Missionaries generally come to a mission organization because they heard about it somewhere and liked what they heard. Mission supporters are no different. Perhaps they knew someone who had been a missionary with the particular agency, became connected with an agency through their church, came in contact with a representative at school or a conference, or simply responded to an advertisement in a magazine. The Internet provides a completely new avenue of distributing information to prospective missionaries and mission supporters.
Many companies and organizations are now including their e-mail addresses in their publications and advertisements, so that interested persons have a quick and easy way to get in touch with them. This is essential, but is it enough?
The World Wide Web provides a new method for sending out information to prospective candidates and supporters, and the costs of maintaining a Web site are much lower than those associated with other forms of advertisement. Many people have computers with full access to the Internet, and nearly all colleges and universities, including a number of seminaries, provide Internet services for their students, and more will in the future.
Several missions organizations have already begun taking advantage of the recruiting potentials of the Web. Wycliffe Bible Translators, for example, has full job descriptions on-line. In addition, they include a color-coded map of the world which gives an overview of the translation needs. DELTA Ministries has information on-line about their summer missions teams, and Thai Harvest includes in their Web site a list of resources which are of interest to future missionaries to Thailand, and a list of prayer requests.
All of these organizations include an e-mail address and phone number for individuals to contact them. However, these two methods do not take full advantage of all the ways a user could respond to the agency, and it does not include all the information the agency could collect from the person. A mission organization should also include a preliminary application or questionnaire which the user could fill in and submit without ever leaving the page. The agency could then send back information (displayed immediately, or sent by e-mail or surface mail) tailored specifically to the user's responses. The information the user submitted would be inserted into the organization's database, added to their mailing list, and/or passed on to the regional director.
Audio and video clips could be of use, especially as most computers are now being sold in full-equipped multimedia packages. An audio or video welcome message from the president of the organization is easily included in a Web page and catches the attention of those who are using such multimedia computers. In the future, such messages will probably be the norm. In addition, the opportunity to view a short on-line promotional video would be attractive to the user and less expensive to reproduce and send than video tapes.
It is important to note that the Internet does not replace the existing good advertising media, but merely supplements it. In addition to including a phone number or e-mail address in advertising space, a missions organization could include their Web address, where interested persons could view more detailed information in a matter of seconds, rather than waiting several days for information to arrive in their mailbox.
Traditional postal service is too slow, and the telephone too expensive for extended communication with missionaries overseas. The Internet provides alternatives to both of these options with the use of e-mail and Internet phone software.
E-mail is already being used by many in the missions community. An increasing number of missions organizations are providing their missionaries with e-mail capabilities. Even missionaries in remote locations can send and receive e-mail by using a radio transmitter instead of a phone. Missionary Aviation Fellowship has been instrumental in bringing this technology to missionaries through their MAFLink program. E-mail is an essential ingredient in connecting the sending agency with overseas missionaries.
Other tools complement the use of e-mail. Chatting software allows two people to communicate with one another simultaneously using text when both parties are on-line. Internet phone software operates on the same principle, providing an alternative to expensive overseas phone calls. A computer with either the Windows or Macintosh System 7 environment, a sound card, and a full Internet account (getting Internet through an on-line service such as CompuServe or America Online will not work) are the only items necessary to use the Internet phone. This possibility allows mission headquarters to discuss significant issues and plans with their overseas missionaries for the price of a local phone call. Regular Internet phone sessions between the sending agency and the missionary could supplement the use of other Internet tools.