Technology and a 21st Century Exploratory Mission

Michael Hartman (London, England)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Missionary Michael Hartman has served in world missions for 23 years, and currently leads the WELS exploratory mission to London and the United Kingdom. He has experience developing ministry efforts that use consumer-focused technology such as social media and mobile apps to get the gospel into the hands of as many people as possible. Missionary Hartman has a Doctor of Ministry in church planting. He and his wife Rachel have been married for more than 20 years and have been blessed with four children.


Technology and a 21st Century Exploratory Mission

In October 2021 God privileged me to receive the call to serve as the first WELS exploratory missionary to London and the United Kingdom. Ten months after accepting the call, our family continues to wait for legal matters to be resolved so that we can move to our new home. When I accepted the call, little did I grasp just how much waiting can be involved in beginning a new world mission assignment. I am not the first.

It was late spring, thirty years or so after Jesus' resurrection. Having nearly been "torn to pieces," the Apostle Paul finds himself under guard in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem. "The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'" (Acts 23:11) It took over two years of waiting in the palace prison of bribe-seeking governors before Paul would undertake a treacherous voyage and reach Rome as promised.

Four years passed between the discovery of a ripe mission field in Africa by WELS missionaries and the first worship service on that continent through a WELS mission effort.

Waiting and patience may be normal in all world mission startups, but technology certainly has impacted how we wait.


This summer we realized a need for flexibility in education during this transition, and so we enrolled our four children in an online academy. Online school allows our family to stick together as we work to move to our new home. It is also a blessing to Rachel and me over the traditional home schooling option because neither of us is gifted to home school our children.


In addition to flexibility, online school gave our family great freedom. We didn't need to hunker down in a house in the Midwest and wait for legal matters to be resolved. Encouraged by others to make this a time for personal growth and family bonding, we decided to spend a month in Jerusalem. Online tools such as AirBnB and Kayak enabled us to find and organize an unexpected last-minute trip.


Our kids participated in what they called the B.R.E. (Best Religion class Ever). We spent mornings exploring Jerusalem, and weekends exploring Israel. Due to the time difference, online classes were in the afternoon and evenings. Our time in Jerusalem was greatly enhanced through WhatsApp and YouTube. Using WhatsApp and YouTube, their Grandpa, a retired pastor, was able to participate actively to develop lesson plans for our time in Israel.


My wife Rachel is a writer. She is able to continue to work with her clients as a digital nomad from wherever we are.


After Israel, we moved temporarily to Portugal. The kids continue online schooling, explore Europe and participate in local dance and soccer schools. I spend time with our sister church here, learn about ministry in Europe, build relationships, and strive to help our sister church adapt Academia Cristo into Portuguese.


While ministry in England is yet to fully begin, we have been able to start weekly online Bible study and worship there using Zoom and YouTube. This at least allows us to stay in touch with initial contacts and build friendships.

I have learned through Academia Cristo's ministry in Latin America just how valuable in-person time is. At the same time, I've come to appreciate how Zoom, WhatsApp and other online connections can build relationships so that when you meet in person it's like you're meeting old friends.


Additionally, the four WELS called workers in Europe use Zoom and WhatsApp to maintain contact and build our new team.

Our story is interesting, but not unusual in these times.

The reason I share is because I believe our story highlights several issues.

1) Our family is living the life of digital nomads. This is a lifestyle that is becoming more common. How can our churches serve digital nomad members?

2) I don't believe we should just look at how to serve people. Digital nomads are typically people with entrepreneurial gifts. They're self-starters. How can the church use digital nomads? How can the church turn digital nomads into missionaries?

3) Using YouTube to learn about Jerusalem and Bible history highlighted the reality that there is both reliable and unreliable information on YouTube. How can we help members identify the good and bad on platforms such as YouTube?

4) While so much can be done digitally, why do we yearn for in-person time with people in England?


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Phil W 2022-10-22 1:46:15pm
Michael, thanks for sharing this. Reading through the processes and challenges was eye opening, It's so easy to forget how much time and work needs to go into these types of ventures.

You ask a lot of really good questions in Section 7, the kind of questions I don't have answers to, but I like thinking about. So I'll continue mulling over them long after this conference is over. Thank you.

God bless your efforts!
Maida Jaspersen (Bethany Lutheran College) 2022-10-25 12:32:09am
Michael, despite the delay that has caused all this, it sounds like a spectacular adventure! The concept of on-site religion education is extremely appealing, I'm sure to all ages. It would be nice if some sort of traveler's guide was put together with lessons and connections to scripture. Could be in the form of an app, a video series or a book... etc... Digital nomads seem like the prime authors of this type of content. Thank you for sharing!
Michael Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-10-31 7:28:13pm
Maida, Interesting idea. It would be possible to create an online school that you could go through as you toured Israel. I wonder how much of a market there would be for that? Millions of people visit Jerusalem each year. Nearly all of them go with a tour group. I believe they do this because they don't feel comfortable traveling in a foreign setting on their own, and because they feel they don't know enough to do the tour on their own. Today online tools such as Airbnb, Google Maps and Google Translate make international translation much easier to do on your own. There would probably be a market for people who wanted an online school as they did the self-guided tour bit.
Madelyn Fischer (Martin Luther College) 2022-10-26 3:57:05pm
Pastor Hartman,

Reading about the adventures you were able to go on with your family, I thought you were very fortunate to see those places in person. In school, you hear about the different countries and monuments, but seeing them in person must have been impressive. Taking a big step and moving across the country like that can be challenging. I give your family credit for sticking through all the struggles that you faced. Your kids are fortunate enough to see all of these great places going to London and seeing the governor's palace. Many people wish to go and see places that they have gone to, and you were able to, which is amazing. I did find it interesting that your daughter was able to give a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as an assignment because, for me, when I have a project like that, you just read and write about but being able to show them the actual building that you did your report on. Reading your materials, I also saw the importance of the need for new churches around the world.

Deciding to move your entire family across the world must have been complicated. How did your kids first react when they discovered they would be moving across the world?
While you were transitioning, moving to a different country, and putting your kids in an online school, were there any troubles or drawbacks that you or your kids had when you made the decision?

I want to thank you for all the work that you are doing in spreading the word to others. As Luke 10:2 says, “He told them, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Reading this article shows the importance of the word and the need where it is missing. As future called workers at MLC, we are responsible for fulfilling this promise and going out to share what God has given us.
Michael Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-10-31 6:19:28pm
Hi Madelyn, Thank you for your encouraging note. You are correct, our family is extremely blessed and privileged. One of the blessings of living in our setting is that it helps us recognize how blessed we as a family to know and appreciate God's mercy and grace.

As to your questions. Our children have grown traveling a fair amount. All four of them were born in Mexico. During the previous 3 summers they accompanied me on extended mission trips to South America during the summer. (My wife's ability to work as a digital nomad goes back since the beginning. It has also facilitated us sticking together as a family despite some of my travels.) One of the biggest reasons I took the call was because my kids saw the move as an opportunity and privilege rather than as a hardship.

As far as online school, the positive is that in today's world we're able to keep our kids in school during an uncertain transition. Moving would have been much more difficult without the online option during this year of transition. That said, as you might expect, in-person schooling is definitely our preference. The kids particularly miss the social part of school when it goes online. Like most new schools, there's a transition period. But they're now rolling along. We thought it was a good option for one year.
Meghan Johnson (Martin Luther College (MLC)) 2022-10-26 4:05:04pm
Hello Pastor Hartman!

As someone who loves to travel and explore the world while hoping to practically apply those journeys back to my life, this presentation was awesome! It is astounding to hear about your family's adventures around Israel, Jerusalem, and Europe. I find it especially fascinating that you did this all while your children were receiving education. How many people can say that they took religion class in the heart of Jerusalem! That is very special!

As you traveled and waited to make London your home, I am sure you ran into many problems. Waiting is difficult but I could not imagine waiting for a significant life change while being in a foreign country. As you and your family were digital nomads, did you run into persecution? I have lived in the Midwest my entire life and have experienced little to none persecution of my faith. However, as I read about your story I could not help but think, “Did the Hartman family get persecuted for their faith while living abroad?” I have little background knowledge on life in Israel, Jerusalem, and Europe. I wonder if people question your faith, persecute, or do not get involved.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading and diving into your family’s digital nomad lifestyle. It is incredible to hear about the Gospel being spread throughout different countries. I pray that God continues to bless you and your family as you continue to live abroad and be messengers of the Gospel. Thank you for all your time and dedication to preaching the saving truth of God!
Michael Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-10-31 7:12:11pm
Hi Meghan! Your question about persecution is an interesting one. One of the drawbacks to our current lifestyle is that we haven't stayed long enough in one place to make close personal connections. In a certain respect, it is hard to face persecution when you don't have a chance to make close connections. We're looking forward to making close personal connections when we arrive in London, God willing. We have had opportunities to let our lights shine to people of a number of different religious backgrounds as well as to some who are not religious at all. With only one exception, people have been extremely polite. I find people are typically interested in talking to foreign visitors. If you are polite, respectful, and show a love for their home, they're typically interested in talking. This presents opportunities to witness. Listen to some one and learn how they're doing. When they present a challenge or struggle, this opens the door to say, "As a Christian, I find this helps me..." and share a Bible story. That said, the fact that we don't speak Hebrew, Arabic or Portuguese has definitely impacted the communication opportunities these past few months. This is why missionaries learn the local language. :-)
Meghan Johnson (Martin Luther College) 2022-11-03 7:33:02pm
Thank you so much for your reply! Being a missionary abroad sounds so fascinating! Thanks again!
Ryan Vreeland (Bethany Lutheran College) 2022-10-26 6:51:43pm
Thank you for sharing such a unique experience. I liked how you touched on the entrepreneurial gifts that tend to help with this "digital nomad" lifestyle; I can't help but think that the ability to adapt and constantly learn new things is also paramount to being a successful digital nomad. The ability for your children to travel and take in so many incredible experiences from a young age is truly compelling. After reading your post, I can loosely imagine a future world where children travel abroad from a very young age whilst still being in school.
Michael Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-10-31 7:14:19pm
Great thought, Ryan. We used to think of school field trip. Perhaps, the classroom can flip? Our family is doing well in this type of school for a year. It's not the same as Covid Online school because the school is actually designed to do online education well. However, I wouldn't want to keep them in this setting long term. In a way it's like a gap year, but without the gap.
Kenzie Schmidt (Bethany Lutheran College) 2022-10-26 7:10:31pm
I'll be honest, I chose this article because I saw it was in London and I have always wanted to go there. Nevertheless I found this article to be fascinating. Being able to go to Israel, Jerusalem etc. and learn first hand about parts of Christianity and to see the places where Jesus went is unreal. My church uses a YouTube video stream to record the service and then is posted online. It's amazing that there are people out there who travel across the world doing work like this
Michael Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-10-31 7:29:51pm
You should definitely come to London! When you do. Look us up.
Josh Reid (Martin Luther College) 2022-11-02 12:53:35pm
Pastor Hartman,

Thank you for describing the life of an international missionary. I have heard, personally, a wide variety of stories from mission trips, but they were only weeks long and included many people from a congregation. I thought it could be stressful at times to have your family along and live permannetly in a new, unfamiliar place. At the same time, the ability to take your family with you must add somewhat of an “at home” feel to places you’ve never been. The experience your kids have had seems like something that will stick with them for life.

You stated in your article how you guys visit from place to place. Is it easy to schedule the driving, sightseeing, and kids schooling into the typical day? It seems like you guys are amazingly busy. It seems like it is manageable to do, but from your description here there are a lot of things that you guys pack into a typical day. I understand the kids and wife may not go to every place with you, but are they also involved in the community when they are not with you? These are questions I have as a future called worker.

Thank you!
Mike Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-11-07 7:31:03am
Josh, These are great questions. You are correct, living abroad is quite different than making a mission trip. Also, traveling with your family is quite different than traveling on my own.

Yes, the family doesn't always travel with me. Right now our life is quite different than our normal routine. For many years, I travelled throughout Latin America and my family stayed home for the most part. During the past three summers, however, I did bring them on extended trips. They were a blessing. Latin culture is very family focused. Families can open doors and help strengthen relationships with others.

You're right that it is important for a called worker family to get involved in the community. We sought to do this during our time living in Mexico and Miami. While I travelled quite a bit, my family was very connected to the community. (Keep in mind that my role as a missionary means I am not pastoring or planting a congregation, but rather helping people in different places share the gospel and plant churches. The Apostle Paul is a good example, not all of the apostles had a ministry like his.) My family's connection to the community helped me be connected too, despite my frequent travel.

Right now we're in a period of transition. We just finished spending 2 months in Portugal. During that time we enrolled each of our kids in local activities. (Two took dance lessons and two enrolled in a soccer school) We also worked to befriend the local pastor and members of the congregation. These were good ways to connect with the community despite our relatively brief stay.

Blessings on your students and preparation for public ministry!
Patty Leckwee (Martin Luther College) 2022-11-02 12:58:18pm
Hello Pastor Hartman,

The story of you and your family is very inspiring. As I read about your missions, struggles and growths, I understand the difficulties with online worship and connecting. It is so true that nothing compares to worshiping together and I pray you can fulfill that soon. It was inspiring to hear how ready your family is to pick up your lives and move across the world, and to different countries many times. What a great example that we can trust the plans God has for us. I enjoyed that you added some passages from Acts, and wrote about The apostle Paul. It is encouraging to be reminded and understand how although Paul struggled greatly during his ministry, God never left his side and only supported him.

I come from a family where both my parents are called workers. I understand many of the struggles when moving from location to location. For your family, however, the locations have been a lot farther from family and friends. As you moved around the world, what did you find was the greatest challenge for your family?

Thank you for your willingness and efforts to serve and spread the Gospel and bring the world closer to God’s Word.
Mike Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-11-07 7:47:41am
Patty, Great question and comments. First allow me to tackle your reflection on living far from family. The biggest thing that has helped us stay connected to family despite the differences is Rachel's work. Rachel is a writer and thus is able to work from home. This gives her flexibility to be around for the kids. We have prioritized using her income to facilitate our family's travels to accompany me as well as travel back to see the rest of our family. For our family, Mom working has been a great blessing. If you read the Proverbs 31 section on the wife of noble character, you'll find she is a business woman who works out of the home. It's not a model for every home, but it has been a blessing for ours.

If you find yourself in a situation where you're called far from home. Remember, God does the calling. He's sending you there. Also, get creative and think outside of the box. If you are not an outside-of-the-box thinker, talk to a few experienced called worker families who are successfully living far from their family and see what they do.

As far as the biggest challenges. My experience has been that the biggest challenges for called workers in world missions are health and security. I always ask people to pray that God bless us with good health and safety.
Johannes Bourman (Martin Luther College) 2022-11-02 1:09:08pm

I really enjoyed learning about the travels of a “digital nomad”. Hearing about your experiences and how you are able to go out and learn about other cultures is wonderful. I agree that technology is a very useful tool in many ways, especially when reaching out to people across the world. I found it interesting how you kept in contact with family and were able to share adventures through popular apps. One big thing that I was intrigued about was the ability you had to go from place to place in Israel, Jerusalem, etc.

The one thing that I am curious about is if you had some other forms of preparation for your ministry in London? Although language may not be as much of a barrier (depending on your neighborhood and ministry focus), I wondered about other cultural preparations you or your family engaged in to prepare or tackled once you arrived.

Thank you Michael for this engaging article about technology in the ministry and your travels in Europe.
Mike Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-11-07 7:58:22am
Johannes, Thank you for your question about how I prepared for ministry in London. I can say that in one way I never prepared for it. It was a completely unexpected call. On the other hand, God has always known, and has been preparing me for it all of my life. Whatever God may call you to do, remember he has been preparing you for that too.

Having said that, once I accepted the call and made the decision to move our family to London, there have been a few things we've done. Personally, I find YouTube to be a great resource. YouTubers helped us improve our travels in Jerusalem. There are tons of great guides. They're also helping us learn about our new home, even before we get there. My kids have all found there favorite UK YouTube channels.

The other thing we're doing is developing relationships with people who already live in the UK. We're blessed with new local friends who can help us learn life in our new home.

Finally, explore the place you move to. Many years ago Professor Balge (father) at the seminary gave our class fantastic advice. It was our very last class with him before senior call day. He told us, "Wherever you go, remember people live there. Find out why they live where they do." Finding out why people live where they do is a great way to learn how to live in and love a new home.
Stoney Liu (Martin Luther College) 2022-11-02 1:16:05pm
Missionary Hartman,

As technology's importance continues to grow in our daily lives, I can really see how Christians could benefit from the conveniences provided by these virtual communication tools. Being an international student in the United States, I am grateful that I could use FaceTime to chat face-to-face with my family each week. Therefore, when you mentioned the convenience of how grandpa could virtually join your Israel tour, your children’s online schooling, and the weekly online bible study that you have been conducting, I could relate to it deeply. It is without a doubt that technologies these days, if we use them correctly, could greatly increase the diameter of our circle of influence. In this way, being more flexible and more effective when reaching out for ministry. I appreciate how you are using these technologies to better serve our Lord.

In section 6, you mentioned that online tools help you to build connections and relationships ahead of time with the people that you will be meeting shortly in the UK. How has that been going for you? Being a worker in the “people business,” how has that changed you by not being able to actually meet the person that you are serving in-person?

Thanks again for sharing how technologies benefited your ministry in today’s world. God’s blessings on your ministry in the UK.
Mike Hartman (WELS World Missions) 2022-11-07 8:11:13am
Stoney, Thank you for your question. I am sure in many ways you can personally relate to how technology can help stay connected to family back home. As far as using it to develop relationships, I see technology as a supplement not a stand-alone.

Weekly Zoom meetings help to build trust and relationships so that when you meet face-to-face you have a stronger relationship than if you had just been writing emails or texts back and forth. I learned this in my previous ministry in Latin America. WELS Latin American missionaries regularly travel to meet people whom they've been teaching online via Zoom for months. Over and over again when we met someone in person they would say it felt like they were connecting with an old friend.

I believe a theory about technology. The theory is this: Technology limps when it replaces something you can no longer have. Technology is at it's best when in enables you to do something you otherwise couldn't. (Perhaps others can help me phrase this better) Think of a prosthetic limb. The prosthetic will never quite be as good as the real thing. When in person classes needed to be cancelled and were replaced with online classes, the online Zoom classes limped. However, when technology enables you to do something you otherwise couldn't do, it is at its best. Think of technology allowing a person to heal from an illness that would have otherwise shortened their life. Or, using technology to enable distance learning.

Blessings on your school year.
Alana Sulzle (Martin Luther College (MLC)) 2022-11-07 1:14:59pm
Pastor Hartman,

In the past, I have heard multiple presentations from our WELS missionary pastors from around the world. It’s interesting to hear what their life is like as they are sharing the gospel in a different country. Although you and your family spent a considerable amount of time waiting to begin this new world mission assignment, I was interested in hearing about the ways you and your family were still involved with the gospel whether that be learning through an online school or sharing the message through weekly online Bible studies.

This article made me think about the effects of online communication compared to in-person especially when it comes to spreading the gospel. I understand that fellowship is a key aspect that believers should strive to participate in. Have you directly seen how people are impacted by the means by which you share the gospel (online or in person)? For instance, based on your experience, does online worship have a greater effect on believers in other countries as called workers aren’t always as accessible there? I’m curious about how believers, especially from congregations in different countries, are impacted by different forms of worship.

Thank you for the mission work you are doing for God’s kingdom in other countries across the world. What a huge blessing it is to be able to share a common faith with even those that are thousands of miles away from the people here in America.
Eleanor Tomhave (Martin Luther College (MLC)) 2022-11-07 1:24:08pm
Pastor Hartman,

When I was little we moved to Georgia and it was a scary change for our family. The school was questionable at first, so much so that my mother almost decided to homeschool. This doesn’t compare to the transition your family must have had moved across the world. I was very intrigued to hear your stories, and how your family adapted to this new lifestyle.

In your article, you talked about how you needed a flexible school schedule for all the traveling you do. I wanted to ask a question in regard to these online studies that helped allow your children to do so much traveling and still remain up-to-date academically. Since so many families are experimenting with and struggling through some digital learning experiences in the last few years, what "best practices" did you come to as a mom and dad to help your kids best learn in a distanced, on-line setting?

Thank you for your work across the world and the sacrifices you and your family have made. It’s awesome to see how technology has greatly benefited you in more ways than one!