Each summer my congregation engages in direct missions work. Sometimes the focus is in our city, while at other times we travel to other parts of the USA or the world. Not everyone can participate in these efforts, although many are interested. When these trips are completed, we always have a service where stories and photos can be shared from the journey. It always struck me that there was always so much more that had happened than could be shared during the service. Why not use new tech tools to help share more of the story?

In 2009, I traveled to Boston with our youth group to participate in a Passport missions camp. The camp format involves youth in a variety of missions projects in the area, as well as Bible study, worship and recreation.

Before the trip, I chatted with our youth minister about the idea of my live-blogging the event. It would allow parents and interested church members to connect with the mission trip through viewing regular posts of notes, photos and info about what was happening each day. He thought it was a great idea.

Several days before the trip, we posted the link to the live blog on the church website, and also sent it to all youth families.

Here’s how we did the live blog:

  • I set up a new account on Friendfeed for our youth group. Friendfeed is free, and you can set your page to be private (invitation-only) or public. It also provides an easy-to-remember URL for sharing.  Friendfeed also makes it easy for readers to post comments to posts. (Update: since the trip, there are new tools, such as Tumblr or Posterous, both free, that do more than Friendfeed).
  • I used my iPhone for posting. The iPhone I used was a second generation model, not the newer and faster 3gs or iPhone 4 models.  I installed the “Buddyfeed” app ($2.99 on the iTunes store) on the iPhone and configured it for our Friendfeed account. The app makes it easy to post notes and photos to a Friendfeed page. There are similar apps for other smartphones, too.
  • Then, from the moment we started the trip, I started posting. There were photos from loading the vans, moving through the airport, and grabbing a bite to eat. I posted “hi mom” greetings from youth throughout the week, along with a photo. At work sites, during recreation, and even during Bible study, I was posting notes and photos from my iPhone. When something noteworthy (Emma won “honor camper” today!)  or funny (a seagull just pooped on Burgess’ head!), a photo and note immediately was posted. On average, I posted around 8-15 items per day, scattered throughout the day.
  • It was surprising how many parents and church members followed the blog, many leaving comments ("way to go," "we're proud of you") or clicking the “like” button. When we returned from the trip, there was a feeling that a portion of the church had been vicariously enjoying the week along with our youth.

There are other ways to do live-blogging on trips, and the tools are growing in power. For example, the new iPhone also captures video, and allows for basic editing right there on the phone.

In the end, the goal of the live-blogging was to engage all those who had interest in participating in our mission trip. They found meaning (and appreciation of our teens) through the blog, and our youth were blessed through the constant support of those back home.

Missions and ministry generate stories, and those stories have the power to change lives. Live-blogging mission trips is one way to share these powerful stories.

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