Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Veiled Writing: When You Need Security-Elizabeth Givens

How do we handle the need to communicate and tell the stories that will reach the hearts of our donors and prayer partners, and still stay safe?

Most of us have done it at some point, especially if we live or work in parts of the world where the word “m"-word is not acceptable – we Google our name to see what comes up, and then we hold our breath and hope it’s not our newsletter posted on some church website. Right?

In an Internet world of blogs and social networks, I sometimes think my friends and colleagues in my own limited-access work know exactly who I am and what I do, but are polite enough to keep up the pretense. I bring them valued services so they humor me by letting me imagine I’m living this double life…

So how do we handle the need to communicate about our ministry and tell the stories that will reach the hearts of our donors and prayer partners, and still stay safe?

Very carefully.

But you do have to communicate. You can’t assume people know what’s going on in your part of the world, or that they will pray, or that they will continue to support you if they never hear from you. Some things are pretty simple: don’t put your name on the web, don’t call your country by its real name, don’t use the word missionary. Churches are getting fairly savvy on these issues. Educate your friends, donors, and prayer partners about what you can and cannot say when you are in a secure place, and help them understand why.

The bigger question is -- can you communicate genuine issues and not tell the whole world where you work? I think you can.

People stories are what communicate most deeply to your audience, and people issues are universal. Depression, spiritual conflicts, broken marriages, fear, barrenness, rebellious children. Are not these the problems all those searching for Jesus face? Even those who are following Jesus are still dealing with the baggage of their past life.

Given a need for security, do not use real names. Collect a list of linguistically appropriate substitute names and make yourself a grid so when you write about "Sada" it always is the same woman. When telling stories of believers, ask permission to tell their story. Be sensitive in your storytelling, but don’t stop telling stories. Help your reader understand the complexities of your host culture by demonstrating life through people and events.

Last summer I was leading a large team in a limited access country. We needed daily prayer, but I was blocked from posting a daily blog. I did have email, and I had a willing daughter who posted my blog for me. It worked, and the families and friends of the team members knew where they could get daily prayer fodder, even though most of the team didn’t have Internet access.

Security IS an issue. But God is bigger and your stories are His stories. Tell them. Remember that you are the "m" educator, not just a "m." Or worker. Or teacher. Or whatever you want to call yourself!

1 comment:

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Some great thoughts! Even serving in a country where it is OK to be a "m", there are times when it is important to be careful how we phrase our writing. If we want to communicate with partners in an on-line format, we should, but we should also do it in a way that will not hinder the ultimate communication of the most important message in the world, or our ability to serve in the country/role that the Father has chosen for us.


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