One of the changes that took place within the IMB following this tragic attack was the emergence of “code language” among missionaries around the world. To be sure, the IMB has always been the king of acronyms and abbreviated language. The leadership of the IMB seems to have abbreviations for everything. Some people have even joked that those who work with the Board have a separate language altogether.
However, the events of 9/11 alerted IMB leadership that increased ambiguity in communication across the globe would be wise. Those who served in security sensitive areas around the world began to develop secure language. Over the years this language has grown and been adopted by many missionaries. In some cases, code names have even been given to IMB personnel serving in sensitive areas.
To God be the glory, the number of personnel serving in security sensitive areas is on the rise! People are trusting God and moving their families to areas of great spiritual darkness to bring the light of the gospel. It is an exciting time. Yet, one of the restrictions put upon the people serving in these security sensitive areas is that they are not free to state in public settings where it is they are serving. Therefore, you will hear people sharing the general region of the globe where they are serving but not the exact location or people group they are engaging (e.g. “East Asia”).
This is often frustrating to those back in the States who want to be able to pray specifically for a family on the field, but feel distant because of the security concerns. I must admit that I have struggled embracing this mode of communication. Conversations can be awkward, and at times, though unintentional, the impression can be given that those going to “secure” areas are more important than workers going to “non-secure” areas. Everything seems so sensitive and secretive. Churches in the states cannot speak freely of the whereabouts of the missionaries they commissioned and sent out. Is it possible that this protocol is creating more problems than it prevents?
Therefore, one must ask the question, “Is the 007 language too overboard?” Is it silly and pointless? Are people who speak and operate their ministries in this way completely overreacting? Perhaps. There is no doubt that some have reacted to events like 9/11 in ways that are unhelpful and even dishonest. Some missionaries will even “bend the truth” when asked what they are doing and where they are working out of fear that their true purpose will be discovered. An example may be a person who works in SE Asia and claims to be there as an English teacher, yet they never have once taught an English lesson. This is lying and it is wrong and these people need to read Proverbs 14:5 and Colossians 3:9-10.
On the other hand, serving in the midst of a people that is extremely hostile to missionary work, I now see the benefits, and in some respects, the necessity of being very careful with the language I use. That may open me up to the charge of paranoia, but allow me to explain. Many stateside assume the code language is employed to protect the missionary on the field. In some contexts, that is a true assumption. However, in most contexts (present included), the reason for sensitive language is NOT to protect the missionary, but to protect those to whom the missionary is ministering. This is a key reason why many cross-cultural servants do not want to be known as “missionaries.” There is no shame in that title (even though it never appears in scripture). The truth is that the title of missionary is not welcomed in many parts of the world. It can actually be a great source of offense. The term itself is NOT necessary in order for one to engage in the Great Commission.
Allow me to provide an example. Ted serves in North Africa. He works with a Muslim people group. He is able to enter that country and legitimately work as a certified engineer. Ted is a man of integrity and if he says he is doing engineering then that is exactly what he is doing. At the same time, and for Ted more importantly, he is an engineer that is not ashamed of his status as a follower of Jesus Christ. Ted will take every opportunity afforded to him by the Holy Spirit to share his testimony and the redemptive plan of Jesus Christ with those he encounters. He will do all of this as an engineer in a Muslim country. Ted’s identity as an engineer and not a “missionary” will allow him to have a hearing with people that would tune him out instantly if they saw him as a traditional missionary. The benefit here is that Ted is able to do all the things that a “missionary” does and more without using this title.
The term “missionary” carries with it great baggage in many parts of our globe. Images of the Crusades and Colonialism immediately spring into one’s mind when that word is spoken. We in the West often forget how long many civilizations have been in existence. The history of our country is minute compared to most around the world. Events that occurred over 500 years ago are still very present in the memory of these people. Therefore, we have to approach our task with wisdom and sensitivity.
The second part of this blog will deal with common objections to the use of 007 language. It will be forthcoming.