Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is episode 76 of Missions on Point. We're in the fourth of a five part series entitled, Help My Family Member is a Missionary. It really has to do with loved ones, whether they're actually nuclear family members or not, and there is some good application for those who care for those who are left behind by their missionary friend or family member.

In the last episode, we zeroed in on a range of terminology and vocabulary related to missions. This time we're going to zero in on some other issues that relate to your missionary being a long distance away. That is time zones, communication and security. Of course, the usual thoughts apply to time zones that is weariness of travel and differences in keeping time. I'm amused when some of my missionary friends and family will call me or text me during the day their time, and it's the middle of the night my time. Working out that time zone difference so that it is convenient to both sides is sort of an important thing and it may be challenging depending on their work or school schedule, what's going on in their family or life. Not to mention your life.

Let me tell you, jet lag is a real thing. So if you travel or if they travel, take into account that their first days or week in their country or coming back home may be a little bit disoriented and a lot tired, almost like they have the flu. But one of the more subtle things has to do with business related things. Who is going to file their tax returns year by year? Who is going to take care of their banking that may need to be done? Who is going to be a co-signator and make approvals for transfer of funds? Does your missionary friend or family have a legitimate and valid will and healthcare directive and some kind of directive regarding their children if they have children? All of these legal things need to get taken care of, especially if they're going international and across multiple time zones. So try to be aware of and appreciative of and respect those time zone differences and some of the legal hangups related to that.

Communication is a whole other ballgame when your loved one is overseas. Now, present technology allows us a lot of opportunities to communicate in different ways. When my wife and I first went to the field, there was no internet, no email. We had no electricity, we had no cell phones, no way to directly communicate. It took an enormous amount of effort planning and funds to communicate directly with someone overseas. Now we have the capability of virtually instant texting and email and phone calls. Just realize that sometimes those things cost a lot more money where your missionary is compared to you calling across the US or calling locally. There are lots of software apps available from a mobile device or a laptop or desktop computer that weren't available so many years ago, but not all of them are secure or appropriate for the kinds of communication that you might want to do.

An example is Skype, though it was a pioneering video communication platform, it was secure at the beginning until a strong Arab Muslim country forced Skype to give them a back door so that they could keep track of people for security purposes and perhaps political purposes. When they did that, everyone around the world had to assume that whatever government asked Skype to do so would also allow them to use the back door. Therefore, none of those communications were truly secure and private anymore.

Because your missionary loved one has probably had some specific training from their mission agency on security and communication, you need to defer to them and ask them what is the best way to communicate with them, the most secure way. There are many countries around the world where open communication is fine. The presence of a missionary and evangelism is openly known in practice. There are no particular restrictions on their communication. Online media postings and social media are perfectly acceptable. However, many more countries have a cautious level of communication in which the environment may be tolerant but suspicious toward Christians in general and the Christian mission in particular. They may have limited physical danger and the risk of loss of their visa. They may communicate in a way that is public, but it must be wise and limited to a certain degree. Always consult your missionary about those kinds of things.

The third type of country is certainly restricted or highly limited communication, and it is a political and social environment in which communication about Christian things and Christian work is not really tolerated. There is a certain antagonism toward Christianity. Some of those situations may be such that the mission agency actually tells the missionary that they may not communicate regularly or use vocabulary that in any way in dangers their ministry on the field. In those kind of situations, there are vocabulary choices that must be avoided, like saying the term missions or missionaries or ministry or referring to converts or conversions or specific evangelism. Having specific references to growing Christianity or doctrinal things about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the church and salvation. Certainly not using terms like evangelism directly. Missionaries in those contexts would not want to refer to local national believers by name at all. Certainly the missionary must be reserved or eliminate any reference to politics and political conditions in their country.

So those missionaries in that situation usually use some kind of code or substitute words. For church, they'll say meeting, or salvation, saying that they met our favorite person or found the way. They may speak of God as the Father and Jesus as the Lord or Master. They may speak of missionaries as workers and the Bible is the book or our book or our favorite book. They refer to praying as thinking or remembering me before the Father and any Christian is a brother or sister and not referred to as a Christian per se. They may be specifically restricted from even mentioning the name of their mission agency.

Now we're going to move toward more specific security concerns, and these involve skills as simple as map reading and street awareness or situational awareness, but they move all the way up the ladder to what kinds of things do you do and how do you train for the potentiality of kidnapping? Practically every missionary agency nowadays in those kinds of situations have a rigorous training program for all new missionaries arriving on that kind of field. You've heard even in the United States that you need to be careful and kind of look over your shoulder a little bit and find out who may be watching you while you're withdrawing cash from the ATM and because most missionaries receive most of the funds that they operate off of through ATMs nowadays, they have to be especially careful in a foreign country. They have to be careful about even how money may be transferred in their own accounts because that may be tracked by the government.

Communication is a big deal. Reporting of any kind of incidents, even something that is simply strange or disconcerting becomes an important matter. There's all kinds of protocol for security of information and computer files and files in the cloud and files on external hard drives and encryption and double encryption of things on your personal computer. There are certain medical procedures and personal documentation that must be kept track of.

If there was a immediate turnaround which required the missionary to evacuate, they have to put their hands on all of those really important things very quickly and the international standard for evacuation is that every person only has eight pounds to take with them. Now, it's true there are different levels of evacuation and some may be voluntary in the heat of, say, a rising coup or something like that. But if it is an embassy backed or military backed evacuation, they may not be able to take very much with them and have to leave everything else behind at least for the time being.

Some missionaries and mission agencies don't even understand that evacuation doesn't have to mean you actually leave the country. You maybe just have to leave the hotspot and are able to return when it cools down again. Every missionary may be required to have a safety and security planning guide for what routes they might use to escape if they had to do it on their own. And remember that every time someone visits the field, that puts the missionary at higher risk and they must take specific security precautions regarding their visitor, including when and where and how they appear to the general public.

One of the best security protections on the field is simply for the missionary to have good friends in their neighborhood, to know their neighbors and their neighbors know them, be in their homes and vice versa. Some countries have a very high level of criminal activity that has nothing personal per se against the missionary's work, but the missionary has seen as an active target. So traveling and how you travel and what route you use in traveling and walking and using public transportation all becomes an issue. And of course there are additional considerations for women. Even the choice of where you live and what kind of house or apartment you live in may have specific security concerns connected with the decision. Usually someone on the team or someone related to the team has had to have specific training for confrontation, robbery, carjacking, gunfire in the vicinity, ambush, bombings, kidnapping, and hostage situations. I'm very familiar with hostage negotiation credentialing, and let me tell you, it's not fun.

Then overlaid on top of all of this is the general stress factor for the missionary. The more they are in a high security field, the higher the level of stress added to the language, the culture and all the things connected with living in a completely different place with different sort of ground rules of how to operate. The most opportune time to learn about these things and to try to figure out some solutions for your own communication and security concerns and prayers for your missionary is before they leave. No doubt they've had at least a briefing about these issues and would love to share them with someone and kind of unburden their heart about the added stress of thinking about those things. When you talk to them or communicate with them, whether by email in a cautious way or some kind of form of video call, make sure that you check in on them and see how they're doing in those areas of security concerns.

If you're a church pastor or a friend of a family that has someone overseas in that kind of situation, you need to be particularly tuned in to help and comfort the family left behind about those kinds of security things. God is still sovereign and in control and they have chosen and are called to go to that situation, so God can perfectly protect them there as well as he can here. Still, it's a good thing to check up on the missionary and find out how well oriented they are to all of these security concerns, communication concerns, and the time zone differentials in their life.

If there is a particular security incident of which you're aware or a political uprising, you need to be careful, but really work on prayerfully addressing those things with your missionary whom you love on the field. There is also the evil twist that sometimes missionaries get too hyper about these things and they are so security conscious that they don't even make good contact with the local people. They don't learn the language well, they don't get out enough because they're afraid. It's easier to stay locked in your house. That is certainly a wrong response and needs some help for which you can pray and perhaps seek some resources to help them.

One of the best ways you can help yourself is read a lot of missionary biographies because missionary biographies are peppered with these kinds of concerns, even though most of them predate our time of universal, more or less internet and instant communication. It's kind of a reverse psychology kind of thing, but if you want to relieve your fears, read the biography of John Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides. But many missionaries who have lived in situations where there have been revolutions or political overthrow or radical change in the nation have faced incredible challenges and God has remained faithful. God gets glory even in that.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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