Seven precautions to take when communicating with mission workers
By Mark J.H. Klassen
In 2009, while serving with MB Mission in New Delhi, India, I received a text message from a friend down the street that simply read, “I found your prayers on the net.” I was stumped. What did he mean? My friend, a Hindu, knew that I was a follower of Jesus and that I prayed. But what prayers had he found online?
Our family arrived in India in 2005. Because of the cultural and political climate there, I entered the country on a business visa. In conjunction with our ministry, I was a sourcing agent for a Canadian carpet company. In our neighborhood, I was not known as a “missionary” and even though our friends knew of our association with the church, and specifically with Mennonite Brethren, I did not often speak openly about my role with MB Mission.
When I replied to my friend’s text message, he invited me to his house. On his laptop, he showed me how a simple Google search of his name had brought up the Daily Prayer Guide on the MB Mission website. There it was – his name, his wife’s name and a sincere request to pray for them and for us to get along as our two families went on a vacation. I didn’t know what to say to my friend. I had no idea that that information had been posted online. Fortunately, my friend was not offended. On the contrary, he thought it was neat that people were praying for him. Whew!
Sometimes missionaries aren’t branded as such. In certain places, a more subtle approach is needed. In other places, where the gospel is not welcomed at all, even greater care is required. Missionaries and their organizations are learning to take precautions to keep workers safe from harm or deportation, and it is absolutely critical that churches and individuals who support missionaries adopt these precautions as well.
Here are seven things to remember when communicating about and with missionaries who are serving in restricted areas:
1. Google searches everything! Posting information online makes it available to everyone around the world. All files and attachments can be searched, including church bulletins and annual reports.
2. Communication is rarely private. Phone lines can be tapped. Mail can be opened. Even “secure” email can be cracked. Encryption technology is improving, but so are the hackers.
3. Church buildings are open to the public. Anyone can walk into your church foyer and read the bulletin board, including representatives from foreign governments. It happens.
4. Choose your words carefully. Avoid trigger words like “missionary,” “church” and “conversion.” Let the worker be your guide. Also, avoid political words that can be sensitive.
5. First names are safer than full names. First names are more generic and very difficult to search.
6. It may not be illegal to be a Christian in restricted areas, but it is sometimes illegal to proselytize, so be careful how you communicate about evangelism and outreach activities.
7. Protect national believers and partners. Be discreet as you refer to other missionaries, local believers and partner organizations.
The Internet is a part of the new reality in global mission that we all face together. As we take these precautions seriously, we also want to remember that God is bigger than any challenge we face. Let’s pray for wisdom and use discretion, but let’s also be strong and courageous in the task of bringing the gospel to the least reached.
Mark J.H. Klassen lives in Yarrow, BC and serves as the creative director for MB Mission’s Media Team. Mark and his wife, Amy, and their three daughters returned to Canada in 2011 after serving for six years in New Delhi, India.