encountered a group of racers. Their love changed his life and caused him to follow Jesus. Now he sees many racers more interested in connecting with their smart phones than with the people they have come to serve. In this short video he tell…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Brian Cooke was working in a hostel in Malawi when he encountered a group of racers. Their love changed his life and caused him to follow Jesus.

Now he sees many racers more interested in connecting with their smart phones than with the people they have come to serve. In this short video he tells his story and makes a plea that we not miss out on God’s best because of our phone addiction.

I raised the issue here and here and more than 200 people have weighed in arguing the pros and cons. Brian sees it as a big problem. Do you agree?

Comments (12)

  • Thank you Brian! As a coach for O Squad 2014, I appreciate your concern and applaud your effort to keep our focus on why we do what we do through The World Race. This isn’t about being legalistic or controlling the freedom of others: it’s all about releasing your generation to have the impact it can have when we stay present where God plants us so more “Brians” can be brought into the Kingdom!

  • Sorry this is such offensive incorrectness for this generation, but why is there still tiptoeing around the obvious. Heck. Ban the smart phones. Other things, like dating, are banned. ABANDON the phones!

  • I think this testimony speaks truth that some will not want to hear because they are addicted and don’t even know it. They will defend its use because “Hey, it is a camera too, and let’s me tell my stories quickly to stay connected to those back home, and …” but when has the the ethos of the World Race ever been about convenience and comfort?

    I read someone’s previous comment on an earlier post about how it helped them exchange phone number and Facebook contacts with the nationals immediately, but I have to wonder if efficiency has so dulled creativity that one can’t even imagine another workable way to exchange such information, sans the smartphone.

    Seriously, I see teams come here to Mozambique and they have no idea how many opportunities they are missing to change someone’s eternal destiny, just because they can’t truly invest in this relationship-based culture because they are investing in technological connection with others who are thousands and thousands of miles away. Even when they put their smart phones down, they are ‘hungover’ and not all there because they have been drawn back into the dramas of family and friends across oceans… so they remain emotionally absent or deficient, and give the real life people in their presence the leftovers. (Note: I am not advocating no contact with friends or family back home…but just reporting that the most effective teams I have seen here are those who seriously limit that umbilical cord connection to home.)

    • The poor missiological perspective you describe is such a blind spot. Americans go in order to serve and to love, but fail to understand the impediments to doing so. It’s interesting how we can be so PC in other arenas, but not see how offensive we are in this one.

  • This is a complicated issue, with no clear answer. What I’m about to write comes from the perspective of a former racer, an alumni squad leader, and now a third party observer of the Race via social media/blogs. I think the issue is complicated for 2 major reasons….

    One: Unfortunately AIM / WR sends a mixed message to potential and current racers. They talk about abandonment. They talk about leaving everything comfortable, clearing the slate so to speak, to allow God to move and speak in ways we maybe haven’t let Him. (Which is awesome, by the way.) Yet, they also talk a lot about sharing your experience with others. They talk about the importance of telling your story. In doing so, they encourage people to take photos and videos, to post them online for all to see. They encourage people to write blogs, to let the world know what they’re experiencing. (And the way this is done is via smartphones and laptops). This to me, provides a situation in which racers are told, “let go, but stay connected.” I think that message is unintentional, but it’s the message I see being delivered. How can you abandon life if you’re also expected to stay in touch with the outside world? How can you let the story fully unfold if you’re trying to tell it as it is happening? I don’t think you can. I think trying to tell the story as it happens cheapen the experience, and so much goes unseen/unexperienced AS you’re communicating something you did experience.

    Two: From my point of view, The World is primarily promoted as an adventure, and as a very exciting year. I know this is a great way to draw people in, but I think it is misleading and leads to a very confusing experience for racers. I know of racers who barely knew Jesus going on the race, and wanted an awesome year abroad. I know of other racers who were on a spiritual journey of abandonment and selflessness, hoping to serve those in need. Because of this the Race is messy. Which is cool because the church is messy, and life is messy. But I think that’s why issues such as should we have phones come up. You’re trying to come to a single answer for a very, very dynamic group.

    So, with these two factors at play (a mixed message of “leave/stay connected”, and “adventure vs. selflessness”) I think the bigger question is to focus in on the what the Race is, focus in on what the Race does well. In my opinion, the heart, the absolute heart of the World Race is discovering the Father’s joy, provision, and power through self abandonment. Yes, it helps some racers discover their calling. Yes it helps bring some adventurers to Jesus. Yes it allows us to try mission work. Yes it allows us to see cultures unlike our own. But the heart, the heart is discovering what The Father has on tap when we let go of control. When we do work we wouldn’t normally choose. When eat whatever we’re given. When “comfort” is mostly stripped away. It was in those things I saw the Trinity in new ways. It was in those things I discovered my link to the rest of humanity. It was in those things God showed me how much He could empower me to do more with less. It was in those things I found adventure.

    It was in the moments I shared a smile with someone who spoke a different language I discovered love in a new way. It was in the moment I was literally digging rocks out of the ground by hand to help collect rubble to build a seawall that I discovered true joy through service. It was in the moments where we didn’t have much to eat that I discovered my need for The Spirit over food. This, this was the heart of my race as I look back. This is what grew me and led me onto new paths. This is what challenged me and stripped away more of the junk in my life. This is what impacted me.

    I think the bigger issue is clearly stating the Race is about letting go, about truly letting go. I think when 20-somethings truly discover the heart of our Father amidst real abandonment, their lives will be radically impacted. I think that is what The Race does best. Introducing life to the full in Christ via abandonment. I think that idea should be a priority, with decisions based around how well whatever issue does or doesn’t support that priority.

    I don’t think the goal of the Race is to learn self-governance. I think that comes later. I don’t think the goal of the Race is to share your story. I think that comes later. I don’t think the goal of the Race is to have an adventure, but rather discover THE adventure through Christ. The Race can’t be a “catch-all”. It becomes to broad to be of any value.

    I think God knows what He wants to work on in the hearts of Racers. I think He will lead them into those things. I don’t think the Race needs to outline all of those potential things. I think, rather, it’s the Race’s job to position people well to hear what God is speaking to them. And I think the Race does that incredibly well through introducing racers into a lifestyle of abandonment.

    And before I get off my pedestal, I’d like to finish with two simple things. Most of all of this I’ve learned through looking back, and through regret at how I lived on my own Race. I’m not writing as someone who did this well, but as someone who did it dismally and wished I could do it again, differently.

    Secondly….how hard is it to live without a phone for a year? Especially when you’re in the middle of discovering the greatest adventure that any human could possibly hope to experience? In which case, why would you even want a phone?

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Mac. So glad you caught the centrality of abandon to the process. When stewarded well, it is possible to truly leave what has defined you behind while still telling your story through a regular blog that is written as a kind of on-line journal. The experience of thousands of racers has born this out. You actually did a great job of this yourself.

      There is a big difference between this and the kind of hyper-connectivity that can undermine the race experience.

  • “I think, rather, it’s the Race’s job to position people well to hear what God is speaking to them.”

    Super sleuthing!

  • I am constantly amazed at how much effort you put in to reading and responding to comments.

    You wrote, “There is a big difference between this and the kind of hyper-connectivity that can undermine the race experience.” I fully agree! In my own life, I’ve discovered the best way for me to learn self control is to strip something out fully, and slowly, very slowly re-introduce it into my life after a period of time. So I tend to jump on that train as the solution to most situations.

    And I only chime in because I love The World Race. It truly is something very special and I want it to continue to be incredible. Again, I don’t think phones are the issue. If you remove them, people still have Skype and laptops, and our own human nature to get in the way and keep us distracted. I don’t think the Race is about hard and fast rules, and I think AIM does a great job at respecting the racers by offering them freedom, and trusting their maturity from the get go.

    I think the issue is focusing on abandonment as a path to walking with Jesus in a new way, ushering in a new sense of freedom from the world. That abandonment to self and to comfort draw us deeper into dependence on Our Father. I think that’s the core value of what the Race offers. So rather than limiting phones, or monitoring computer time, or whatever the current issue happens to be, my hope is to see AIM truly have a focus on inviting racers into abandonment. Encouraging them to really risk big with letting go of comfort. Encouraging them to choose for themselves to let go of comforts for just the season of the Race, and to show them what’s on offer when we press into the Spirit (even if it’s simply out of boredom.)

    Regardless…my favorite part is that I know AIM leadership listens to The Holy Spirit. I know your hearts are guided by Jesus, and are eager to bring His kingdom. I know that you’re okay with life (especially life on the Race) being messy and allowing us to discover ourselves and our Creator as we work through it all. You guys are doing an awesome, awesome job.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mac. You have captured the essence of the spiritual formation process as well as any racer I’ve ever heard.

      If you ever want to pursue a call to this kind of ministry, come talk to me about your options!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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