How to end a Missionary’s Ministry

A high proportion of our missionaries work in what are known as “creative access nations”. These are countries where missionary work is either unwelcome or illegal. This means that we all have to take great care in how we publicise the work of a missionary within our congregations.

Consider four cases that I have encountered this week alone.

Church Web Site
A missionary family preparing to serve in a creative access nation speak at a church. A well-meaning member of the congregation is very impressed with what is said and writes all about the family and their ministry in the parish monthly newsletter. What was said in confidence is now made more widely known. But then it gets worse. That same newsletter is then put on the congregation’s web site which is open for the whole world to look at and scan. The missionary is then very reluctant to return to that congregation. It can also affect the return of the missionary to the field.

Photos on the Internet
A missionary speaks in a church. Someone from the congregation takes a series of photographs and posts them on the internet to Picasa or Flickr.

Prayer Calendar
A well meaning prayer co-ordinator in a church decides to put the church’s prayer calendar on the web and includes specific details about a missionary and his area of ministry.

A missionary on home assignment speaks in a church and someone enthusiastically takes their photograph. The photograph then appears in the local newspaper complete with the fact that they are a missionary, along with the country where they work and the sort of work that they are doing. When they are shown the article the missionary is very disappointed.

All of these situations, and others like them, could easily lead to the missionary being denied a visa to return to the country where they serve or even their expulsion from the country if they are living there.

Missionaries working in creative access situations are very careful to not draw attention to themselves. That applies to the work they do within the creative access country and even back in Australia itself when they speak in churches.

Australia has a lot of visitors and migrants from overseas and such publicity could easily lead to the missionary’s work and location being easily identified by a visitor. A more recent challenge is the development of sophisticated facial recognition software so please don’t put any photos of such missionaries on your web site.

What can we do to help such missionaries?

1) Ask for permission before printing any information about them. If you don’t hear from them then don’t print it. It’s better to share sensitive information by word of mouth.

2) If you contact such missionaries by email or by letter remember to follow these basic guidelines

(a) don’t mention anything political or anything to do with religious freedom;

(b) don’t refer to them as missionaries;

(c) don’t write to them with envelopes, letterheads or email addresses that connect you or them to a Christian organisation;

(d) don’t ask them about Christian activity where they are serving;

(e) don’t mention Christian nationals by name — a letter is enough. For example instead of writing about someone named ‘Samuel’ just use the letter ‘S’;

(f) don’t use obvious Christian words e.g. instead of writing the word ‘God’ but write instead about ‘father’ or instead of talking about ‘the Bible’ write about ‘the good book’.

3) If you have any doubts contact the Australian Presbyterian World Mission office.

This article appeared in “Partnership”, Summer 2012, the newsletter of the Australian Presbyterian World Mission. Author: Kevin Murray, Director

Reproduced with permission