There are so many new tools that make missionary life more connected than it was even five or ten years ago. Nothing will take the place of the basics of cross cultural work and the principles involved, but there are some great online tools that can add a new dimension to community life and work overseas.
As believers we should be tuned into the new ways people are communicating in the 21st century. The world is becoming increasingly more connected and there are fewer and fewer places where there is not at least some type of internet access available.
Here in many parts of Asia, most young people are more connected than their Western counterparts. In America, more churches are moving into the online world while others are getting left further behind.
I want to continue to learn about emerging ways of online communication and expression because I have a strong desire to communicate the message and take people along with me in my journey. Therefore when it comes new ways people are connecting, I want to be a student and not a critic. How about you?
Here are a few basic tools I personally use on a regular basis and how I use them. A simple little guide for “the rest of us.”
I too used to scoff at Twitter, but now I love it. To me, it’s about finding people who you are interested in hearing more from and starting to follow them. I have an ipod touch (didn’t need the phone) with the free Twitterfon application. I can update my status in 140 characters or less anytime I’m near a wi-fi connection. People who are interested can get a glimpse into my life here in Thailand and share in the things that I see, think about, and experience on a daily basis. I can also keep up with the ongoing conversation of leaders and people I choose to follow without much effort. Whenever I want, I can jump in on the conversation at will. This makes me feel a part of certain communities even though I may be half a world away. I have set up my Twitter feed so that it automatically updates my next favorite application…
I only add my friends, people I have met personally, and a few friends of friends or people I would like to get to know better. Facebook gives me the ability to peak in on any one of these profiles to catch up on their lives, instant message, send emails and birthday wishes, look at posted links, pics, and video from my friends, and update my supporters with instant prayer requests and praise reports. I have group called “The Lamberts in Thailand” that is by invitation only. These are people that have opted in to receiving email and I send them periodic updates, links to my newsletters, and prayer requests. I also started a group for our local church here in Thailand which I think will make it easier for our members and incoming team members to stay in touch with us even when they leave our city.
Besides being in the same room speaking with the person themselves, there is nothing better than free video calling programs like Skype. We are able to catch up with our family and share life with them as we live half a world away. In the beginning we had to set these things up for our parents, but now that they have access to this tool, they are amazed at the fact that we can talk over the computer and see one another like we do. I have Skype on my ipod and can theoretically chat and talk to people through it, though I haven’t tried it yet. With a few dollars of Skype credit, we can even call cell phones back in the States as well as take care of business with our banks and businesses when needed. Looking forward to using Skype to do a live update from the field into our local church or to sit in on one of our church’s team meetings.
I am a WordPress man and my wife uses Blogger. I like the clean look and she is more frilly and likes the freedom to decorate more. The main point however is that we have both been blogging for a few years now and have found it a great outlet of communication and expression. Blogs give us the ability to chronicle our family’s life, adventures, and our expanded thoughts. When we post we are able to share these things with the world and it’s our hope that through our writing more people will become of needs and be inspired to play their part in whatever God is calling them to do.
Blogs help demystify missionary life by sharing our struggles and challenges in addition to our glory stories. We also hope it opens the door for more people to get involved in the work. I love reading the blogs of other Christian leaders, even those who may think differently than me or have a different focus. Many times, they help stretch my thinking and get me open to new possibilities.
Once you find some blogs you like, you can use a blog reading program like Bloglines or Google Reader and read all of your blogs in one place versus visiting each one seperately. All you need to do is set up an account then subscribe to your favorite blog’s RSS feed. From a writer’s perspective I use a program that updates my Twitter when I post something that in turn updates my Facebook. I like to get the maximum exposure with the minimum effort. A little set up work makes things easier in the long run.
I have just started really listening to podcasts, but I have found some good ones that I really enjoy taking along with me, especially on those really long road trips. I can listen to good teaching both in audio and video anytime I choose and the best part is that the ones I listen to are free. All you need to get set up is the latest download of itunes and some kind of MP3 player. Once you have searched for the ones you may be interested in, download them, and you are set. I count this time as part of my ongoing leadership education.
These tools may not always continue to exist in their present form, but you can be sure that the type of communication they represent will only expand and integrate into new forms as the months and years roll on. They do take a new level of commitment, but I think the initial investment is worth the dividends you will receive. The best way to engage these things is to just dive in and learn as you go like most of us did. Best of all, all of the above mentioned tools are within the missionary’s budget, they are free!
If you are a cross cultural worker, what would you add? What are some tools that you have used to stay connected and plugged in even while you are living in another country? Have you been limited of the use of these tools because of the sensitive nature of your work in a certain country. How do work around these limitations and stay in touch?