A Selfie-View of Missions, And why I Don’t Take Pictures of Faces


I’ve always been fascinated by technology and “playing” with computers or electronic devices by seeing what happens when I hit certain buttons.  This used to annoy my father who wanted me to fix an electronic problem with his laptop without hitting any buttons (I couldn’t) eventually he started handing it to me and leaving the room because seeing me randomly hit buttons was too stressful and normally ten-minutes later it was fixed 🙂

Thankfully most problems mom and dad encounter now deal with cable tv’s or Roku boxes and the answer can be found in a very important document I left for them last year.

This love of playing with technology has affected my ministry in many ways, but most of all how I communicate with supporting Churches and prayer partners.  In 2009 while a missionary in Melbourne Australia my communication philosophy turned from sending email updates to using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I still try to send at least two email updates a month).  There are three reasons for this.

  1. Social Media reaches a larger group of people
  2. It communicates on a much more regular basis, and creates a stronger relationship (your able to share the every part of ministry good, bad, and yes even the ugly sometimes)
  3. And pictures speak more powerfully than words

That last part is one of the most important reasons why I used social media…pictures speak to people.

as an illustration let me show you a picture of my breakfast from yesterday

View this post on Instagram

Thankful for the delicious fruits of Saint Vincent

A post shared by John Wilburn (@johnhwilburn) on

I know that seven likes doesn’t seem like much, but the same picture got twenty-two likes and five comments on Facebook.  That’s thirty-five total connections (including the Instagram comment) for a bowl of fruit.

The power of pictures and the technology at our fingertips (particularly those with smartphones) is a the same time an incredible blessing, and a terrible curse.

It’s REALLY easy to to fill your social-media feed with carefully edited and cropped selfies of other people, or group photos.  I personally have a rule against taking pictures of “people” and sharing them online because the focus goes from relationship development to gaining likes or comments.

And when the focus of a pictures is to get likes or comments instead of building a true relationship then missionaries are using technology for their own glory (and yes I am guilty of this ocassionally).

It’s not easy to keep away from the “selfie view of missions” but the Lord has helped me develop two important rules.

Rule Number One:  Take pictures of things, not people

When we take pictures of people it will automatically pull on peoples heart-strings and bring an emotional response.  Sometimes this is okay, but 90% of the time I don’t take pictures of faces (there is a large amount from VBS last summer, other than that one of a child reading a book).  I do this because pictures of people get likes (especially cute children) and I could easily get into the habit of sharing those kinds of pictures just to get likes.

View this post on Instagram

Coffee and a Bible story

A post shared by John Wilburn (@johnhwilburn) on

Rule Number Two:  If you do take a picture of somebody, take a picture of the back of their head.

During ministry in the States I enjoyed introducing children to “Kev the Kangaroo” and letting them sign him if they were good.  Pics of these moments were too good to pass up but there was one hard and fast rule…you don’t face the camera. 

View this post on Instagram

Kev IV came to sparks!

A post shared by John Wilburn (@johnhwilburn) on

Now this is actually difficult because children WANT you to take their picture!  Last Friday I got some kids to take mine to use as a new profile pic at the top of this post, and ended up taking five group photos of them.  Usually when taking Kev pictures I have to explain that Mr. John doesn’t want to see your face because he is sharing the picture online.

It is hard sometimes to refrain from taking pictures of people on the mission field and share them, but I almost never do it.  Not just because of the real privacy issues (especially dealing with children) but because pictures aren’t meant to be about my glory anyways.

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