Don’t Say the ‘M’ Word: Sharing Ministry from High-Security Nations

For missionaries in high-security nations, communication is a constant concern. One careless email can endanger an entire ministry.
For missionaries in high-security nations, communication is a constant concern. One careless email can endanger an entire ministry.

My heart rate skyrocketed in seconds, and my blood pressure probably followed suit soon after. “You got to be kidding me! Why?” I couldn’t believe it had happened once again. “I have said multiple times not to use the ‘M’ word.”

Not spelling out “missionary” is basic security 101 for anyone working in a high-security country — a nation where surveillance is high and the Gospel is either not welcomed or is discouraged.

My immediate reaction was anger, but it was a cover emotion for fear.

Would this be the time that someone was actually reading my communication? What would happen? Anxiety once again set in. All I could do now was wait, wait to see if there were any repercussions from the communication I had received.

This little snapshot is an experience most everyone working in a high-security country has encountered at least once, if not multiple times.

One challenge of being a cross-cultural worker in a high security country is communication. It became clear early in my ministry that people back home didn’t understand the underlying stress I carried, nor the impact their communications could have.

Fortunately, our Father is gracious and I was able to learn and grow from interactions like the one above. My hope is that what I’ve learned through my mistakes, experiences, and our good Father’s beautiful yet painful refinement will give you a pregame advantage, so to speak.

Giving the ‘Why’ Behind Communication Rules

First, I learned to be clearer in educating people in how to communicate with me. I could not just give people a list of words to use and not use. I needed to clearly state the possible implications if the “do not use” words were used.

While writing this, I realized that I’ve failed at expressing the impact it has on me emotionally, physically, and mentally when words from the “do not use” list are used. These situations cause intense emotions because we are told to assume all our communications are being read. These things need to be clearly stated so people have the opportunity to understand.

Press into God’s Sovereignty

When people use the wrong words, I am learning to press into God’s sovereignty. Despite our mistakes, God is still in control.

When people use the wrong words, I am learning to press into God’s sovereignty. Despite our mistakes, God is still in control.

Inevitably, despite our best efforts, there will be times where people forget and use inappropriate language for our context. When this happens, I have learned — and keep learning — to press into God’s sovereignty. Despite my or others’ mistakes, God is still in control.

I have told myself, “Well, if God still wants me here, He will blind the eyes of those who are reading my communication and there will be no issues.” God is capable of making the blind see; is He also not capable to make the seeing blind?

This allows me to once again put the control back into Gods hands. After all, I never had that kind of control to begin with, despite what my human, finite self may have thought.

Determine Your Personal Comfort Levels

Fairly early on, I also realized the need to figure out what I, personally, was comfortable with. I had this realization due to the fact that everyone working in a high-security country has a different perspective on security — especially in the area of communication.

Even my own perspective on communications shifts as the climate of my host country changes. Who I am communicating with also determines my comfort level.

For example, during one high-security event, I chose to tell my parents what was happening (of course, still being careful in my wording and using an app with end-to-end encryption).

Later, when I wrote an email update about the event to my support team, I was very cryptic. In fact, I was so cryptic that a friend asked my parents, “Who died?” when in fact, no one had died. It was a different type of “death,” and the grief was, in ways, very similar to when someone dies.

That update, though interpreted incorrectly, was successful because it communicated what I wanted. I wanted people to sense the change and that I was deeply grieving over what happened, even if I couldn’t openly share the details.

Seek God’s Wisdom

Communication can be messy, and we need our Father’s wisdom and discernment — on top of grace, patience, humility and love — in every conversation. Good thing that when we lack wisdom, we can ask the Lord for it, and He will give it to us (James 1:5).

Jesus, we confess we lack wisdom. We need Your wisdom and discernment. We need all of You. Fill us with Your wisdom, Your discernment, Your grace, Your patience, Your humility, Your love, so that we will speak Your words — words that build others up in love and don’t tear down. May who You are overflow through us to everyone we come into contact with.

So be it.


Share this article:

About the author

Anonymous Missionary

The author of this piece serves in a high-security region of the world or in a ministry that requires extra safety measures. In an effort to keep them safe while giving you a closer look at God's work, we've allowed them to publish this piece anonymously.

2 Comments

Leave a comment
  • Whilst I appreciate this article, it raises more questions than it answers for me. If you work in a place where the use of such words is likely to impact on your presence/ministry and it’s only a matter of time before someone uses those words in communication, surely you’re setting it up for failure at some point.
    How about you use a VPN or, if not allowed, some other way of anonymising who you are and set up a webmail account specifically for public use where you can read emails without them passing through a local server. Keep your direct email private for your organisation, or selected use by people who know the rules. That way you can pretty much eliminate the accidental use where authorities might see.

    • Hey, Mike, I sent your questions to our author for more clarification. Here is the response:

      Thank you for your thoughts. I agree, the topic of security is very confusing because it is constantly changing and everyone has what they are comfortable with and not comfortable with.

      You’re right, it is only a certain amount of time before the inevitable (not being able to live in your country of service because of security or any other reason people leave the field) happens. However, we believe in a God who is greater, more powerful, and who is in control of it all. I’ve had multiple occasions where sensitive words were used, but the Lord has protected me and I’m still able to work in my country of service. Even if someday an incident led to me having to leave I would not define that as a failure. Let me ask you a question in return. How do you define success? What is a successful min? Rhetorical questions.

      As for your questions regarding a VPN, aliases, and using different emails. Yes, we do all of those to varying degrees and more. As to the comment on choosing people who know the “rules”, that’s more complicated. We do select people but we all desire to stay in contact with family and friends and occasionally despite our best efforts of education people on these security risks they can still forget from time to time. Does that mean we totally break off contact with them and never speak to them?

      I hope this helps make things more clear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *