What do you get when you put 100 Christian technology enthusiasts into a Westminster conference centre for three days, with a fast broadband connection but little sleep?
The answer, as the bleary-eyed techies discovered last weekend, was a website that enables refugees to find a host family; a smartphone app for survivors of natural disasters to record damage; a new way of donating money to homeless people; and even a program that gives Bible verses and encouragement when someone is about to succumb to online temptation.
The Code for the Kingdom “hackathon”, which took place in London from last Friday to Sunday, was just one leg of a global movement; simultaneous hackathons are taking place in Seattle, Los Angeles, Jakarta, Addis Ababa, Bengaluru (Bangalore), and Guatemala City, among others.
The organiser of the London leg was the Revd Rupert Edwards, an Hon. Assistant Curate at St Paul’s, Shadwell, in east London, and a former technology lawyer. He explained that the idea was to “catalyse serendipity” by bringing together Christian coders, designers, and developers under one roof, for 48 hours, to see what they could do.
“There was a real sense that there’s a ministry to be done to nurture Christians involved in technology — for their spiritual life, but also for the common good, to see what projects can be surfaced,” Mr Edwards said on Tuesday.
The participants formed small teams to create new programs, software, and apps. Companies and charities sponsored the event, and challenged the coders to come up with solutions to their specific problems.
At one point, the delegates broke off to take part in a live-streamed prayer meeting with each of the other cities involved in the hackathon.
On Sunday, after more than two days of coding, a panel of judges, including the newly consecrated Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, picked out the best of the bunch.
Flee was named as the best new app; it seeks to help Christians who are battling to avoid online temptation, such as pornography or gambling. When the user types certain words into the internet, the app will flash up a picture and a Bible verse to encourage them not to click any further.
Another app, My Refuge, was named “most improved” app. It works by linking together refugees, and families and homeowners willing to host them, through a website.
Other projects praised by Mr Edwards included an interactive Advent calendar, which, rather than offering chocolate each day, triggered a treasure hunt for children; and Homely, which won the only award voted for by the hackathon delegates rather than the judges.
One of the developers of Homely, Tim Last, a product manager at a technology firm, said that he got the idea for the app when he was walking past homeless people in London, and felt frustrated about not being able to give them money.
“You are concerned that the money you give might get spent on something you wouldn’t want them to spend it on — like alcohol or drugs,” he said on Tuesday. “We came up with this idea to try and fix this problem.”
Homeless people registered with charities would receive a small device, called an iBeacon. When someone who had installed the Homely app on their phone walked past the person and their iBeacon, it would trigger an alert on the phone, encouraging them to donate online to that specific homeless person’s account.
The accounts would be controlled by homeless charities, and would be used to help the rough sleeper save up for a deposit on a flat, or other targets.
Mr Last said that he enjoyed the friendly competition at the hackathon while building the app. “I was also really encouraged by the level of talent that was there, and how people were working together. There was a really good spirit about the whole thing.”
Mr Edwards said that there was both a ministry and a missional element to the initiative. “Churches can have men’s curry nights, or football nights. But the whole tech. thing is growing fastest, in terms of jobs and culture. We had people at Code for the Kingdom who weren’t Christians — I think it is an interesting vehicle upon which to build an open community.”
This article originally appeared in The Church Times