This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Evangel Magazine.
She knows the government of her country is monitoring her Internet activity. It is illegal to spread the Gospel there. She knows this, too. Yet she boldly shares the message of Jesus on her blog, realizing fully that spies see every word she writes. Maybe in their surveillance, they will come to know Him. That’s her hope.
All over the world, people are using media to connect in ways that were unimaginable two decades ago. Medialight founders Chuck and Sherry Quinley have realized this and tapped in to it for a powerful ministry that is reaching those who would otherwise remain unreached.
The couple served as church planters and seminary workers for twenty years. As the Internet and different devices started to develop, they noticed how huge all of it would become. They observed the way technology was impacting their own children and realized that this was a new language that was emerging — the language of media. They knew that everyone across the planet would soon know how to speak it. The two also knew that they were not equipped.
It wasn’t something that could be done halfway, and the Quinleys knew this. Chuck had a distinct pull towards what was developing and told Sherry that they had to go all in. This hurt them in a way, because they loved the work they were doing. However, with this pull, they handed over the church planting ministry and Chuck enrolled in film school. He was the oldest in his class and he was there with two missions: to learn everything he could and to observe how the teachers taught the material. His time spent in classrooms and all of his production experiences turned into the beginnings of Medialight ten years ago.
Medialight is a program for college-aged students who want to use media to spread the Gospel. It consists of a training that takes place over ten weeks. Days are long. Students work 12 hours a day, six days a week. The training is intimate and hands-on. The school sits on a five-acre campus in Northern Thailand.
“Our target group that we focus on training is young emerging leaders of the unreached nations for the unreached nations,” Sherry said. “We’re right in the 10/40 window.”
Thailand is a country of over 70 million people, yet less than half of one percent are Christians. The nation is predominately Buddhist. The Quinleys saw it as the perfect location because they want to target the young emerging leaders of unreached nations.
“It’s exciting because we can go into nations that have previously been very closed with the airwaves,” Sherry said.
The school is seeing firsthand how media gives a microphone to leaders who are in minority groups. There is a large market for consumers of media who are from a minority people group or language, because content created specifically for them, especially Christian content, is scarce. A student in Vietnam recently got half a million views on her very first video.
“The impact that they are making in a non-English speaking world is the most exciting part for me about this training program,” Chuck said. “They end up with the opportunity to be a voice to a nation — they can be the one that’s making contact.”
Medialight has a staff of eight. All are graduates of the program. Other instructors and working media professionals come throughout the course to teach as well. The students travel from all over the world; 40 nationalities are currently represented.
As the communication industry has advanced, the program is currently focusing on taking cell phone production to the next level. Students who have never touched a camera or have no experience in editing are able to film a credible documentary in ten weeks. They are taught how to edit it and work in teams with professional equipment, but with the recent advances in mobile devices, a credible documentary can be made on a mobile phone.
Screen time is growing around the world. American adults now average 11 hours a day between work and home.
“Most people spend hours a day engaging in media. It’s like an IV hookup. We’re being fed,” Chuck said. “We could turn it off, but we won’t. The whole planet is now walking around staring at their cell phone. The real question is whether Christians are going to get their message inside that phone or not.”
The Quinleys have experienced incredible success stories. Some graduates have started their own schools and some are ministering today in closed countries. One student that comes to Chuck’s mind has created a website for her writing. She is in a closed country and knows the government is watching, yet she looks at it as an opportunity to re-educate her government on Christian principles. She said, “I want them to know that they don’t need to persecute us. We are their partners in nation building. We love our land and our book tells us to cooperate with them as our government.”
When Christians visit her website, they know that they government will track the IP address. They’re willing to be observed, though, because they want to speak up.
“They would love to get to talk to the government, but they can’t,” Chuck said. They can’t go knock on the door to talk with them. But they know that the government is coming to them because of what they’re writing.”
The average Thai person spends around three hours every day on social media alone. Medialight trains local church members to produce cell phone media and encourages them to take one of those hours posting something intentionally created for positive impact. Rather than blindly absorbing as consumers, they are encouraged to make an impact.
“If we’re citizens of the Internet, we should be trying to make it a more Garden of Eden kind of place,” Chuck said.
Chuck says that the most obvious way to use media is as a carrier to fire a message toward someone you’d like to influence, but media can also be used to create live situations where Christians can become connected with those who would never darken a church. As an example, the ministry is also taking their media creations to local universities in Thailand for exhibits. Each exhibit has a certain theme; a recent one was called “We Wear the Mask.” Medialight students create artistic photographs that are designed to stir emotions and thoughts in the viewer. One-minute videos are also made with testimonies that the attendees can watch through private headphones afterwards.
The results have been astonishing. In a “face culture,” where it is considered taboo to discuss personal things with strangers, the ministry has been having deep conversations with young people. Medialight staff are invited into this conversation through the art and videos that have impacted the students and opened the door. A campus ministry does follow-ups with each one after the exhibits are over.
Medialight training is expanding into other nations. When not in Thailand, the Quinleys travel to help pastors and churches improve their media skills. Sherry says that the church is at the point now where they are starting to catch up and recognize that media is a language the church has to learn.
“Statistics say that 59 percent of American young people raised in church will walk away from it by their 29th birthday. It’s a staggering statistic,” Sherry said. “Hopefully, the church is recognizing this and realizing that we need to do something. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that is happening.”
As the ministry continues to reach unreached people groups, the Quinleys encourage believers from all backgrounds to utilize this powerful platform that is at most people’s fingertips throughout the day.
“If the world is observing what we Christians post on social media, would they conclude that our faith is something beneficial to the country? Are we edifying people? Are we trying to encourage?” Chuck said. “Our world is full of tension. We could be doing a lot individually.”