I am a twenty-first-century missionary.
Much like my predecessors, I look to the scriptures for inspiration and comfort. I live far from home, preaching the gospel in word and deed.
However, instead of reading and writing scrolls, as did Paul and the first missionaries, I blog and tweet. Instead of painting pictures of my work on rough papyrus, I simply snap pictures and share them to those around the world in a matter of seconds.
It’s interesting to think about what might have happened had those first missionaries had the social media tools we have today. What would Paul’s Twitter feed look like? Would he have been on Instagram?
Going further, I wonder if those connections would have allowed Paul to be more successful in his mission work. Would those tools have helped or hindered him from following Christ so devoutly.
I often find myself on both sides of the gun with social media during my year of missionary work with the Young Adult Service Corps.
On one hand, I use social media to share with family, friends, and supporters about what I’ve been doing. However, in the process, I often find myself getting drawn back into the same social and cultural realms I have intentionally left behind in order to seek a closer relationship with God.
Missionary work just isn’t what it used to be.
Yes, the principles are the same: spread the Gospel, invest in the spirituality of yourself and those around you. But where once mission work was thought to be extracting yourself from the daily routine of “normal” life and going off to distant lands, that concept has now been radically changed by how we connect to one another through technology and social media.
I live in Hong Kong, but I still get news updates via Facebook about politics in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. I still hear about college sports, weather, gossip, and every other facet of life that most Americans experience.
Yet I live a world away from all of those things. So how do I stay focused as a missionary?
The answer for me has been to be more intentional about my faith formation.
I try to be more intentional about making time to connect with my spiritual director back home and with other missionaries around the world. I also try to be more intentional about how much I invest my attention and emotions back home—which is often the most difficult challenge of all.
At first it may sound quite simple to be more intentional about faith formation as a missionary. However, it’s actually quite difficult when you start trying to plan a schedule around many different people in many different time zones.
The result is that I have often stayed up late or woken up super early just to have a simple spiritual check-in with those who support me. Another result is that I am just not as close with friends back home as I would like to be. However, this is how it must be if I am to be truly present in my mission work here in Hong Kong.
Being intentional with faith formation isn’t just something that should be practiced by missionaries but instead by anyone who is seeking more from their faith. Especially as technology advances, it is only going to be more difficult to have faith formation as we know it.
We need new practices for this new future. We must be disciplined about unplugging from our phones for some time each day. We must maintain contact with the eyes of others rather than with a computer screen. We must be thoughtful about how we deal with the social and technological distractions in our life.
Now we are faced with more potential distractions than at any other point in human history. How will you be intentional in your mission today?