As the Toronto Star rightly noted on Saturday
A golden rule for journalists is to report the story, not become it.
Unfortunately for Amanda Lindhout, this was not the case. Kidnapped in Somalia, the Canadian journalist endured 15 months of captivity before her release this week.
Snatched along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan in August 2008, the pair says they were beaten, tortured and left alone, often without food.
The sad details of what they experienced will emerge in coming weeks as they return home and begin to heal. (Both were reported Friday to be in good condition at a Nairobi hospital.)
But their release has also sparked discussion about journalists in conflict zones – and questions about Lindhout's credentials. Online blogs note her dozens of Facebook photos striking glamorous poses amid conflict.
Gutsy reporter? Or naive thrill-seeker?
The temptation to become the story rather than reporting it is not unique to the secular news media. Those of us who work with persecuted Christians may, indeed, even be especially susceptible to it. Early in my ministry with The Voice of the Martyrs I remember how a colleague of mine (who is no longer with the ministry) had been interviewed by a major newspaper and described as a modern-day Christian “Indiana Jones.”
I can understand how that can happen. Our work tends to take us to remote areas in foreign countries meeting individuals who stories are often engaging, inspirational, and rather exotic. There is a degree of danger and secrecy to our work. Our workers often see a side to the Christian life that many others in the West only read about in history books. Sometimes more than just a little hint of adventurism is implied in the the way our kind of ministry is described in writing or at meetings. Some ministries do it deliberately. Sometimes it is unavoidable, regardless of how much one tries to avoid sensationalism. It’s the nature of the work.
Now, add to this mix individual depravity - a need for recognition, a love of the limelight or any other desire to become the object of affection, respect or attention - and you can perhaps see why I have seen it a part of my mandate as a leader to repeatedly remind my colleagues that the focus of our ministry needs to be on the faithfulness of God and His persecuted children and not on us as an organization or as individuals. I warn new staff (and remind old staff) to be careful about believing their own press.
This has been one of the reasons why I have been reluctant until recently about getting involved in interviews about my own struggle with cancer. When I finally consented, I deliberately sought to steer the interview in the direction of bringing focus back to the persecuted church as much as possible and how having cancer has equipped me for better service to them or how working with them has helped prepare me for my fight with this (in my case) incurable disease. The focus of our work is to glorify God by serving His Persecuted Church, not to glorify ourselves by serving them.
Understanding this also finds expression in how we as a mission talk about our work with the persecuted. We deliberately don’t spend a lot of time talking about our work or the projects that we get involved in. Again, this is not our focus. With some organizations, their reporting primarily concerns the work that they are engaged in. Like reporters reporting on the news media, they have become the news rather than the reporters of it.
“But how else will you raise financial support?” some will ask.
It’s actually not that hard. Why not simply pray that God will speak to the hearts of those who read your material? I challenge you to report on how God is being glorified and His purposes are being fulfilled and watch how people gravitate to this kind of “fundraising” as God works in their hearts.