Social Networking on Short Term Missions Trips

Social media or social networking is ubiquitous in our days and is often at the forefront of fast breaking news and an important factor in social movements.  How are we using this tool and opportunity in missions?  One way to use social networking is to share your short-term missions trip experience.  Social networking tools such as Facebook can help you communicate with your team before your trip.  While on the trip, you can post status updates to Facebook and Twitter, post pictures on Picasa and Flickr, post videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and write longer articles on Blogger, Posterous, and WordPress.  After the trip you can continue to use these mediums to share your story.  If your church or group has a website and active social networking presence, you can link it all together.  Here is an example.

The organization that I am a part of is sending out 160 college students tomorrow on a ten day mission trip.  The students are organized into six teams led by a staff member.  They have used Facebook and email to communicate among the students regarding applications, finances, and training.  Each team leader will carry a smartphone with WiFi and a global GSM phone.  A Twitter account and Facebook page have been established for each team.  A student on each team has been selected as the trip reporter and equipped with a netbook computer and a Flip video camera.  Each team is expected to post regular status updates and capture raw video footage.  Our communications coordinator in the home office will highlight special items through our main social media channels and organizational website.

In the past we piloted this with Twitter.  We chose Twitter because of the ability to easily post updates via text message (SMS) from a simple phone.  Some teams will be staying at facilities with wireless internet and can do much more online, but almost all our teams work in areas with mobile phone coverage.  We quickly realized that parents really appreciated the updates, and called our home office much less with questions about the trip.  Family members shared that they felt like they were on the trip with you, praying for the ministry and see how God worked through the team.  However we also discovered that many people were unfamiliar with Twitter, and it was cumbersome to explain how (and why) they should follow us on Twitter.  Additionally, most of the college students were not on Twitter, but on Facebook instead.  We also wanted a way that the students themselves could get more involved in sharing the missions trips with their circle of friends.  This led us to create Facebook pages for each trip and link them to the Twitter accounts.  We also put a Twitter widget on our website to create a rolling feed of posts to make it simple.  We also created a Twitter list of all of our trips to make easy for someone to follow them all.  You can follow us and see how it works.  Visit to get the details or follow us on Twitter at @wolmissions/trips

Sending Newsletters as PDF Attachments

Sending regular newsletters has long been a staple of maintaining relationships with ministry partners and raising missionary support. While many missionaries still send paper newsletters, most missionaries send email newsletters as well. I work with and know many missionaries, so I regularly receive these monthly, quarterly, or occasional email newsletters. Many missionaries do not carefully consider the file format they use to send newsletters. I would like to provide several reasons why missionaries should use the PDF format for these attachments.  PDF stands for Portable Document File.  It can be created and read by many applications.  The developer of the PDF file is Adobe and the most common viewer of PDF files is Adobe Acrobat Reader.  You can identify a PDF by the letters “pdf” after the dot in the file name, as in newsletter.pdf.  The icon on the right is commonly associated with PDF files.

  • PDFs files are opened with a free (an very common) viewer.  If you use a proprietary file format from Microsoft Publisher, Adobe Photoshop, or other applications, the recipient will need this same application to view your newsletter.  Even more common formats such as Microsoft Word’s DOC and DOCX, require a viewer that some users may not have.  Anyone can open a PDF file with a free, popular application.
  • PDFs do not contain viruses.  Files like Microsoft Word can contain macros, small programs that may harm your computer.  Some email applications will block these as a protective measure.
  • PDFs allow you to use your favorite font.  If you use a special font that your recipient doesn’t have, your words with either be displayed in another font, or will be displayed as complete gibberish, resulting in unattractive or unintelligible text.
  • PDFs insure that your recipient sees the document the same way they would if you printed it and mailed it to them.  PDFs are like a virtual printed copy of your newsletter.  You can rest assured that no one will see anything else on their screen.
  • PDFs make it easy for your recipient to print your newsletter.  When your recipient prints the document, it will be the same as if you mailed it to them.
  • PDFs make it sure that no one can alter your newsletter.  It is what it is.

So, now that you understand why it is important to send your newsletter as a PDF file attachment, how do you do it?  Many computer applications allow you to save the file as a PDF file.  You may also install a small program that functions like a virtual printer, turning anything you can print into a PDF.  Some free programs that do this are PDFCreator and PrimoPDF.  They install on your computer are shown as printers.  Instead of printing paper, they “print” the file and convert it into a PDF file on your computer.  You can then attach this file to your email.