Drone Ministry in Germany: How God is Using an Unlikely Hobby
From the beginning, the tiny, electric drones drew more boys than girls. Not that girls weren’t invited! All were welcome at the drone camps, but GEM workers Jonathan Bachman, Jeff Gage, and Rick Winford noticed that boys between the ages of 11 and 15 tended to show up and kept coming. When they held the tiny whoop drones in their hands for the first time, it was love at first sight.
Jonathan, Jeff, and Rick serve with eDOT, which stands for Electronic Discipleship Outreach Training. This ministry has provided technological solutions for European nationals, local ministries, and missionaries for many years, but has recently sought to expand its vision. The goal is to reach young people with the gospel through technology. Day camps and meet-ups for drone enthusiasts provide the perfect activity around which GEM workers can build relationships in the community.
Local pastor Séverine shares eDOT’s vision. When Rick approached her to ask if he and Jonathan could use the church as a meeting place, she enthusiastically jumped aboard. “I’ve been looking for a way to keep young people engaged in the church,” she said. “They tend to drop out after going through confirmation, but I want them to stay involved so they can be discipled and grow in their faith.”
A typical day camp begins on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon and runs all day Saturday. It’s a match made in heaven—boys and instructors wearing first-person view (FPV) goggles, operating controls like those of an X-box or Play Station, flying tiny drones under tables, around chairs, and up to the ceiling.
Through the FPV goggles, the boys see what the drone sees as it zips through the air. For those dizzying moments, they feel like fighter pilots or insects in flight. It’s the closest they can get to the world of Star Wars!
Along with partner Steve Flada of TeachBeyond, the adults play games with the kids—drone tic-tac-toe and drone cornhole, to name a few. They have created a system in which the boys compete against the leaders to earn points. At the end, those points can buy them the privilege of seeing the leaders do silly things, like get a pie in the face or be fed pudding by someone who is blindfolded. The kids’ joyful laughter makes it all worth it.
The fun is endless! It’s no surprise that young people who love technology show up for a good time, but who could have imagined that minuscule, 25-gram drones would lead to consistent exposure to the good news of Jesus Christ?
Because the drone sessions take place at the church, the boys know they are attending a Christian event. They come willingly. After a few hours of flying the drones, everyone takes a snack break. During this time, Séverine and a few other local German believers present the gospel through testimonies and Bible lessons. The kids listen carefully. They are open and fully engaged. When Séverine gives a quiz at the end, they eagerly call out the answers.
A few of the boys come from Christian families who attend church regularly. A majority of them are either unchurched or only marginally involved in Lutheran traditions.
Fourteen-year-old Markus has been a regular from the very beginning. He went through confirmation classes with Séverine, and probably would have stopped coming to church had he not seen a flyer posted in town about the drone camp. On the small side, with close-cropped blond hair, Markus is quiet, but the joy on his face reveals his excitement to be there. He’s an attentive listener when it comes time for the Bible lessons.
Erik, a skinny twelve-year-old with spiky brown hair and glasses, also listens well once he settles down. He gets so enthusiastic when flying drones that he tends to become excitable. Yet he always pays rapt attention during the gospel presentations, remaining fully engaged to the end. On most days, Erik brings a buddy with him, wanting to share his passion for technology. His friend is full of energy too.
As of this time, none of the boys has asked to receive Christ, but they are all open, curious, and interested in what Séverine and the other leaders have to say.
Jonathan, Jeff, and Rick keep showing up, faithfully stewarding their time with the boys, who come from several surrounding villages. Jonathan keeps the drones in top working order, performing “surgery” on them when they need repair. He keeps all the equipment up and running, including the computer simulators on which the boys learn to operate the drones.
All three men, along with their German co-workers including Pastor Séverine, pray regularly for each boy who attends drone camp. They focus on building relationships. It was never really all about the drones, but about being present in young people’s lives and sharing the love of Jesus with them.
But hey, these drones are fun! And because they are an excellent tool for reaching young people with the gospel, eDOT wants to take them on the road, to churches around Germany and then on to other countries. Jonanthan, Jeff, and Rick hope to share this tool with pastors in other areas, so they can engage young people in their own communities. They already have their next camps scheduled for September.
Following eDOT’s example, pastors with a passion to help young people come to know Jesus and grow in faith can use drones to plant a seed, then let the Holy Spirit do the work of growing it.
If you are interested in knowing more or becoming involved with eDOT’s ministry, contact Jonathan Bachman at [email protected].
About the author: Jenny Garrity is a storyteller with Greater Europe Mission. Jenny and her husband Kim joined GEM in 1984. They have served in Germany, Belgium, and most recently, Greece in response to the refugee crisis.