Thinking I had potentially murdered three people, I slept poorly all weekend. I had included a certain photo in the magazine I edit. Realizing some of the people in the pic worked in countries where Christianity was not a favored faith, I had written to someone for a security approval. Check.
But after the issue was printed and went live online, one man in the photo wrote, saying his ministry might be compromised and asking who approved the photo. Aaagh! A misunderstanding… In the end, he let the photo stand. But not before I spent three days in agony over my mistake of not checking directly with him.
Another couple, who had recently moved into a “sensitive” ministry, questioned whether an article on their former assignment—revealing their background—should be expunged from the Web.
And just this week, a fellow missionary friend e-mailed me, questioning the cultural and theological effects of certain Scripture media, which were covered in an article.
With the way the world works today—instant communication almost anywhere on the planet, and Google searches able to finger the most minute, obscure bits of information—writers (including editors) possess power and responsibility unimaginable only a few years ago. Because untold numbers of people may read what you write in your prayer letter, or on your blog, or in an article for Women of the Harvest, you must push yourself to be especially sensitive to every potential consequence, opinion, or reaction.
Your mission policy concerning topics you are allowed to talk about, or not, may be markedly tight or fairly lax. I once phoned a mission for approval of a book article that mentioned their name. The response was, “Oh, if so-and-so wrote that, then we don’t need to read it. We trust her.” Working in an organization where several people at different levels examine articles carefully, I was taken back. You need to know your mission’s policy concerning published books, articles, or personal blogs—even if they never mention the name of the mission.
When I first started writing, I shared experiences I had had in Africa—some poignant, some inspirational, some humorous. Experiences I’d had with my friends, both African and expatriate. Experiences we had suffered through or laughed over. But once approvers read a couple of my accounts, they questioned whether I had set myself up as a “savior,” or made fun of my friends, or sounded paternalistic, or outright negative. Aghast and knowing that was certainly not my intention, I reread the pieces and saw how others might get a skewed impression. Because of those concerns, I quickly realized that many of my experiences could never be published without going into exhaustive detail, adding disclaimers ad infinitum.
So, be vigilant and avoid possibly hurting someone. Consider what the people in your stories would think if they could read and understand them. What would the head of the church in your country of service think? Or the president? How does the article reflect on your mission? On your co-workers?
Be doubly sure the “snapshots” you choose for your writing will not offend or embarrass or put someone in a poor light. The world is watching. And reading.
Ways to “secure” your writing
1. Get approval, if possible, from the people written about in your article or appearing in photos.
2. Use a pseudonym. Call a person (on first mention) “Joe,” in quotes, which will signal to readers that you are using an alternate name.
3. Use a region or continent name and thus avoid pinpointing a “sensitive” country by name.
4. If you feel any doubts at all about publishing the article, wait for clarity and direction from supervisors and God.