by Lori Ellison
Much of the “advanced technology” is robbing the missionary of his or her time and resources to do what they went overseas to accomplish.
A few months ago, I almost threw my computer out the -window and into the deep, blue Pacific Ocean. Now some would argue that the computer with all its advanced technology is the greatest tool available to the 21st-century missionary. I beg to differ by claiming from personal experience that much of the "advanced technology" is robbing the missionary of his or her time and resources to do what they went overseas to accomplish. To speak plainly, I am talking about e-mail- that handy little message service which keeps everyone in touch. My definition of e-mail has expanded in recent months to something like "that perpetual flood of unsolicited messages from unknown people and places which arrive daily and stack up in a never-ending list of unanswered messages on your computer screen which become the dreaded duty of the day." I had an amiable working relationship with my computer for many years, producing many useful teaching and evangelism materials, until email invaded my software.
At times I get nostalgic for the good old B.E.M. (Before E-mail) days when there was real paper in the mailbox, with real stamps to collect and real greeting cards to save for children’s craft projects. In those days, letters often had an interesting newspaper clipping, a teabag (hopefully unused) or a bookmark tucked in them. The letter writer was a patient person who knew that it would take three weeks for the letter to get to a foreign country and at least another three weeks for the reply. People who licked the stamp on their envelope were also aware of the price the reply would cost their correspondent. And when churches wanted souvenirs for their mission displays they put a check in the mail to cover the costs.
Today, in our modern S.E.M. (Since E-mail) times, a missionary’s inbox is clogged with messages from "surfers" seeking web friends, urgent prayer requests which turn out to be a year old, chain letters and photos of Jesus in the clouds which take 15 minutes to download. Even many church mission correspondents "copy" their general family chitchat to missionaries whom they barely know. These same correspondents expect an immediate response and will often print in their next missive the names of those missionaries who have yet to reply. And those who have not spent a penny to send their own electronic message into cyberspace will request real postcards, license plates and all types of souvenirs to be mailed to them. But where is the electronic check to cover the missionary’s costs?
As an e-mail receiver may I give some advice to e-mail senders?
Respect the missionary’s time. Most missionaries do not have a secretary to take care of their correspondence. Missionaries may enjoy receiving mail but not all e-mail is helpful and often adds unnecessary reading and writing to an already busy schedule.
Respect the missionary’s finances. In many countries, souvenirs and postage are very expensive. Most missionaries will be buying these gifts with their personal funds. Do not solicit souvenirs for which you are unwilling to pay. Secondly, in many countries missionaries pay for internet service by the minute. Long documents and unsolicited photographs may take a long time to download and become very expensive mail for the missionary to receive and the email server may not give the option of deleting these documents rather than downloading them.
Respect the missionary’s privacy. A missionary friend may have gladly given you his or her e-mail address but you should not distribute it without consent. Many missionaries work in sensitive areas and certain comments and information may be inappropriate for them to receive. Do not distribute a missionary’s e-mail address to your church, your friends or post it on a website.
Remember, the missionary is known by many people and churches. You are not the only person who writes. For every message you send, 20, 50 or 100 other people are writing also.
In nineteen years of foreign missionary service, I have never spent so much time each day answering the "mail" as I do currently. My reason for being overseas is to build relationships and minister to the people around me and yet I find myself behind a computer screen writing to people "back home." I have been faithful to the dreaded daily duty because it has allowed my husband the freedom to serve elsewhere. But as the months went by I began to ask myself, "What am I doing here in front of this screen answering e-mail at midnight?" So before throwing my computer into the deep blue, I decided to send an email to a couple of friends for advice. One friend had his secretary answer me with his advice to delete all unimportant messages. When my second friend replied by suggesting I write this article, I took my first friend’s advice and deleted all unimportant messages. But my second friend, like many e-mailers, is persistent, so after the third e-mail reminder from him, I’m writing!
Lori Ellison and her husband are Assemblies of God missionaries in French Polynesia and have served in Ivory Coast, Togo and Belgium. Lori grew up as an MK in the South Pacific and has an MA in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton Graduate School.
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