In response to my post “Should Missionaries Use Facebook and Twitter?”, some missionaries in creative access nations (CANs) have pointed out that I neglected to include one major negative of using social media: Security. They have told me, in so many words, “Nice post, but that’s all irrelevant for us because we can’t use it.”
For those working in creative access (i.e. communist, totalitarian, or Muslim) countries, it is imperative that their missionary identity be downplayed or hidden from the general public to ensure their continued ability to do their ministry. If identifying information about them and their ministry was publicly available online, then they would run a high risk of being either kicked out of the country, blacklisted by the people they are trying to reach, or even killed. You can see why a Facebook fan page with a big picture of their face would be a negative.
However, I wonder if social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and other forms of web presence (website, blog) might still have a helpful role in the lives and/or ministries of missionaries working in CANs. Missionaries working in CANs are generally intelligent, dedicated, and creative people. They find ways to go places and do things that other people say can’t be done (or shouldn’t be done). At first glance, using social media in relation to CAN ministry seems like an impossibility, but is it? I want to give a few examples to stimulate thinking.
My wife and I are friends with a missionary family who work among a creative access people in an open access country. That means that the government is okay with what they are doing but if the people of the community they live in found out, then they would no longer be able to live in that community. They don’t use Facebook or Twitter but they do have a blog. The blog does not have their name, location, or picture. However, it does have lots of stories about their son and daily life in their location. Such a blog would be of little interest beyond those who know them personally, but it can be an educational tool that furthers the connection between this missionary family and their friends, family, supporters, and churches in the home country.
Another blog that I enjoy reading is Missionary Confidential. Writing about issues of missionary identity and other topics of general missionary concern, C. Hollland (real name?) is located in an undisclosed country in Western Europe. As I understand it, his ministry on the ground is open and public. But his identify on the web is somewhat guarded. He won’t tell you what country he is in. This is presumably to avoid negative repercussions in relationships with the people among whom he ministers. Although each new blog post is announced on C. Holland’s Twitter feed, it seems that using Twitter doesn’t give away his identity anymore than his blog does. And he has some great articles and interesting discussions on the blog. Anyone who is a long-term missionary can identify with many of the issues that he brings up.
I know another missionary who is in an Asian CAN (no, not China). He uses both Facebook and Twitter, and you can clearly tell what country he is in, but there is no mention of ministry as far as I can tell. So far, he doesn’t seem to have had any problems.
If identifying information such as names, location, and pictures are not included, are there more possibilities for missionaries in creative access nations (and people groups) to blog, tweet, and Facebook than many are currently availing themselves of? Instead of skipping it altogether, might some CAN missionaries be able to take advantage of the benefits of social media? Here are some options to consider:
1) Anonymous / Pseudonym Posting
Pick another name (or no name) and use alternative names for places and people in your ministry. Turn off the ability for people to comment. Downside is that someone could always link to your site and say, “Check out this blog from our missionaries in China”
2) Family Only Posting
Use your real name but only post about family related items, never ministry
3) Passive Reading
Have a Facebook or Twitter account, turn off all commenting, hide yourself from the ability to be found by searching, and then read your friends and family’s Facebook updates to your heart’s content. On Twitter, read linked articles and quotations related to missions, ministry, etc. but never interact with anyone.
4) Private Blog
In the settings of some blogging sites, you can choose to NOT make your blog publicly accessible. It is only visible by you, or accessible only by a password. This password can be given only to those whom you trust, whether that be family and/or key friends or supporters from home.
Of course, for all of these, varying degrees of security and the limitations of security settings have to be considered. And you can’t make a general statement that “Missionaries in CAN countries should be able to do XYZ or ABC”. And Facebook is notorious for increasing the amount of your personal information generally available (although China doesn’t allow Facebook to share any of your personal information whatsoever by blocking the site entirely).
With that said, I want to hear from other missionaries, especially those in CAN countries or among creative access peoples. What do you think? (feel free to leave an anonymous comment or email me through our "Contact Us" page)