Support for Missionaries on the Field

Once a missionary arrives on the field and begins work, the tools and resources of the Internet may take on an increased importance in providing communication with home, a network for missionary kids, educational resources, materials for spiritual enrichment, news from the home country, and an alternate method of ordering needed items.

All the Folks at Home...

In the midst of culture shock, a missionary may find him- or herself longing for something from home. It may be that a short note or phone call would be all it would take to fulfill that desire. I already discussed how e-mail, chatting, and Internet phone software can be of use in communication with missionaries on the field. They also are an effective means for a missionary to communicate with family members and friends at home, especially when things on the field get rough.

In addition, the Internet can link a missionary to the supporting church.

The Internet holds incredible potential for communicating with missionaries throughout the world... Missionaries can now have almost immediate access to their supporting church, and members now have a convenient tool to get to know their missionaries. We can send a message anywhere in the world for the price of a local phone call.[9]

Not only is the cost low, but the communication can be instantaneous. Prayer letters including up-to-date pictures can be exchanged between home and the field using either the FTP or Web tools of the Internet. Thai Harvest has taken advantage of these capabilities in providing each of their missionaries with a family Web page where they may place pictures, prayer letters, and other information of interest to their supporters.[10] In addition, the page may include a link through which the one viewing the page can send e-mail to the missionary.

Communication works both directions, as some churches are also finding it useful to have their own site on the Web, including information about the church including news and events. Even if churches merely send their newsletters and other information electronically to the missionary, that is one extra step toward maintaining ties between the supporting church and the missionary.

What about the Kids?

As more families go overseas, more Missionary Kids (MKs) are displaced from their friends. This kind of displacement may occur repeatedly as a child shifts from school in America to life on the field with Mom and Dad to a boarding school environment to college. The tools and resources of the Internet can help hold a youngster's world together.

E-mail, chatting, or Internet phone software can link a child to family and friends regardless of where they are. When a child is not sure where home is, it would be especially helpful at least to know there's a way to speak with an old friend or even a parent. If missions organizations take advantage of the technology of the Internet, there may be less need for children to move around as much in the future. On-line education is already taking place in colleges, universities, and seminaries, and this kind of program adapted to the MK may allow him or her to remain at home with Mom and Dad at least until college, if not beyond.

Communication with old friends may not be all the MK needs, for friends may not be able to understand the things he or she is going through or the issues he or she faces. It would be helpful for every MK to be in contact with other MKs who are dealing with or have already dealt with the same kind of situations. Such resources are already in existence on the Internet.

The Missionary Kid Home Page provides information on a variety of resources which are helpful to MKs.[11] A registry of missionary kids provides a means of becoming pen-pals through e-mail, and a mailing list called MKNet allows kids to write about issues they are dealing with or have faced in the past as missionary kids. It is, essentially, a virtual support group for MKs.[12] The MK Web Site includes announcements about retreats and conferences, information about MK-related organizations (i.e. Mu Kappa for college students), information on MK schools, and a writing forum for creative pieces submitted by MKs.[13]

Further resources of interest to MKs include an endless supply of information about US Colleges and Universities, many of which have their own Web sites. Although the MK may not be able to travel to the States to visit the school of choice, he or she can take a "virtual tour" of it through the Web and talk to admissions staff and current students through e-mail, chatting software, etc.

Continuing Education

The overseas missionary is learning a tremendous amount about his or her host country, but may find it difficult to keep up with other academic topics which may be of interest and of value in a cross-cultural setting. The information superhighway can help a missionary and his or her family keep caught up with new academic information and even provide a means for theological education.

"Academic institutions form much of the backbone of the Internet."[14] It is no surprise, then, to find a variety of academic information on-line. In fact, the databases, scholarly conferences and academic journals which already serve the academic community may also serve the missionary who is overseas.[15] It has been hard to miss the series of commercials IBM has done about the impact of such technology overseas. One of these commercials depicts a farmer who wrote his doctoral thesis using the University of Indiana's Internet library resources all the way from Italy. This technology is available today.

Consider how a missionary might benefit from reading a recent journal of anthropology or missiology. Families overseas can visit institutions like the Smithsonian on-line.[16] Many sites of interest for religious education exist including the Creation Research Society,[17] the entire Bible,[18] and classic Christian literature.[19] There is even a whole book devoted to urban ministry on the Web.[20] A missionary surely cannot take his or her whole library overseas, but now they do not have to! The missionary now has access to useful religious and academic resources while on the field using the Internet.

Missionaries would not have to leave the field in order to pursue a further degree, whether at the Masters or Doctoral level. Asbury Seminary has seen a great deal of advancement in the past several years, and Dr. McKenna, former president (1982-1994) believes that:

Asbury is poised to become the virtual seminary of the future. As the virtual seminary, Asbury would serve as a resource center for a global network offering two-way access, as well as the retrieval and creation of information. Connections with strategic churches, academic centers, and international mission fields would expand Asbury's ministry to all corners of the world.[21]
Asbury is just one example of this kind of virtual education. United Theological Seminary has already made provisions for distance learning using the Internet,[22] as have other colleges, universities, and seminaries.

Growing Spiritually

How does an overseas missionary get fed spiritually, especially if serving as the sole pastoral figure wherever he or she is? The Internet provides an answer. Already the World Wide Web has a large selection of devotional materials, Bible studies, and magazines related to Christian growth.[23] Resources are being added and updated every day.

With the capabilities of sending sound over the Internet, it would be relatively easy for missionaries without access to any local church overseas to listen to a sermon on-line. A home church may decide to make each week's sermon available in this manner for its missionaries and for other members who cannot be present. The sermon may be stored on computer for the missionary to transfer to his or her personal computer using FTP, or it may be included as a link on the church's Web page.

Other potential uses of the technology include virtual Bible studies (with a group of people using chat or e-mail), discipleship partners (using a combination of e-mail, chat, and Internet phone software), and prayer groups or partners. Any of these options would serve to foster spiritual growth for the missionary, whether they include only missionaries or are extended to laypersons as well.

What's happening in America?

It is difficult for an overseas missionaries to keep up to date with what is happening in their home countries. Once again, what is difficult with old technology is easy in Cyberspace. CNN[24] and USA Today[25] are just two of the leading US news sources which have Web sites which are accessible for free. Other news sources, such as the San Jose Mercury News, provide news on a fee basis, charging a few dollars a month to access their on-line resources.[26] A missionary with full access to the Internet has access to these resources.

In addition, magazines that deal more with the culture of home are also available on-line. Some are available to read on-line, and others can be ordered on-line. The overseas missionary family can use these resources to read up on what is happening at home in the worlds of music, television and movies, art, and so forth. Having access to this kind of information can ease a missionary's re-entrance into American culture when he or she returns from the field.

We forgot to bring Peanut Butter! or What can I send my parents for Christmas?

Many companies have begun to use the Web to market their products, and most of these take orders on-line. There are even virtual shopping malls on the Internet!

Whether the missionary forgot to bring something to the field or wants to shop for gifts for friends and family in the States, he or she can do it over the Internet 24 hours a day. Just like ordering flowers over the phone, the missionary can have a gift sent anywhere. To pay, he or she may use a credit card or check and submit either one of these electronically since such data can be transmitted securely now and because of the technology of electronic checks.

If you can shop on the Internet, you must be able to do just about anything. It is true. The ways in which the Internet can be of service to a missionary are truly endless.