I balked recently when someone said, "You've got quite a ministry online." I've never considered what I do a ministry. Ministries provide healthcare in developing countries and feed and shelter the homeless. Chatting on the internet hardly seems in the same league. And yet whenever I go online, I try to share the hope that's within me.
I've now been online for more than two decades—longer than some of my kids have been alive. Back in 1987 I began "chatting" through CompuServe at a breakneck modem speed of 300 baud. Chugging along one letter at a time, words strung themselves together on my monochrome green monitor in a text-only format, and I had plenty of time as the words became sentences to envision another person, worlds away, typing as I read—all for the price of a local phone call. I was hooked.
One friendship I forged in those early days started through my admiration for a particular musician. I'd asked a question about him on a forum, and another member named Jim answered because he admired the same musician. We began exchanging e-mails, and he soon learned I was a Christian—and I learned he was a Mormon elder living in Provo, Utah. Thus began an online friendship that, though stormy at times, continued for many years.
Both Jim and I fancied ourselves writers and were fast typists. At the height of our mutual proselytizing (which often sounded too much like, "I know you are, but what am I?"), we were exchanging pages of apologetics every day. Each line of Jim's e-mails chugged along the screen and onto my daisy-wheel printer with painfully slow force. My first computer didn't have a hard drive, so to keep from tying up the phone line during the day, I'd download Jim's letters directly to paper in the middle of the night. Typically taking hours to download and print, those single-spaced letters now fill two four-inch binders in my desk drawer.1