A 1996 article in Evangelical Missions Quarterly list some of the causes of stress for a missionary once they arrive on their
field of service. One of the culprits that made the list was "loneliness":
"Loneliness comes from a sense of not belonging and a sense of being misunderstood. Many times, such feelings spring
from the failure to form close relationships with other missionaries and nationals.
Loneliness strikes single missionaries in remote places, as well as couples in new areas.
Husbands who travel a lot in ministry and wives who remain at home often become lonely.
Stress arising from discouragement and loneliness must be identified and remedied before more serious problems develop.
The main goal is to find some way to focus on other things. For some people, physical labor helps- gardening or cleaning,
for example-while others need to follow regular exercise plans.
Of course, finding a good friend to share burdens is a great help. Lonely, discouraged people need to be able to vent
their feelings confidentially. A trusted friend can help to direct the person away from self-pity." (11)
One of the suggestions given in the article to help with the stress caused by loneliness is for the missionary to, "talk
over" his problems with friends at home. The article points out that technology like email and the telephone have made
this solution much more accessible for missionaries around the world. Indeed technology can enable the missionary to maintain
many of his relationships at home and stay connected even though he may be thousands of miles away.
The formal definition for email is a system for sending messages from one individual to another via telecommunications links
between computers or terminals.(12) Recent studies by the Pew Internet and American life project described email as the "killer
app" of the internet stating, "Email continues to trump all as the most popular use of the internet."(13)
The report goes on to reveal that 102 million Americans use email. Its prevalence makes it an ideal option for meeting the
communication needs of the missionary because those that the missionary would desire to communicate with probably already
use email, or know someone who could show them how to use this technology. That same report issued by the Pew Internet and
American Life Project, commented on the effect which email can have on relationships stating, "We have documented the
power and impact of email in our reports. For example, we have found that the use of email reinforces Internet user's social
connectedness to family and friends; the longer a user is online, the more likely she is to cite the positive effect email
has on her social ties."(14)
Email is the primary technology for bridging the communication gap between home and the missionfield. Its widespread
use makes it a viable option for both the missionary and the family and friends left behind. In the early days of modern
missions a letter would be written and sent by boat to the desired location. Then the response to that letter would need
to be penned and then begin the long journey back to the missionary. Thank God for email! What use to take missionaries
months to accomplish can now be done with the click of a mouse. Email may seem like an insignificant part of the missionary
equation but the ability to maintain regular contact with friends and family could make the difference between staying on
the field or giving up in despair.
More advanced internet users may opt to utilize instant messaging. Though not as prevalent as email, there are still many
people who are familiar with and able to use this technology. The Pew Internet and American Life Project, reports that forty
six percent of Americans online have sent instant messages.(15) This type of program allows two ore more parties connected
to the internet to have real-time conversations. Typically, users will log into their "messenger" service and then
can chat with others who are on their list of "buddies." Most of these services are offered free of charge.
I was able to use this technology extensively during my first term on the missionfield. My mother and I had a time scheduled
each week when we would meet and talk through Yahoo Messenger. The messenger service that we were using also offered voice
chat. This allowed us to click a button and actually talk to each other like using walkie talkies. Though it was not as
reliable as the regular text messaging portion of the service, the times that we were able to make the connection and use
the voice chat made us seem that much closer.
Another internet feature that we would often use in conjunction with our text message sessions was Yahoo Games. Using
the same information that we logged onto Yahoo Messenger with we could log on to the Yahoo Games server. We would often play
a word game while we chatted. Using these features certainly added a dimension to our communication that email alone could
not fill. In addition, the capacity to play the game while using the voice chat made this method of communicating superior
to the telephone. I was thousands of miles away and yet, because of this technology, it felt very much like those times that
we would sit around the kitchen table at home and carry on a conversation over a game of Scrabble!
Another feature of many instant messenger programs is video conferencing. Most of the popular messenger services have the
capability to support video for users that have webcams. These small cameras that are used to broadcast video over the internet
are usually inexpensive and some computers even have them built-in.
This technology came in handy for me during our first Christmas on the field. We were blessed to have my wife's parent
come and visit us for Christmas but my parents were unable to make the trip. However, they did send gifts by way of my in-laws.
On Christmas morning we set up the webcam and linked up with my parents so that they could watch us open our gifts. This
may seem insignificant to some but if you doubt the impact that such technology can have you need to talk to my mom! The
ability to connect through video and voice on that Christmas morning turned what could have been a blue Christmas into one
of our best Christmas memories. In fact, the webcam has become a Christmas tradition for us.
This is just one example of how a technology like this can close the gap between the missionfield and home. There are
numerous ways in which a webcam could be used to enhance communication with family and friends who are far away. Currently,
my wife is pregnant with our first child. Once we return to the field I am sure that we will be using the webcam even more
to broadcast video back to two sets of loving grandparents in the states.
Voice Over Internet (VOI) Services
The idea of being able to broadcast voice over the internet is an idea that has been around for awhile. It first started
showing up prominently through the various messenger services that were being offered on the internet. As internet speed
increased the ability to transmit and receive voice data over the internet became a more viable option. Now that there are
a large number of users utilizing broadband connections, companies have started offering Voice Over Internet as a replacement
to the traditional home telephone. Since these companies are competing with the traditional phone companies their prices
for phone service are comparable and sometimes even cheaper. This type of phone service is particularly beneficial to missionaries
because the phone number can be chosen by the customer and is not based on geographic location. For instance a missionary
who is based in Africa and has a broadband internet connection can have a telephone number with a Jacksonville, FL area code.
Therefore his friends and family in Jacksonville can make a local call to that number and speak to the missionary in Africa.
Unfortunately, I have no personal experience with these services because where I minister in Trinidad does not have broadband
service. However, my partner missionary who lives a mere fifteen minute drive down the road from me does have the service
and loves it! The strength of this option, where it is available, is that those calling the missionary don't even have to
know how to use the internet, they just have to be able to work the telephone. The downside is that setting up the telephone
on the missionary's end is a little technical, and would require some computer knowledge as far as hooking up the router and
getting all of the settings tweaked. However, the ease of being able to communicate with those back home at such a low cost
makes this type of phone service a great option for the missionary.