As someone who has always really enjoyed sending updates to my partners while overseas for any length of time, I have become interested in knowing what to send and when to send it.
What is a missionary update letter? A missionary update letter is an update from a missionary on the field, updating and informing their family, friends, partners, and organization of what is going on. This usually includes prayer requests, praise reports, any changes that have been made, photos and more to unify those in the home culture of the missionary with what is going on in the host culture of the missionary.
I have found there is a bit to think about when sending an update as a missionary. But when you remember that everyone partnering with your life and ministry isn’t there daily to see what you’re doing it is important to inform them. Knowing when and how to do this well is crucial.
Why Send Updates?
As a missionary, you are going to leave behind a significant amount of people that love and support you. You know this going overseas, but to keep this in mind when updating those loved ones, because it is so important.
Those who are receiving your updates are people who are supporting you financially and prayerfully. That is a very big deal! Over time it may not feel like a big deal to you because you almost expect that money to be their every month. Well, I challenge you to think about what you’d do if it wasn’t? This always leaves me more thankful and more excited to share with those supporting me.
It is also really sweet to have partners that are non-believers also because they can see how the Lord is moving around the world, you’d be surprised how many mountains your updates of what God is doing, could move in their lives.
Send updates to thank your partners, family, friends, churches, etc. for their faithfulness in prayer and financially throughout your time in ministry. These updates are also good to share what is going on in your life, language learning, and ministry. It gives a great platform for prayer requests and praise reports.
Monthly you should send out an E-communication. This can look like a short two-minute video or a brief newsletter with pictures. Whatever type of E-communication you choose to use should be kept simple because less is always more. Most people do not always read everything you send if it is the same type of communication each month.
The normal these days in the mission culture is to just send a newsletter monthly through email or whatever program. This is not always read and so we need to become more creative with what we are sending monthly. This why it is important to pick a different E-communication each time.
No matter which E-communication you choose to send, make it really clean and catchy to the eye. Your partners are most likely excited to hear from you and hear about what you are doing, but don’t let them lose interest with a boring, long, picture-less update.
Video and Social Media Updates
When sending a video to your partners you have a few options on uploading it. Vimeo is a great program that you can upload videos to, then add the link to your email at the end of the month. When using Vimeo just make sure that your permission settings are correct. If they are off it can be hard for someone who does not have a Vimeo account to access the video, or other problems with the link can pop up. You can also upload the video to Youtube, you just want to be careful with the security of your location.
Social Media updates are always a great way to be brief and to show a little piece of what you are doing. Some may use a private Facebook group or Instagram page just for their ministry. Whatever you choose to share through the internet with anyone it is a good rule of thumb to be aware of triangulation. The definition below may not seem like a big deal. If you are working in a closed context or really anywhere it is always a good rule to go by for your security. Many governments, specifically the video surveillance countries use this method to find out what missionaries are doing in order to get them in trouble.
Triangulation : the measurement of the elements necessary to determine the network of triangles into which any part of the earth’s surface is divided in surveying.Webster Dictionary
The three main points that are focused on in triangulation are names, places and activities. All three of these are used to focus in on people for surveying. When using the internet it is good to be careful of these things to be very vague.
Quarterly a 2 page, double-sided newsletter physically printed and sent to your partners would be a great way to send information. This physical copy that comes in their mail is a personal touch that would help you go the extra mile. The quarterly letter should include a snippet about family ministry, a testimony, thanks to your partners, and any prayer requests.
This task may sound daunting when you are busy with ministry and language learning, whatever the case may be. But there are really great programs that will print and mail your letters for you in the States. The amount you will pay for this is worth it to reach your partners with a physical update. The programs that I have heard are phenomenal with this are Chalk Line and Prayer Letters.
End of The Year Update
Finally, an end of the year letter should be a nice typed letter with a personal handwritten note at the bottom. This letter is a great time to ask for an end-of-the-year gift, as statistically, 22% of donations come in at the end of the year. With that being said it is important to include the link to your giving, or an address for mailing a check – a return envelope and giving slip included is always helpful. This should go out the first week of December with a follow up electronically around the middle of December.
Information to Include
Each type of update should always be somewhat simple and short. It is good to understand that your field drama should not be shared all over your updates, this should be handled with those on the field and organization leadership.
Everything you send should be easy to read, keeping things short and sweet is helpful to keep everyone engaged and looking forward to your next update. I tend to try to only include one to two stories and just focus on those things. I always add prayer requests and praise reports. I find it very fun to watch over time how prayer requests turn to praises, this does not go unseen!
Include funny stories and life-changing moments. These things can be about family, ministry, your local friends, testimonies of things from your ministry. Really anything that is close to your heart and what you are finding yourself passionate about, share it!
Always remember to include photos or video footage if sending a video update. Remember to be careful about triangulation; what you are showing about your/those you’re working with’s names, places, and activities, this is for everyone’s safety.
Drama needs to be left out of your updates. Whether this is with local people or your team or even with family at home. Any type of drama needs to be left out. We know that it will come, we are broken people working together with other broken people to reach more brokenness. The enemy loves to make missionaries fall with their team dynamics or ministry drama. Do not let this be you. It is unacceptable to blast any of that information into your updates. You can add a prayer request asking for wisdom or whatever for your team or ministry, but it does not need to get into the specifics of the problem.
Finances should not always be spoken about. If you are having a problem with funds while overseas there are other people within your organization or church you can contact to figure out a plan to get finances. Yes, this may mean asking your partners in an e-communication but that does not mean it needs to always be included. Do not play a victim in this area. Your partners do not want to always see things like “we could’ve gotten them a Bible if we just had enough money,” or whatever the thing is. Take these things into consideration when funding and when you write your end-of-the-year letter.
Excessive photos can be helpful sometimes to give a face to a name or show a place you frequent. Again, be careful with the triangulation. I say that excessive photos is unnecessary information because it really doesn’t give full information if it does not go along with the words that you type with it. You should also already be focused on one to two stories per update which means you should not need a lot of photos. If I have sent a lot of photos I have just included them on their own page and explained that I wanted to share foods, places, etc. to give a glimpse into everyday life. It did not have anything to do with ministry or anything, just literal everyday things.
Deep details of hardship can be left out with the drama. You may catch yourself wanting to share the whole deep story with your partners to makes your ministry or life should cooler or harder than it is. That is a big trap, and you do not need to get stuck into it. This is really to protect you, your friends, ministry and location. Most of those reading your updates probably won’t understand the cultural rooted issues in the hardship either, so it is just all around not necessary to share.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Ask yourself why you are wanting to share certain things. Is it for attention? Or are you genuinely wanting to share how the Lord has moved in your location?
I have said previously how the enemy can trap us into wanting to dwell on the hardships or drama around us. Ask yourself if you are throwing a pity party or what your heart motives are in sharing certain things.
Throughout the month, take note of what is going on, big or small things you would like to share. Then ask yourself, what is the most important thing to share with my partners?
Also, ask yourself:
- If I was in sharing this in person with my partners would I say it differently?
- How can I share about my daily life in a short, but informative way?
- How can I best thank my partners this month?
Many questions can be formatted, but overall I challenge you to think about what you are doing daily for ministry and what is the most influential to you to share. People love to hear from you, just keep in mind you will not always get their full attention. Keep it short and sweet, always thank them!
What People Said They Look For
I spent some time interviewing those who receive updates from missionaries regularly. I found the following things to be what they look for in an update:
Something Funny Culturally or With Language Learning
These mistakes in the learning process are always so fun to read when you are receiving the updates because it is humbling and silly to see what is different around the world. Along with something funny, some said they would like to see what new cultural things the missionary is learning and how they can apply it to their life overseas.
The Missionary’s Ministry
This can include good and bad things, but it is not wanted to only dwell on the negatives. The updates on ministry can be about changes going on, testimonies of what has been working well or those who are growing in their relationship or nearness to Christ.
What the Lord is Teaching the Missionary Personally
This can literally come from any part of your life, but most people want to know about what is He teaching the missionary and how that is equipping them for their ministry.
An Overview of Their Life
This one can be sent with the end-of-the-year if your monthly and quarterly updates include this throughout the year. But the overview is something that those interviewed said they like reading about from missionaries they support.
Every person that I interviewed said they always want to know the missionary’s prayer requests. This seemed to be very important to them because it is personal to the heart of the missionary and a great way for those following the missionary to partner with the ministry, country, Holy Spirit and the missionary in whatever they are doing.
Chalk Line and Prayer Letters are great sources to send your quarterly printed letter update. Both programs you have to pay for, but it is well worth it to send your partners an update on your life!
Vimeo and Youtube are helpful when wanting to send a video update to your partners. Like I previously said, just make sure that your permission settings are set correctly in order to make it simple to open for your partners. The permission settings should only be something to check when using Vimeo.
Mail Chimp is a great, free or paid program that allows you to send email newsletters, which can include links to your videos, to your partners. This program has the ability to track who is opening your letters, when they open them, how often, etc. That type of information is helpful to know, especially if you are planning to come back for a time, knowing who will be more up to date with what has gone on in your ministry and life.
BCC on Email is one that I have found to be most easy for me because most of my partners have always replied to that form of communication. I am able to attach my PDF newsletter, links, etc. then Blind Carbon Copy all of my partners. I purposely Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) on emails, so that if anyone accidentally hits reply all, it will only go to me. When you send a mass email through Carbon Copy (CC), hitting reply all will actually reply all.
Canva is a great program that I personally use monthly to create really well-formatted newsletters. This is a free or paid program, the free program has a significant amount of templates and ideas for pretty much anything under the sun. I have found this source to be very helpful, and always leaving me with newsletters that are commented on monthly. When creating a newsletter on Canva it is easy to just download a PDF of your newsletter when you are finished and that can be used with any of the programs listed above to send your newsletter update!