The Church of “Tell the Good News” sends a team to help Missionary Mike minister to a particular people group in a foreign country. Souls are saved, lives are changed and the team is pumped. They come home and share the excitement. They post their pictures and stories on Facebook and Twitter. One of the team members writes a story for the church newsletter and it goes on the website. People are praising God.
Back in the city after the team leaves, a few curious locals do a search on some names they’ve heard. People friend each other on Facebook. Word gets around that these friendly visitors were Christians. In a country hostile to Christianity, this could cause significant damage. The new believers’ lives have changed–yes, they’re new creatures in Christ, but now, their family and friends may have turned them out if they’ve shared their new faith. But with the new information made public, it’s possible they may face serious persecution.
In addition, Missionary Mike’s ministry is compromised. He and his family may be in danger or they may lose their ability to be a presence for Christ to that people group.
In many places around the world, missionary activity is not welcomed by the government, by the leaders of other religions or by the local communities. “This means that you must carefully consider what you say publicly, especially electronically, about how God is using your church to reach an unreached people group with the Gospel,” says Wendy Norvelle, spokesperson for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
“Pause before you post, think before you tweet.”
Note also that the risk isn’t just for overseas missionaries. With evolving demographics, missionaries are targeting people groups in all locations and often that means in the United States.
So how do we tell stories without putting people at risk?
• Seek Guidance. Ask the missionary about the sensitivity of his or her work, specifically asking what can be shared electronically. For general information about sharing information, contact the IMB, www.imb.org.
• Consider using “publicity names.” Choose a name that your church will understand but that doesn’t link the church’s initiatives to the actual people and places.
• Train your church members what they can say about how God is at work. Some of the most amazing things God has and is doing may never be able to be told on the front cover of your newsletter or on your website, but there are effective ways to share without putting believers at risk.
• Be careful with prayer requests. It’s important to stop and think. Often, security breaches happen in the form of prayer requests. In a crisis, it’s human nature to tell someone what we experience and it’s cathartic to tell what’s going on. But it can be detrimental if transmitted electronically and that request is passed on and on.
Remember, Norvelle said, “Anything you write electronically can be seen anywhere else. Other countries have sophisticated techniques for data mining.”
Think about it. “If I knew a customs agent or immigration official in this location was reading the story, would it cause difficulties to national believers or any team?” she said. “And, once something moves into the electronic world, it can NEVER be completely erased or recalled.”