The Word, the Web, and the Youth

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I served as the National President of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines between June 2006 to May 2008. It was a great experience and helped me develop into the person and leader I am today. 

On November 19-20, 2007, I presented a paper entitled The Word, the Web, and the Youth as part of the Philippine Bible Forum organized by the Philippine Bible Society. Back then, Internet technologies such as blogs and social media started to takeoff. I explored the ministry implications of these technologies with young people. 

This paper represents some of earlier writings and it is one of my earliest efforts to understand the issues, trends, and challenges that young people are facing. In the process, I also wanted to help our church address these issues.

Reading it now, ten years later, some of it has become obsolete. That’s how quickly the Internet and the Web is evolving. But there are still some insights worth going back to. 

This paper was published on the compendium of papers presented during the Bible Forum.

Abstract

The Bible is the timeless word of God (Isaiah 40:8, NIV). Through the Bible we gain wisdom, guidance for our everyday lives and solace in times of trouble and grief. More importantly, it helps us to know God more deeply. This paper seeks to describe the characteristics of modern young people and their culture. The internet, Friendster, blogs, online communities, video games and other online platforms affect the social skills, the learning processes and the spirituality of young people. Undoubtedly, the Bible is still relevant in the lives of young people. But do they perceive it that way? This paper will present a cursory glance on the issues being faced by young people and the relevance of the Bible to these issues.

A set of strategies will then be proposed in order to make the Bible more relevant to young people. Three main principles will be used in proposing this set of strategies. First, creative, “out of the box” methods should be used in presenting the stories and message of the Bible. Interactivity is the language of this generation so qany effort to reach young people should have this element. Finally, practical and contextual issues will serve as gateways in teaching “deeper” spiritual truth to young people.

Lastly, this paper will call for the establishment of a think tank body or a network that can help recognize the trends in youth culture and how churches and ministries can present the Christian message more effectively. The Philippine Bible Society, together with other youth and campus ministries can assist in setting up this body.

Introduction

The Bible is the timeless word of God (Isaiah 40:8, NIV). Through the Bible we gain wisdom, guidance for our everyday lives and solace in times of trouble. More importantly, it helps us to know God more deeply and learn how to apply our faith in different situations in our personal and social lives.

Against this backdrop of the timelessness of the Bible, this paper seeks to look into the culture of Filipino youth particularly in the way that they regard the Bible. It also seeks to present the current situation of young people with emphasis on their habits, usage, and attitudes towards the Internet and other new media. Out of the juxtaposition of these two things, a set of strategies will be formulated in making the Bible more relevant to 21st century Filipino youth—these strategies will integrate different media for maximum impact.

This paper holds that the Bible is the word of God and that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV). The Bible contains concepts, principles, and practices, which if followed, will benefit not only Christians, but anyone who applies them. On the other hand, the internet, Friendster, blogs, online communities, video games and other online platforms affect the social skills, the learning processes and the spirituality of young people.

Undoubtedly, the Bible is still relevant in the lives of young people. But do they perceive it that way? How can we promote greater relevance of the Bible in their lives?This paper is divided into three major parts. It discusses the situation of young people in the Philippine society and looks at the relevance of the Bible in regards to these issues. Although there are several media that the youth are exposed to, it discusses in particular the trends in youth culture relating to the use of the Internet and other media connected with it.

This paper will conclude with a framework for promoting appreciation and relevance of the Bible given the trends in youth culture.Three main principles will be used in proposing this set of strategies. First, creative, “out of the box” methods should be used in presenting the stories and message of the Bible. In addition, interactivity is the language of this generation so any effort to reach young people should have this element. Finally, practical and contextual issues will serve as gateways in teaching “deeper” spiritual truth to young people.This paper also calls for the establishment of a think tank or research body or a network that can help recognize the trends in youth culture and how churches and ministries can present the Christian message more effectively.

The Philippine Bible Society can assist in setting up of this body with the help of various youth and campus ministries in the country. A blueprint for this think tank body is outline in this paper.

The Present Situation of Filipino Youth

To analyze the importance of the Bible in the lives of the Filipino youth, it would be necessary to look at the situation of young people in the Philippine society. The issues the youth are facing may be complex and multifaceted, yet the Bible holds important principles and concepts that can help them deal with these issues and prepare them for responsible adulthood and in following the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Philippine Commission on Population (2003) released a study documenting the current situation of young people in the Philippines. Individuals who are between 15 and 25 years old are considered as youth by the PCP report. For this paper, such a classification will be followed. In the 2000 Philippine census, there are 15.1 million youth out of 76.5 million Filipinos. This represents 20% of the total population. After 33 years, this number is expected to double.Thirty-three percent (33%) of young people are poor.

Most of the youth belonging to poor families are found in the CARAGA, Western Mindanao, Eastern Visayas and Bicol regions. (National Statistics Office, 2002). Of the total population of Filipino youth, 42% of them attend school. In the Metro Manila Area, 29 percent are idle or in youthful parlance, they are tambay. Three out of ten Filipino youth are already employed. By 1994, around 88% of youth possess functional literacy, especially in writing, reading and numerical skills. Women tend to have a higher level of educational attainment; probably because more young men tend to work to help augment their family income.

By 2002, Filipino youth made up 33% of the total labor force of the country. On the other hand, 1.48 million, almost 50% of the 3.13 million unemployed Filipinos, are young people. Furthermore, unemployment among young people is on the rise in the past 5-6 years, especially in urban areas. The number of youth going overseas to look for work has also increased, making up 12% of the total population of overseas Filipino workers (Philippine Commission on Population, 2003).

Given these demographics, there are different issues being faced by Filipino youth. Foremost among these are issues of poverty, education, reproductive health, premarital sex, unwanted pregnancy, moral disintegration, how they form and develop identity in a society affected by globalization and the ensuing erosion of traditional authorities such as the family and the church.Filipino youth would do well to learn biblical principles that can help them deal with these issues. However, if it is any indication, the seats in the church during Sunday School are getting sparser and sparser. The only time that young people become involved in Bible Study is when they attend a church service or a camp. This is true in the denominational affiliation of this author. Usually, only those who are committed Christian youth leaders diligently study the Bible. “Ordinary” young people usually consider the Bible as boring and irrelevant to their lives. Adolescence and youth are stages in the lives of young people in which they question the faith handed on to them (PCOP, 2003).

The Bible and its message will therefore aid them in their search for the truth. But then again, because of many distractions and diversion of attention available nowadays, they do not search the Scriptures. Churches and Christian groups therefore need creative strategies in promoting Bible-reading among young people, even among the young people who are active church goers.

Francis (2000) conducted a study among British young people and found out that two-thirds of them do not read the Bible and only 5% read the Bible at least once a week. The study found out that Bible reading is affected by the sex, age, social class, denomination and frequency of church attendance of young people. Although this study was conducted in England, this reality can also be observed in the Philippines because our society is influenced greatly by Western culture. This author, however, encountered a dearth of materials dealing with the Bible reading habits of Filipino young people. In this regard, more research is needed.

Media, the Internet and the Filipino Youth

In the midst of these issues, young people tend to rely more and more on their peers and on the media in determining what is right and wrong. The McCann-Erickson Study (cited in Philippine Commission on Population, 2003) confirmed that media is indeed becoming the guide of young people in determining what is right and what is wrong. The priorities and the things considered by youth as important are heavily influenced by media. This is supported by the findings of the Young Adults Fertility and Sexuality Survey III (Ogena and Berja, 2003).

Different forms of media are highly accessible to Filipino youth. TV viewing is very high among young people—they can spend up to 14 hours daily in watching TV shows. The Internet is being used more in urban areas and by students. Unfortunately, only about 6% of young people are using the Internet and most of them are found in the urban areas. This creates a kind of technological divide among the youth. In 2002, only about one in every five youth used Internet for various reasons. In the Metro Manila area, 15% of youth use the Internet. Notably, around 55% of young people have been exposed to pornographic materials through the media they have been exposed to (Ogena and Berja, 2003).

From a general discussion of the situation of Filipino youth, we now move into the Internet and the characteristics of young people that can be gleaned from their usage of the Internet. According to Toral (2007) of digitalfilipino.com, there are three main reasons why young Filipinos (25 years old and below) are using the Internet: research, social networking and gaming.

Research is still the number one reason for surfing the Web. This is followed closely by social networking and gaming. Although a number of the respondents already have computers and internet access at home, 57% of them still prefer to go to Internet cafes. On the average, a Filipino youth spends P350 per month for Internet access. Seventy-five (75) percent of the respondents of the study are online gamers. Depending on the extent of their addiction to online gaming, they may spend anywhere between 2 to 12 hours a day in an internet café just playing video games. But the average number of hours spent is 12 hours per week (Toral, 2007).

Popular Websites among Filipino Youth

Among the respondents in Toral’s study, Friendster is considered s the most popular. Friendster is one of the most effective social networking sites. Young people can easily meet online friends, share photos, music, and they can even publish their thoughts though the Friendster blog. Friendster integrates email, photos, and even chat. Even the youngest among young people are using friendster as a social networking site.

Yahoo messenger follows Friendster in terms of popularity. We still have teenagers spending hours on the landline phone, but chatting via Yahoo Messenger is now more popular. YahooMail is on the third spot in the honor roll of most popular websites, followed by Google, which is a very useful research website. Also worth mentioning are YouTube, a video-streaming website; Wikipedia, an online editable encyclopedia, and MSN messenger, which is another chat provider.

Characteristics of Filipino Youth in Relation to their Internet Use

In looking at these popular websites, it can be gleaned that Filipino youth nowadays are looking for interactivity—they want to participate in the creation of their virtual world. Apparently, they do not want blind acceptance of what is offered to them, they want to have a choice on what messages, tools, and items they will include in their online identities. This is especially true in the case of Friendster. In the case of online chat, the youth can explore different areas of their personality. In fact, they can even mask their true personalities and take on different identities online. Chat protocols may even be ways in which young people can explore their sexuality. They may even engage in cybersex in these chat protocols. This is especially true among homosexual young people (Lanuza, 2000).

There is an adverse effect generated by the mass media, however. Too often, young people want quick fixes and hurried solutions to the problems life poses to them. Hence, they would not want to spend a great deal of time and effort in coming up with excellent solutions. They might simply go for the easy way in achieving their goals (Sebald, 1994).

Furthermore, because of the overpowering bulk of information they have to absorb, they tend to exhibit the symptoms of the “hurried child syndrome” (Elkind, 1986) and fail to enjoy their childhood as they should.

Filipino young people are highly visual. In this regard, the popularity of Youtube testifies to the effectiveness of videos for the Filipino youth. Through blogs, they can express their thoughts and their ideas about what is going on in their lives and in their society. They can also read their friends’ blogs and get updated about what is happening in the lives of their peers. In their blogs, they can also post their favorite videos, songs, pictures and other items of interest to them.

In reaching out to this segment of the population, therefore, a mindset that takes into account the things they enjoy and what medium is effective for them would be necessary. Toral advices entrepreneurs and businesses to: “integrate the youth’s favorite Internet features into their business.” Churches and Christian groups would also do well in heeding her advice. After all, we are in the business of propagating the gospel and advancing God’s kingdom in our country. This involves uploading videos that present biblical themes and stories and integrating chat support. Interactivity is the name of the game and those who are promoting the message of the Bible should use this important feature.

Young people will also listen to other young people as the popularity of social networking sites would attest to. Hence, testimonials and online social networking should occur between youth who are oriented with the Bible and those that are not. This way, young people themselves would engage in healthy dialogues regarding the message of the Bible. They would be influencing their peers in their own age groups in reading the Bible and exploring the messages that it presents.

Towards a Framework of Promoting the Bible

Mass media, including the internet, has been the major force in modernizing the culture of the Filipino youth. It is responsible in shaping their consumption patterns, sense of fashion, recreation and leisure, political awareness and involvement, delinquency, and even their attitudes toward religion. The leisure time of young people are usually used in enjoying shows and products churned out by mass media (Lanuza, 2003).

Good thing, however, the youth are now becoming more sensitive to the signs and the messages that are being presented to them (Lanuza, 2003). Hence, they can avoid becoming helpless victims of the messages presented by mass media.

It can no longer be denied that mass media is acting as a kind of surrogate parent for young people whose parents are either working abroad or are always busy with different kinds of work. In the process, mass media is creating a system that undermines the traditional sources of authority for young people such as the school, the family, and religious institutions (Sebald, 1994). Youth culture and practices therefore become highly influenced by this mass media.

All the more do we need to hurry and enter the realm of mass media, particularly the Internet for the attention of these young people. These efforts should be done sincerely and without pretense. Otherwise, young people would detect that and will reject our efforts flatly.

The message of the Bible should be presented in the language of the youth. This means that Churches, Christian groups and even the Philippine Bible Society should enhance the interactivity of the strategies that are being used. In practical terms, this means that websites, blog, videos, and audio featuring biblical themes and stories should be set up. Such media should be written in a youth-sensitive manner—neither preachy nor didactic. They should also be interactive and provides opportunity for young people to engage in the dialogue, too. Training young people, themselves to do this, would be a great strategy since they would best know how to relate with their own generation.

Instead of simply lifting biblical passages and giving them to young people, practical and contextual issues will serve as entry points in teaching spiritual truths to young people. Issues and biblical passages that deal with premarital sex, studying and going through college, as well as family matters, presented in a gripping fashion could do wonders in promoting the message of the Bible to young people. In this regard, creative storytelling should be practiced by those who preach and by those who will write these presentations.

Marketing and advertising principles and practices could also be used for this purpose. Hence, teasers and posters containing messages related to the Bible can also be designed and posted everywhere, even in Internet Cafes, to make the youth interested in the Bible and what it has to say. A software of the Bible could also be made available for integration with social networking sites, blogs, and other tools in the Internet. Text messaging may also be integrated into this so that young people may pass on text messages containing quotes and relevant verses in the Bible.

The Philippine Bible Society, or other concerned group, may also establish an Annual Biblical Relevance Awards, similar to the Catholic Mass Media Awards, that recognizes the efforts of individuals and organizations in the promotion of the Bible in the Internet and in the mass media, and in encouraging both the youth and adults to read and apply the Bible in their lives.

We should remember, however, that the Internet is but one of the avenues in promoting the relevance of the Bible. There are many others. Furthermore, promoting the Bible, and consequently, the gospel message in the Internet should also fall into a broader framework of youth ministry. Messages in the Internet about the Bible and the faith, no matter how powerful they may be can only do so much. It should be kept in mind that relationships and sincere communication with young people are still the best tools in encouraging them to research the Bible and apply its principles in their lives.

A Center for Youth Culture Studies?

Youth culture is very dynamic. We often hear of the terms Baby Boomers, Generation X, and other labels being used among the youth. Such labels work two ways. They both describe and prescribe the kinds of behavior that the youth have. Corporations are always monitoring trends in youth culture so that they can use these in developing new products or modifying existing ones. These trends will also help them how to market their products and effectively advertise them to young people.

In this regard, the Philippine Bible Society and other Christian groups should establish a think tank body or agency that focuses in monitoring and even conducting research studies on youth culture. The message of the Bible remains the same yet the manner of presenting it might have to be modified.

According to Lanuza (2003), there are three reasons why we should engage in youth studies. The first reason relates to the social and political implications of youth studies. Youth are the future leaders of the country. Hence, the issues affecting them should be identified so that important insights could be gained as to the beliefs, values, and behaviors that these young people will have by the time that they take the reins of power from their elders. Through youth studies, the country can also invest in the development of the young people so that in the future, they will be able to contribute well to national development.

Youth studies also help in dispelling myths and misconceptions regarding young people. It helps establish empirical and verifiable statistics and data, which can help churches and the society at large in regards to the behaviors and values of the Filipino youth of today. With such knowledge, the elders will not be able to simply say that the youth are doing nothing to help their society.

The second reason for conducting youth studies is to help young people deal with the crises and difficulties that they face. Young people are generally idealistic, they are raw, untested, but very willing to experiment and do what their elders would not. Hence, by analyzing their situations and the way they respond to these issues, the church can provide assistance to them. Such assistance, however, is not the kind that shoves beliefs and ideas down the throats of young people. Rather, it is always done in conjunction with the youth’s own dynamics and creativity in addressing their issues.

Lastly, the impact of the Information Age on young people needs to be looked at. There are already a number of institutions that conduct research on trends related to and affecting young people such as the National Child and Youth Research Center, the UST Social Research Center, Asian Social Institute, and the Catholic Bishops Conference among others. According to Lanuza (2003), there are no major studies yet addressing the relation of mass media studies and youth culture studies.

The think tank body being proposed in this paper may not necessarily engage in completing original research on youth culture, at least not during its infancy. Rather, it may simply collect existing literature and trends of youth culture. Research articles completed by the above-mentioned institutions may be collected and cross-checked. If there are seminaries and universities conducting research on youth culture, then such studies may also be collected and shared among the groups and institutions connected to the network. Or perhaps, such studies may be published in a scholarly journal or presented in forums such as the Bible Forum on a regular basis.

Conclusion

The Filipino youth of today are living under the huge shadow cast by the mass media. Whether we like it or not, mass media has already taken the job of educating the youth about what is right and what is wrong. Radio, TV, and more recently the Internet has had a great impact on the sensibilities of the Filipino youth.

This paper has explored the habits and usage of Filipino youth of the Internet and all that it has to offer. Although there is more to mass media than just the Internet, this paper has not covered the popularity of text messaging or of radio stations and TV shows in promoting the message of the Bible. The Internet tends to be used more in urban settings, yet, slowly, it is also creeping to the countryside and even among the youth who belong to the lower strata of the Filipino society.

Based on the usage of young Filipinos of the Internet, several strategies have been suggested in promoting the Bible among the Filipino youth. These strategies should be used in conjunction with the broader framework of reaching out to the youth. This paper has also called for the creation of a center for youth culture studies to help monitor trends in the society that affect youth culture.

Further research should be conducted to assess the Bible reading habits of Filipino youth and the factors that affect this habit. In addition to that, the impact of other media such as text messaging should also be analyzed so that these media can also be used effectively in propagating the message of the Bible.

Reference

Elkind, D. (1969). The Hurried Child. California: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Francis, L. J. (2000). Who Reads the Bible? A Study among 13-15 Year Olds. British Journal of Religious Education, 22 (3), 165-172.

Lanuza, G. M. (2003). The Mediatization of Filipino Youth Culture: A Review of Literature. Global Media Journal, 2 (3), Article 10.

Lanuza, G. M. 2000. A Derived Model of Structuration of Youth Culture. Quezon City: College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, Office of Publications, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

National Statistics Office (NSO), (2002). Annual Poverty Indicator Survey.

Ogena, N. B. & Berja, C. L. (2003). The Adolescents: Social, Demographic and Economic Environment: Perceptions and Realities. Paper presented at the Fifth National Social Science Congress held on 15-17 May 2003 at the Philippine Social Science Center, Diliman, Quezon City.

Philippine Commission on Population. Pinoy youth: Making Choices, Building Voices: State of the Philippine Population Report 2nd Edition [SPPR 02]. Retrieved 12 November 2007 from http://www.popcom.gov.ph/sppr/sppr02/chap02a.html.

Sebald, H. (1994). Adolescence: A Social Psychological Analysis (4th edn). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Toral, J. (2007). Young Filipino Internet User Report 2007. DigitalFilipino.com. Retrieved 5 November 2007 from http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2007/07/12/bus/toral.yahoo!.google.dominate.web.html.

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