I gave my life to the Lord at the age of 19, long before PCs, laptops, or the internet. Back in those days I thought my Apple II+ was a really cool computer with 64k of memory! I knew nothing about missions, but I had made the Lord a promise: that wherever He wanted me to go and whatever He wanted me to do for the rest of my life, that’s what I would do. Little did I know that one day I would end up halfway around the world as a foreign missionary.
The internet is a fantastic tool for missionaries. Back in the day missionaries sent letters through international post that could take months to reach their destination. When international phone calls were available, they were cost-prohibitive. Today email, websites, blogs, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) allow instantaneous communication around the world for the cost of a monthly internet service provider. All it takes is a little effort and a little know-how.
The internet first made it big while I was in seminary. I made my first website when I was on staff at a church in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the late ‘90s. Designing and maintaining a website was more work that I expected. I had to learn some basic HTML and I designed the graphics myself. Keeping it updated was a chore, and not many people really seemed to be using it. I soon started to wonder if it was worth the effort.
Later, my wife and I felt called to the mission field, specifically to Hungary. I saw the internet as a useful tool for communicating about our ministry to family and friends, as well as financial supporters and prayer partners. I designed a website for our missions work. I was somewhat frustrated that technology seemed to be moving ahead without me and I couldn’t keep up. But one thing I was able to do was to buy my own domain name. When I looked into domain names in the ‘90s for our church in Michigan, they cost $120/yr. We passed on that. By the time I was heading to the mission field, however, the price had plummeted to about $10/yr. This relatively small expense guaranteed that I could publish our web address on prayer cards and other literature and know that people would find something when they got there, even if their printed material was out of date.
I continued the cumbersome task of updating my website while we raised support, and then after we went to the mission field. It was a good way to keep people up-to-date on what we were doing, but it was still difficult to keep it updated. I was constantly looking for ways to improve it. Sometimes it seemed like more of a headache than anything.
My work in Hungary involved many responsibilities. After we arrived in 2002, I started out in full-time language school. In addition, I was also given the assignment of mentoring young Hungarian church planters that were working with us to start a national church. Then after less than a year I became the pastor of our church in Budapest to take the place of another missionary who had left. I also started teaching some undergraduate classes at our theological school. I had my plate full, no question about it. I soon learned that communicating with supporters was an easy thing to procrastinate after language study and the teaching and preaching ministry I was involved in.
Then in 2004 I started my first blog. Bloggers made big news during the U.S. presidential election that year, which I followed through the internet and CNN (European edition!). Immediately I saw blogging as a useful way to update supporters on a more regular basis. With my old website, I only got around to updating it about once every three months, and there was no easy way to preserve old information. The biggest attraction of the blog was how easy it was to update. No need for HTML, or for using some sort of FTP interface to upload the changes and new graphics after I was done. I just wrote and clicked, and let Blogger do the rest. Old posts were preserved automatically. Now I had no more good excuses to not update it at least monthly!
We announced the new blog in our printed newsletter to let our supporters know about it, and I provided a link to the blog from my website. I would still update the website every so often, but my regular updates were done on the blog. I received positive feedback from people about it. For a couple of years I kept up both the website and the blog.
My biggest challenge with my internet communications was trying to find a simple way to present all of the information I wanted to have available. I wanted the blog for keeping people up-to-date on our work and telling the stories that go with being a missionary, but I also wanted general information about us for new supporters. I had started putting videos on YouTube that I had made about our ministry, and I wanted people to have convenient access to those as well. And of course I had to have a photo album. I finally discovered that I could have my cake and eat it too by creating multiple blogs and linking them together and by using Picasa for my photo album. By tweaking the html formatting of the templates used by Blogger, I could even have a button menu at the top just like I had previously used on my website. I designed my new collection of blogs (I now have a total of eight), and ditched the old HTML website for good. It doesn’t give me quite as much flexibility as my old webpage, but it’s much easier to update. And best of all, it’s all free. From the hosting of the blogs themselves on Blogger, my videos on YouTube, my photo albums on Picasa, and even our printed newsletters in pdf format on Ripway, I don’t pay a cent for any of it except the domain name, which is down to about $7/yr. As long as I have an internet service provider, I can update any of it from anywhere in the world.
The beauty of blogging is that it can be as simple as a single blog to update with stories, activities, photos and prayer requests for supporters, or it can be as complex as you like through nested blogs, photo albums, and videos. I’m finding that more people are putting comments on my blog now than when I started, making it interactive as well. I’ve also started a new blog to publish some of my Bible teaching material, and I hope to add one on apologetics soon. So blogging is a tool that can continue to grow as your ministry vision grows.
Now I just need a program that keeps me from procrastinating!
John Fraser and his wife Tricia served as missionaries in Hungary from 2002-2007. They are currently raising support in the U.S. to return to Hungary. You can read more about them and their ministry on their blog at www.fraserfamilyblog.org
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