Digital communication for missionaries

Last Friday I spent a very enjoyable few hours with folks from the Church of Scotland who were preparing for work overseas. They were all experienced missionaries, having served in various places already. This event was more of a reorientation for them before heading off into new assignments.

I was asked to go along and talk about communications – especially what it means to communicate about mission in a world of social media and instant communication.

So we talked through some of the basics of communication (noise, message, segmentation, integrated communications) and some of the things to consider when sending messages home.

Finally we discussed social media and the opportunities / challenges it brings.

Before attending this event I’d carried out a quick survey, asking people with recent experience of serving overseas about their approach to social media. These are some of the comments…

  • ‘It can create a sense of being very far away… It can contribute to homesickness’.
  • ‘You have to be extra careful with the things you share because nationals, and the people you are working with may be offended if they learn that you have shared a story/picture about them and are benefiting from it’.
  • ‘You need to be careful what you say so that people don’t get the wrong idea or unnecessarily worried when they don’t understand the big picture’.
  • ‘Since we don’t live in a grass hut in Africa as missionaries are supposed to we have to be careful that we don’t come across as living a life of luxury in a beautiful part of the world’.
  • ‘I don’t have my last name on Facebook’.
  • ‘A way to ask for technical help with various issues’.
  • ‘Using closed groups can be a helpful way to keep people updated without posting everything publicly’.
  • ‘If you are unsure, get someone to check a post before you publish’.
  • ‘My Facebook ‘Keep Kate in Tea’ campaign was a really fun thing to do and I was overwhelmed by the response’.
  • ‘The in-the-moment contact is priceless for people back home’.

So do you think we missed anything?

What would you add to the list?

Of course, if you’d like me to run a similar workshop on communication or social media for your church or agency please get in touch.

Photo: Jason Howie

Eating cake and thinking digital technology

It may be time to turn off Microsoft Outlook and just use Google – at least that’s what I’m thinking about doing following last week’s event Digital Technology and Cake, organised by Adapta Consulting.

The afternoon session included two cases studies. The first from Rob Gethen Smith who now works for Anthony Nolan but was speaking about his time as Chief Information Officer at the Southbank Centre. In the three years that he was there he managed to transform their digital operation from a system that could barely handle online credit card transactions at the same time as selling interval refreshments, to one that does such a good job at getting the basics right that they saw a 500% drop in website complaints within 18 months!

The second case sty was from James Higgott of The King’s Fund. He spoke about the necessary move from a centralised digital team to an independent model with individuals with digital roles embedded in each team.

There was then cake (it really was good cake!) and discussion.

What did I take away from the event?

1 – Fix broken things quickly.

It was Rob Gethen Smith’s first point, but it makes sense. You can’t get investment in digital ways of working from customers, staff or management if the technology just doesn’t work.

2 – Give people the tools and skills to work digitally

It’s no use just telling people to work in a particular way. You have to train them and also equip them to be able to do their job.

One, almost throw away, comment was to turn some of the traditional technology off and drive people towards using Google Apps. I tried this on the Thursday I was back in the office and basically it works. There are some challenges because I have an email filing system that was created in the world of Outlook (using folders) which doesn’t work so well with Google Mail, but I like the idea. I’ve been using Google Docs for a while and love the way it allows me to work collaboratively and remotely.

It also means that I’ve got some flexibility to my working environment – important things I can usually access as easily at home as I can in the office.

3 – Decentralise digital expertise

At Wycliffe I think we are already quite good at this.  During the discussions I was surprised to hear that organisations were filtering all their digital content through one team (or even one person). It was their responsibility to write Facebook posts, Tweets or blog about their organisation.

Already we have recognised that this puts a huge burden on one person and that it’s better to decentralise. Allow others to post on the things that interest them and, if there’s good overlap with what they write and what represents Wycliffe well, we will repost as an organisation.

The next step is to have people in each team that pursue digital innovation. That ask questions about how digital tools could equip them to work more effectively or share information more widely.


This was a great event for me because I was able to dwell on the possibilities rather than the constraints.

I know that people struggle with digital technology and the perceived pace of change, but I wonder if the real issue is that digital technology forces the user to open up to collaboration. Working digitally means that you have less control.

Any thoughts?

The slides from the event can currently be found here.

Group work

On joining Wycliffe Global Alliance and the work I will do

If you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been invited to take up a role as Director of Public Media with the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

You’ll also know that over the last few months I have been ‘raising support’, looking for people who will commit to pray for us as a family and contribute to our financial needs as this role comes without a salary.

As we’ve been doing this one of the questions that I get asked more frequently is, what am I going to do?

In some ways it’s a really easy question to answer. I have a job description that tells me I’ll be:

Encouraging and ensuring creative, collaborative and effective communication related to the Wycliffe Global Alliance and Bible translation movements worldwide through:

  • Developing mediums that provide resources [for Wycliffe Organizations and the worldwide Church] that inform, encourage and inspire.
  • Recognizing and creating opportunities and environments for multicultural, multilingual and multifaceted dialogue in the general public and the worldwide Church.
  • Leading, participating in, mentoring and fostering a learning community of communicators so that they can provide consistent, compelling and clear messaging.

(These are the highlights. There’s more, quite a bit more, but do you really want to read a full job description?)

In practice this means I’ll be overseeing communications channels and making sure the Alliance talks with integrity about Bible translation, mission and what God is doing around the world.

I’ll also be giving line management to a small team based in the UK, Germany and the US. Oh, and I’ll be serving a wide group of organisations by consulting with them on issues that relate to public communication.

Of course, I can’t do any of this without a support team behind me. People who will pray for me (I should say ‘us’ as we are entering into this as a family) and provide the finances needed to cover our living costs. If you would like to become part of that support team you can find out how to on this website – Join our support team.

In my next post I’ll talk more about why communications matters in mission.

Missionaries using social media – the survey

Next week I’m helping to give some training to Church of Scotland missionaries who are about to take up roles in other countries. I’ll be leading a workshop on using social media, especially considering how best to use it to communicate with supporters back home.

I’ll write a more interesting reflection on it all after the event, but before that I need some help. Not having moved overseas for an extended period I don’t have first hand experience of how helpful social media is for keeping in touch with folk back home. Equally, I can guess at some of the pitfalls but I could overlook something important.

If you’ve served overseas as a missionary, used social media to communicate with family, friends and supporters back home, and can spare 15 minutes, could you respond to this please? [Survey now closed]


Right at the core

Simon Sinek’s calling in life is to inspire others, to inspire others. His goal? ‘To help build a world in which the vast majority of people go home everyday feeling fulfilled by their work, Sinek is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.’

His excellent TED talk popped up in my Facebook feed today, in a package of videos on the theme of speaking powerfully. I’m not sure this video fits that topic, but it certainly helps to think through what makes a powerful message. Anyone in leadership (church, mission, community, commercial,…) should give it 20 minutes of their time.

It has made me reflect for a moment on the ‘why’ of why am I involved with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Sure there’s something about doing a job that I enjoy and working with people that I value and am inspired by that could be part of the answer. But the answer to the question, why are you working with Wycliffe Bible Translators is that – Jesus brought what the Bible describes as life (not so much physical life, but the kind of full life you get to experience when you know heartfelt joy and peace in every situation) into this world and as I’ve grown to know him more I’ve been able to share in this life. There are many reasons that my relationship with Jesus has grown, but the Bible is a key part of that journey. I want others to be able to know that life too.

Bible translation enables people to have a deeper relationship with Jesus. And, while there are many other wonderful outcomes to language development, and the part that I’m playing in this is centred on awareness raising and enabling clear communication, enabling people to have that deep relationship with Jesus is the ‘why’ of why I’m doing this.

Just a small glimpse of Wycliffe’s global work

Wycliffe Bible Translators are involved in a little over three-quarters of all translation and linguistic development happening around the world. That’s more than 1,700 projects in 130 countries.

Wycliffe in the UK directly supports translation projects and some strategic roles that enable multiple projects to continue. You can now read about these projects in the newly published project portfolio for 2015-16. This has background information about each of the projects supported by Wycliffe in the UK and shows the financial need for 2015-16.

If you’d like to become part of the support team for any of these projects, either by giving financially or committing to pray, you can find details of how to get in touch with Wycliffe in the portfolio’s introduction.

The only reason we can share the statistics of the need for Bible translation, or tell the stories of projects such as these, is because of the work of global and local communications teams.

I have been invited to join the Wycliffe Global Alliance communications team to continue to provide a global perspective of what God is doing through Bible translation. This means that I am becoming a project in my own right, as the role I will be taking up is not salaried but relies on the kind donations of (extra)ordinary supporters just like you. If you would like to become part of our support team (as this impacts our whole family) you can sign up online. Just visit our Join our support team pages.

Interviewing a church leader in Nigeria

Implications of partnership

We appear to be at that interesting stage of becoming supported missionaries, where we are running out of people we know to ask to support us. So, over the last few days I’ve been trying to compose a brief email to churches asking if they’d like to partner with us and become part of our support team.

It’s not easy conveying a sense of partnership in a short email, but I genuinely believe that mission is intended to be conducted in partnership and it’s not just a case of the church praying and giving and the mission partner sending the occasional newsletter with nice pictures.

I’ve also been reading 2 Corinthians in preparation for a meeting I’m speaking at next week, maybe it’s no coincidence that on this occasion I’ve been struck by the language of partnership that appears in this letter – as Paul is writing his mission report back to the church in Corinth.

Clearly there is a really close relationship between Paul and the church – despite what Paul had to write in his previous letter (read 1 Corinthians). So close is their relationship he talks about the church sharing in both his sufferings and his comfort (2 Cor 1:7) and opening his heart to them – not that they are currently returning the gesture (2 Cor 6:11-12). But then Paul clearly sees this church as the testimony of who he is (2 Cor 3:3).

There’s much more in the rest of the letter.

So here’s the challenge to me, in serving a global community through Wycliffe Bible Translators, do I see a partnership with those who are praying and giving to send me as partnership on this level? Where my heart is open and I allow our supporters to share in the sufferings as much as the joys. I’d like to.

I also wonder if I can be as bold as Paul in expecting supporters to rely on God as much as Paul does? What does that look like in a modern missionary letter?

So many questions and thoughts. Anyone else want to pitch in?



I was challenged last week. Meeting with my global communication colleagues we spent some time reflecting about mission and what it is all about.

Is it about Bible translation, church planting or even alleviating sickness and suffering?

Nope, it’s none of the above, no matter how virtuous they may be. It’s about the glory of God.

So when I think about all the wonderful things that happen because of Bible translation (and the process that happens when a translation project is underway),

  • People able to hear about God’s love for them in a language they understand
  • Churches planted, strengthened and growing because leaders and the congregation can understand God’s message for creation
  • Education for some of the world’s poorest communities as simple teaching tools become available in their language
  • Health and well-being improved as health and medical information becomes available in the mother tongue
  • Work towards reducing cases of HIV/AIDS
  • Increased eduction in communities bringing a higher standard of living, decreased child mortality, longer and healthier lives
  • And more…

I’m reminded that the difference here isn’t about doing good things. Sure translation benefits a community but translation itself, even Bible translation, is not mission. Mission is about God being glorified.

I work with an amazing group of people for an awesome organisation. We really do make a lasting impact for good on this world, at least we try to. But I have to be careful that my motivation isn’t found in what we do but why we do it.

four-year-old Hudea lifts her hands in surrender. Taken by Osman Sağırlı at the Atmeh refugee camp in Syria 2012

Considering how to respond to the refugee crisis

By Thursday evening my social media feeds had been filled with images of a young boy laying motionless in the wash on a Turkish beach. How did it make me feel? Cut to the core in a way that I think you only feel when you’ve had children of your own. Especially when the size and shape of your own child mirrors that of the one you see in the photograph.

That said, it wasn’t the first photograph from this crisis that had hurt. Some time ago now I came across the image that’s in the header of this post. A small girl in a refugee camp, raising her hands in surrender because she saw the telephoto lens of Osman Sağırlı, a Turkish photojournalist, and mistook it for a gun. What kind of world is it when a four-year-old knows to hold her hands up when someone points a gun at her?

The question that kept coming up, always keeps coming up – what can I do? There’s something wonderful about our culture when we see injustice and want to take steps to fix it, but often the steps we take are more in tune with making us feel better about ourselves than working towards a solution to the problem.

On Sunday we talked about this at church. We want to see the pain on our doorstep relieved, if that means taking in refugees and fostering children who have lost their parents on the journey, then we are there. If it means providing relief in the camps then we need to give (though, what we see going on in Calais is a drop in the ocean compared to the situation in other countries). But, above all, we need to pray. The only way that there’s going to be an end to people fleeing war and ethnic cleansing is to bring an end to the violence.

Krish, President of London School of Theology and founder of Home for Good, had recorded this video on Friday. It gives some really good ideas of how to respond.

Refugee crisis : an urgent call to action from Home for Good on Vimeo.

If you’d like to find out more about fostering a refugee child through Home for Good, take a look at their website.

If you’d like to give to Open Doors, the following video shows more of their work with refugees in Iraq and Syria. You can give through their website.

Edinburgh, 1910

Mission, friendship and my new role

It’s a well used quote. At the 1910 World Missionary Convention in Edinburgh, V.S. Azariah, one of the few non-Western delegates in attendance, said to the gathering,

Through all the ages to come the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labours of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We also ask for love. Give us friends.

One of the things that excites me about the way that the Wycliffe Global Alliance seeks to work is that it’s through alliances of friends (agencies that are networked together) rather than through a power structure. My new role will be to help those agencies to work together by creating channels of communication and ensuring that every agency, regardless of size, language or location, can have a voice.

It won’t always be easy and it won’t always be the quickest way to work but it should mean that we put God and each other before ourselves – that has to be a good starting point.