Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Bit of Advice on Missionary Blogs Proliferating in Response to an Outgoing Mission President Taking Exception to Family Missionary Blogs

I have to admit in my desire to share information about missionaries to help those going on missions or those who want to know more about mission presidents that not everyone is so open about helping others or sharing. I have encountered a couple minor glitches along the way where people were downright antagonistic. So I am going to inform you in a spirit of disclosure how to have security on your posts and a few dos and don'ts of missionary blogging. I won't give mission presidents any advice because I know the general authorities actually have been encouraging them to blog as a way of spreading the gospel message.

About four months ago there were about fifty missionary blogs with about six mission president blogs. Today that number has increased to well over two hundred missionary blogs with about twenty mission presidents blogging. There is probably dozens more but I haven't located them yet.

One of my best sources for finding missionary blogs that start up is Blog Pulse. I usually do a search on the term MTC. Just because you put up a blog and you can't find it on Google doesn't mean it can't be found by someone searching. There are different search engines and Blog Pulse specializes in searching blog posts. If a blog is in the public domain I add it as service for the entire Bloggernacle. If you don't want it read by the world then make it private which is really not hard to do. All the missionary related blogsites allow that option.

If you want to be helpful you should go in to layout and set your blog to feed otherwise it won't have the great nifty features I have on my list which is showing pictures, summaries etc. It will just have a link at the end of the list with no date stamp or other enhancement.

In fact it is hard to keep up daily with the proliferation of new missionary blogs, let alone link them to Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord two missionary peeps sidebars and the Mormon Blogosphere. The single best place for finding them is probably still the Mormon Blogosphere since they are in one large continuous list.

Not every mission president though is enamored of them being publicly available. A few weeks ago one mission president (whom I won't identify even though I know his name) contacted the families of every missionary in his mission with a known public blog (he found on my sidebar) and demanded via their stake president that the families remove them from public display. The parents were literally called in by their stake presidents. It was during the last week of his mission before a new mission president who is publicly blogging replaced him. But since he was in charge he had to power to do what he deemed necessary and told them to cease and desist from public blogging. I suggest you have your missionary report to their mission president that their family is sharing their emails on a blog. Most won't care but you might have one like the man above who insists they be removed.

My daughter's mission president asked her personally to convey to me a small snafu in that I had placed her email address on her blog. Only family members should be on the weekly email distribution list. Missionaries don't blog family members blog. The mission president was concerned that a young woman's president wanted to find a similar group in Zhongli, Taiwan as virtual pen pals. It was an inappropriate request to make directly to the missionary so she asked her mission president what to do. He told her to have the woman write the bishop directly. She was told she could have made the request in two ways either to us the parents who could track down the bishop or to the mission president directly who would have passed it along to the bishop. The mission rule says missionaries are to email their families only. Familes then have the discretion as to how they share what the missionaries tells them.

It really traumatized the families of the missionaries who were signaled out by that mission president since he threatened to reassign the missionaries if their families didn't quit blogging. I don't understand his logic since none of them were personally blogging and had no influence on what their families did back home with their weekly emails. The stake president told them if they families did not comply their child could be transferred. Instead of arguing with him one family took down their site and another one made it private. It was sad to see the families punished when it was their desire to share the blogs with family and close friends. In fact they emailed me and asked me to remove their links which I did. None of them were angry with me when they realized that I was using search engines to find them. You can set your blog to not feed which makes it hard even for Blog Pulse to find. I find just as many on Google as Blog Pulse but I am actively searching for every link about every LDS mission in the world, which is the purpose of my blog.

The mission president had their emails and phone numbers could have very well contacted them privately but he choose to contact their ecclesiastical leaders making them appear to be out of harmony with the church guidelines. The missionaries involved who were sister missionaries had nothing to do with the matter other than the fact the families put up what they wrote each week. Both missionaries involved were exceptional missionaries that follow the rules exactly. It was a sad situation since one had waited for months to be in her assigned area and was excited to be in an active area with lots of teaching opportunities.

I think he was a bit oversensitive but like I told them "He is in charge." One side note that I guess he forgot is that every ward bulletin in the world has the address of the missionaries. If he was so in to confidentiality about the families involved he should have insisted that the stake presidents and bishops remove the address from the ward programs. Also in the U.S. and Canada you find their addresses hanging in the hallways under their missionary plaques. A pervert could just as well get in their car and go find them. I do understand his concern about listing their actual address on blogs. I think they should be taken down. It might speed up their getting packages but it keeps them safer by sending them to the mission home.

He cited as his reason that it was a security issue but I think he was embarassed that the public press read something they wanted the missionaries to comment on. Apparently something one reported to her family in a weekly email was viewed by a newspaper reporter and her address was listed on the site so the person went over to get a comment for a newspaper article. The mission president felt that caused a security breach. I don't fault him for being upset over the fact that some families list the physical address of their missionaries. One can never be too careful though and I suggest you do what I do which is only list the pouch address and the mission headquarters address. As to their speaking to reporters my mission president encouraged us to do such things including speaking at civic functions. He even told the missionaries at the MTC recently to do the same thing.

I really think we should have a compilation each year like Speeches of the Year that has all the general authority talks at the MTC. Then mission presidents would know what missionaries are being counseled and he won't be in conflict with advice given up higher. One of the missionaries was fresh from the MTC so she had a different perspective. Expectations should be clearly articulated to the missionaries.

But there was apparently a disconnect between what Elder Ballard had told missionaries in a 2009 February MTC devotional and what the mission president believe. Elder Ballard told them they should be prepared to talk to the press if necessary. My daughter reported on the Adventures of Sister Flora Bruno that missionaries should be master teachers "so he [Elder Ballard] could throw any one of us to Washington Post and let us answer."

I advised the families who emailed me that if they really wanted to be careful they should redact the names of investigators i.e. instead of Mary Jones it would be Mary J. or M.J. In my previous two blogs I even redacted missionary companion last names as Sister H. With my last daughter I became a bit less private more out of laziness and the fact parents like to read about their kids companions and their adventures. There are things that I actually delete from the weekly posts if my daughter who now knows I post them publicly says please whatever you do don't talk about this or that. For the most part she edits her stuff including mention of converts in a very uplifting and faith-promoting way. More is gained than lost by public blogging by missionaries.

For now there is no definite policy for or against families posting blogs. I would caution you though in posting to be culturally sensitive and not post pictures of missionaries imitating Buddhas or sitting on Catholic statues or other religious icons. You should also not put up pictures of missionaries in their garments or unclad (I have seen a few even on MissionSite and Dear Elder) of both sisters and elders. You should also clean up their language if they are prone to expletitives. One lady actually publicly wrote about her missionary's struggle with depression as a way of helping parents including his going home early. It makes us more understanding when we follow the weekly life of the missionary.

You don't have to make the whole blog private if there is one sensitive email you can password protect a single post on Word Press or Blogger. One time a family decided to take a blog private but even included me as a user because I had read that blog faithfully for one year. In this case I have never violated my confidence about material posted there. Some missionaries are too shy and don't want others which from time to time include their mission presidents and general authorities from perusing their stuff.

If a blog is public it is in the public domain. There is no etiquette calling for permission for following someone's blog or linking to it. You just create a peep list. In fact Mormon Blogosphere is nothing more than large lists of categories placed in to three columns.

One thing I think about the issue of a mission president deciding against a missionary's family blogging is that they should show respect to them since they are making a great sacrifice of their resources including time and money. He has the right to do what he did since he has stewardship over all the missionaries in his field. He should just remember to be kinder and more gentle like Howard W. Hunter requested when he was the prophet and he might remember some advice Ezra Taft Benson gave about volunteer service:

In the Church especially, asking produces better results than ordering--better feeling, too. Remember to tell why. Follow up to see how things are going. Show appreciation when people carry out instructions well. Express confidence when it can be done honestly. When something gets fouled up, it is well to check back and find out where you slipped up-and don't be afraid to admit that you did. Remember, our people are voluntary, free-will workers. They also love the Lord and His work. Love them. Appreciate them. When you are tempted to reprimand a fellow worker, don't. Try an interesting challenge and a pat on the back instead. Our Father's children throughout the world are essentially good. He loves them. We should also. (God, Family, Country, p. 132.)
Just remember if you are publicly sharing your blogs to use good judgment.


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