A recent MM post provided some guidelines for writing missionaries in restricted access nations. A related issue that Restricted Access Nation (RAN) missionaries face involves their identity. As they minister the gospel of Christ, these individuals must employ creative means of access and stability in their given RAN. With this creative type of ministry (see previous post on an Intro to Tentmaking) comes heightened levels of risk.
Two of the risks related to identity are that the workers: 1) feel that they are being disingenuous with the host government and people by “saying I do one thing while really doing another” and/or 2) raise suspicion from government or other local leaders and endanger their lives as well as the lives of the national believers.
The issue of a worker’s identity in a RAN is a complex issue. These matters ought to be prayerfully considered and analyzed by the worker, his/her family, their sending church, supporting churches, mission board, etc. While an element of risk is inherent to gospel ministry in difficult settings, the gospel worker would do well to minimize the level of risk he/she incurs while still fulfilling ministry purposes.
The outside aid of organizations such as CRICON (Crisis Consulting International) is valuable in preparing workers for identity issues. CRICON conducted a 3-day Field Security Seminar in May of 2010 for the current and prospective missionaries of our church (about 20 individuals). This training is highly recommended for those preparing to minister in dangerous settings, as they offer training in Hostage Survival, High-Risk Conflict Management, Target Hardening, Surveillance Management, Operations in Conflict/War Zones, Landmines, UXO and IEDs.
During the Surveillance Management tract, concern for minimizing risk seemed to narrow down to online presence and physical surveillance.
Regarding online presence, a good rule of thumb is “if you put it online assume that it is accessible to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.” The safest move is to remove all references to the gospel worker from the internet. If that is not possible or desired, intermediate steps can be taken such as limiting the sites on which their name appears.
Several options exist to boost the security of the worker’s email correspondence. One is to install GPG software (also known as GnuPG), a free version of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software, which effectively, though not perfectly, safeguards your emails. GPG functions as an encryption service whereby both parties use personal keys to unlock an email, protecting it from unintended eyes.
Here are two tutorials on using GPG with Gmail. Be sure to read the comments below the articles for other helpful information. Also, if you use Gmail, ensure that you access the service using the URL https://mail.google.com (the “s” is the important element.) Gmail is set up to use the “https” by default but you can ensure that it does by following these instructions.
Regarding Skype, it is a fairly secure option and to conveniently communicate internationally via voice and video. Simon Garfinkel, an Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and an associate of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University (I don’t think he sings), prepared a thorough review of Skype from a security standpoint. Read Garfinkel’s review (esp. pp. 4-7) for a detailed analysis of Skype’s security.
His conclusion about Skype privacy:
While the actual communications between Skype clients appears to be encrypted, searches conducted on behalf of Skype users — including searches necessary to initiate Skype calls — are observable by the Skype network. This means that it should be possible for even unprivileged participants of the network to perform traffic analysis and determine when one user calls another user. It is unknown if the design of the Skype network makes it possible for some nodes to monitor all searches and call set-up traffic, or if instead each node would only see a portion of the overall traffic. [p. 5]
Read the complete review for a thorough perspective of the privacy issues involved in using Skype (and similar VoIP programs). You can also read Sype’s security page for their take on how secure their program is (including FAQs).
Another method of safeguarding one’s online presence is to develop a system of pseudonyms that you, your immediate family, and other RAN workers will utilize when corresponding with friends, family, and churches in the States, and vice versa. The “vice versa” is the tricky part; it is much easier to protect your own vocabulary that it is to educate dozens or hundreds of others. Look at the “Guidelines for Writing to Workers in RAN” document that MM produced for ideas on creating your own pseudonym vocabulary.
The most valuable tip regarding physical surveillance in a RAN is to be aware. This sounds simplistic, but most instances of surveillance can be detected and/or avoided by taking precautionary measures and keeping your “eyes peeled.” (The CRICON Field Security Seminar is excellent for training you to detect and/or avoid surveillance. See links above.)
For those who can’t attend a CRICON training event, availing yourself to other security resources is key. An example is STRATFOR (Strategic Forecasting), an international intelligence company that releases daily briefings regarding political, economic, and military developments. (Much info is free to the public; the paid subscriptions offer more detailed briefings.) Their article “Watching for Watchers” provides an overview of surveillance and simple steps to detect it and react effectively. Their “Primer on Situational Awareness” reveals what awareness is and isn’t, levels of awareness, and how to find that appropriate level of awareness.
Speaking the full truth of the gospel of Jesus is necessarily confrontational; it is either a stumbling block or foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:23). Ministering this gospel in a RAN context entails extra levels of risk. But prayerfully using identity tools that God has made available can ensure that you minister wisely and effectively as you seek to minimize unnecessary risk.