Communicating Mission Work Clearly to Global Media


Basically, those of us working in missions didn't know how to engage the press. We thought we could live and communicate in two separate worlds, Love writes.

In January 2002, just a few months after 9/11, I taught a course at Columbia International University (CIU) called Church Planting in the Muslim World.

I was international director of Frontiers - a large mission focused on inviting all Muslims to follow Jesus.

A freelance journalist named Barry Yeoman wanted to sit in on our class so he could write something about followers of Jesus in the Muslim world.

He had fairly represented evangelicals in previous articles so the administration of CIU and I decided to let him attend my class.

Yeoman was an eager student. He brought a Bible and looked up every verse I mentioned - and we spent much time in Scripture.

I am sure he did more Bible study in that week than he had done in his whole life! (Barry was Jewish.) He also readily engaged the students at breaks and during meals.

In May 2002, I was shocked when his article came out in a magazine called "Mother Jones" - an American independent news organization reporting on politics, the environment, human rights and culture. It is reportedly one of the most widely read liberal publications in the U.S.

The article made the front cover of the magazine. A picture of a fully veiled Muslim woman with a necklace and a cross hanging around her neck provided the background for the provocative title: "The Stealth Crusade." Wow! I was not happy about that.

I quickly turned to the article and found that Barry did a good job of describing the dynamics of the class and some of the content of the course.

But the article claimed our explicit mission was to "wipe out Islam" - an outrageous and totally fallacious comment. Those fanatical words were never uttered in the class, nor did we portray that extreme, combative attitude.

Sharing the gospel and wiping out Islam are two radically different things. In fact, the class focused on being a positive witness for Jesus, not on attacking Islam.

When I emailed Yeoman after the article was published, he admitted that I did not say some of the things mentioned in the article. He attributed them to certain students outside of class, so he felt justified in including them in the article.

I don't doubt that some zealous students might have said something like this, especially since this was right after 9/11. What I don't like is that it was attributed to me by association and that it skewed the meaning of the entire article.

Anyone reading the article could easily view the class through the lens of violent fanaticism, which is blatantly wrong. Nevertheless, I can understand why Yeoman might have interpreted my students' words this way.

The use of militant language is unfortunately a problem among evangelicals.

Yeoman overstated and exaggerated what was said in class. He was, after all, a journalist trying to make a splash.

But he did his homework, and I must confess that many aspects of his article exposed a lack of biblical breadth and depth in evangelical paradigms and practices. His public "exposé" contained enough truth to be embarrassing.

While I forthrightly disagree with his embellishment, the good parts of his article forced me to re-evaluate some of my beliefs and practices in light of Scripture. That's why I had to write my latest book, "Glocal."

The story in "Mother Jones" and the ensuing response also powerfully displayed how different the world had become since 9/11. In the past, only a liberal audience in the U.S. would have read this article. But because of globalization, this article ricocheted throughout the world.

It was published by "Utusan Melayu" (Malaysia), "Nawa-i-Waqt" (Pakistan), "UmmaNews" (international wire), "The Independent" (United Kingdom), "Payvand" (Iran), "Ottawa Citizen" (Canada) and "Weekend Australian" (Australia) to name a few.

A friend of mine who lived in Pakistan told me how he felt when the "Mother Jones" article was published in his country. He basically did not want to be associated with me anymore. He said he actually practiced saying in the local language, "I don't know Rick Love!"

Soon afterward I was asked to be interviewed by:

  • "National Geographic Channel" (U.S.)
  • "The Washington Post" (U.S.)
  • "Christianity Today" (U.S.)
  • "The New York Times" (U.S.)
  • "CNN International"
  • "National Public Radio" (U.S.)
  • "60 Minutes" (Australia)
  • "Courrier International" (France)
  • "September Films" (U.K.)
  • "60 Minutes II" (U.S.)
  • "Der Spiegel" (Germany) and
  • "talkSPORT radio" (U.K.)

I said "no!" to these interviews. I didn't want to share in a high profile way about our work in Muslim countries.

Moreover, evangelical mission leaders generally don't do interviews with the secular press, especially in response to such a negative article.

Our interconnected world had confronted me with a vengeance. I felt exposed as the full force of living in a globalized world hit me. I wasn't just unaware and caught off guard; I was oblivious to these global realities.

To be honest, the whole evangelical missions world - of which I was a prime representation and example - was blind to the impact of globalized media.

Basically, those of us working in missions didn't know how to engage the press. We thought we could live and communicate in two separate worlds.

We were operating as if there were no connection between our in-house conversations with fellow Christians and our conversation with those outside the household of faith. It was like we were speaking two different languages - one to "insiders" and another to "outsiders."

This didn't cause us discomfort when our two worlds remained separate, but when the Internet ambushed us with a new "one-world reality," we were forced to confront this duality.

Rick Love serves as president of Peace Catalyst International. He has lectured or consulted in more than 40 countries in the last 35 years and has published five books including "Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities" (2014). His writings can also be found on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter @drricklove.

Editor's note: This column is an excerpt from Love's latest book, "Glocal: Following Jesus in the 21st Century." It is used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can purchase a copy of the book here. A video summarizing the book's message is available here.

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Tags: Evangelicals, Glocal, Interfaith, Muslims, Rick Love


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