Relationships key to success of Manifest award recipients
The recipients of Manifest’s most prestigious award this year have used their acceptance speeches to show how relational networks build and benefit from digital discipleship.
Pr Daron Pratt and Melissa Otto receive the Gabe Reynaud Award for demonstrating excellence in faithful creativity—Pratt for using Facebook for advocacy and Otto for making a living from music.
Pratt is the first denominational employee—he is Director of Family and Children’s Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in northern New South Wales—and Otto the first solo singer/songwriter named as recipients.
They received their awards during the Adventist Church in Greater Sydney’s Digital Discipleship Conference on July 15.
In his introduction, Manifest Co-Convenor Nathan Brown described Pratt and Otto as “disciples with strong digital presences but who are also relationally focussed and connected in real life in and through their faithful creativity.”
The digital disciple
Pratt demonstrated this during his speech. The third of six children, and born left-handed with a hearing impairment, Pratt wondered what God could do with him. “I felt a bit lost in the middle.” However, as a seven-year-old, Pratt said to God, “Here I am, use me.” “I didn’t know he was going to turn me into a pastor, a children’s pastor, a balloon-twisting children’s pastor, but He did.”
His mother—“the best disciple”—instilled in him a love of reading. Pratt completes a chapter of a book and his devotional reading each day before work. Much of his content on Facebook comes from this avid reading.
Pratt discovered Facebook in 2008, the year the social media and social networking service opened its Sydney office, and “another obsession was born.” Facebook is a “personal pulpit” Pratt uses to speak for those—children, in particular—whose voices are muted. A weekly post Pratt calls “Pr Daron’s Soapbox” is his favourite.
“Being an advocate isn’t easy at times—I’ve copped flak—but . . . often I get told by people, ‘I can’t like or comment on what you say on Facebook but you spoke into my sphere of influence, you spoke to me, you spoke to my church.’” He quoted former President and Chief Executive Officer of Compassion International Wess Stafford, author of Too Small to Ignore: Why Children Are the Next Big Thing: “‘I spend half my time comforting the afflicted and the other half afflicting the comfortable.’”
The Bible verse Micah 6:8—“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV)—inspires Pratt. “That’s why I do what I do, that’s why I am who I am. To be honest, to be authentic, to be real, to lie down straight in bed at night and know I’ve done all I can to make a difference.”
The music minister
Otto always knew she wanted to write and sing to help people connect with God and to bring healing and peace but anxiety consumed her. “It crippled me. For about five years after high school, I medicated myself with food. I just ate and ate to calm my fears. But God helped me understand a few things that helped me push through these fears.”
In a personal and revealing speech, Otto identified three of these fears and testified to the blessings that came from overcoming them. On the fear of making wrong decisions: “So many songs came from my biggest mistakes.” On the fear of the unknown, on how to become a music minister: “God showed me to just take the one step in front of me.” On the fear of being unworthy to sing about God. “God helped me realise we aren’t our sins and our struggles—these are things God frees us from. It’s not who we are. We are actually His children, so loved by Him.”
Authenticity and vulnerability are key to connecting with people, said Otto. “That’s what they relate to. When you marry these with truth, that’s when truth becomes powerful.”
Otto ended with this promise for those who feel, despite their inadequacies, called to faithful creativity. “God helped me to see I’m not alone. He raises up people around you. All of heaven is on our side.”