Only a very brave or foolish person would take such a risk: attempt to sum up the response to Accordance seminars in four Asian countries in as many weeks. It has been a fascinating experience, and we learned a lot about the countries and our users, but we surely only scratched the surface of the situation in each country. We are hardly qualified to assess and comment on anything after such short visits.
Several factors have remained constant in each country:
- the gracious hospitality of our hosts and their willingness to go out of their way to make and keep us safe and comfortable, and to get us where we needed to go
- the gratitude of users and others for our coming, and for the training they received
- the enthusiasm of our users and the amazement of those who saw Accordance for the first time
- the thrilled response to the demonstration of the Bible in the local language
- the willingness of each Bible Society to help us obtain their Bibles for Accordance.
We were also impressed by the energy of the people, the rapid development of the cities, the huge investment in public buildings, public transport, and infrastructure. Clearly, Asia is rising.
Each country presented entirely different challenges to our team.
South Korea, home to the largest mega churches in the world, has a massive and active Christian community. Our first stay was at a Presbyterian seminary with 1,700 students, and we went on to visit thriving Methodist, Catholic, and Evangelical campuses in Seoul. However, S. Korea is a very tough market for Apple which had almost no penetration until the advent of the iPhone and iPad. We hardly saw a Mac apart from our own, at any of the seminars. The students and professors who hosted us had a hard time getting their peers to come to a session. We had a table outside a conference of NT scholars, but they showed no interest at all. Even pastors who used Accordance were too busy administering their churches to take time to learn the software. Clearly there is enormous potential for Accordance in Korea. We planted seeds, and orders are coming in, but it is tough going.
Although people talked a little about N Korea, we found the country as a whole to be rather like the USA: self-contained and self-sufficient.
In Japan the first seminary has 10 students, what a contrast! The second about 20. Christians and Jews are a tiny minority, yet there is a thriving School of Theology which covers the three great monotheistic religions. In general we found in Japan a high level of scholarship and interest in the original languages. Mac use is high here, and those who didn't already have a Mac wanted to buy one after the seminar. We traveled on the famous bullet trains as far south as Osaka and points in-between, and managed to keep to our tightly packed schedule, ending with a large group at the Olympic Center in Tokyo.
People were extremely grateful, even surprised, that we came at all, given the problems after the tsunami. Some users and pastors were away on trips to assist the suffering people. We could sense a sad and serious mood in the country, and the bright lights of Tokyo were dimmed to save energy, but, apart from a few relatively mild earthquakes, we experienced nothing of the aftermath of the tragedy.
In Hong Kong it had been hard to find a host for the seminar. Accordance has a number of users, mainly pastors, but most were not in a position to set something up. As in Korea, the Mac is slowly gaining market share. The city is the West's gateway to China, in more ways than one. We sensed the growing influence of mainland China in many areas of life. The churches are eager to exploit the opportunities to strengthen their fellow mainland churches, both registered and unregistered. Perhaps our best contribution at the one seminar was to link users together so that they can encourage one another, and plan for more exposure for Accordance "next time."
Singapore is another city-state which feels threatened by the surrounding huge countries, mainly Muslim rather than communist. It is a tightly regulated country which protects a multi-cultural society: Muslim, Christian and other religions, Chinese, Malays, Indonesians, and Indians. Although English is the official language, it's no longer the Queen's English, so communication can be interesting, to say the least. The church is a large and strong minority, but very aware of its position in a Muslim world. The one seminar was packed out, and full of Mac users, no problems there. We were warmly welcomed at this one school, but others apparently felt no need to learn more about Accordance. We sense the huge potential of this country, at the crossroads of East and West, Christianity and Asian Islam as well as communist China.
We have made new friends, gained new users, and strengthened many pre-existing ones. We have gained much in understanding these small parts of Asia, and made progress towards releasing a number of Asian Bibles. All in all, it was a very rewarding experience which we will treasure until the next time...