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
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.