If you are involved with Christian work, either mission or church based, there comes a time when it's necessary to keep supporters up to date with what's happening. Whilst modern technology provides various ways of communicating, it still means that most people send a regular form of newsletter. Whilst some have natural skills in writing, others struggle with this whole area of communication.
As the Alumni Co-ordinator for a Mission Training College, I have the privilege of receiving over 350 newsletters per year! You can imagine that there is every conceivable type of newsletter that arrives on my desk, but the great thing is that each one is a reflection of the person who has sent it and a small window into each situation that they are living through.
Communicating reality without being too negative or too positive is a skill
It is not an easy job to be able to communicate all that you are living through onto one sheet of paper (or one brief email), choosing how to balance both the good things and the challenging aspects of life. Communicating reality without being too negative or too positive is a skill that often develops over time.
Given that you send the newsletter to a diverse list of supporters, some of whom you know well and some who you don't know very well, is a challenge in itself. I don't think there can be instructions for the 'perfect' newsletter but here are a few pointers that may help you communicate the things that you want to impart.
Having a letter that is clearly marked by some title is good, perhaps a memorable rhyme or phrase using the surname of the authors of the letter. One of the best examples I've seen was 'The Heintz Catch-up' written by the Heintz family! It is also good to see a prominent indication of which organisation and country the writers are working with (this may be different for those who are in 'sensitive' situations ... we will tackle this later).
The Body of the Letter
Most newsletters take up one or two sides of A4 at most. Some will fill every corner and have you reading the extra notes written in the margin all the way around the outside of the page. It's good to write enough detail to involve the reader whilst also keeping it 'readable'. Most folk include photos, which always brightens up the letter. It's good to have one of the family occasionally, but perhaps not necessary every time. I was very pleased to see that one family I write too added a photo of themselves in their newsletter recently as I had been writing to them for four years or more and I didn't know what they or their children looked like. Now I stand some chance of spotting them if they come to visit. It also seems to help with praying for people if readers can picture them.
The Family's Viewpoint
Some families get each member to write a paragraph or have a children's section. This can be good as the view of life is often quite different for the job holder, as it is for the spouse or the 8 year old child.
It also means that readers remember the needs of the whole family and not just the work that they are there to do.
Involving readers in your situations is good. There is one couple who have a section called 'Going Deeper' where they pose several questions asking 'what would you do in this situation?'. Most of the time there is no right or wrong answer but it allows readers to see some of the day to day dilemma's that you are faced with and it gives them a good insight into living and working cross culturally, allowing them to pause and consider.
Living in a Sensitive Situation
those who face the most difficulty in communicating their news due to their situation are often those folk who need the most support and prayer
Living in a 'sensitive' country or having a role which you can't be so open about (e.g. because of security), provides challenges for communicating through newsletters. Some organisations give guidelines on what you should and shouldn't write, along with instructions about using secure email. Some give very little. A few points of advice for sensitive situations is to never mention names (of places or people), to avoid using overtly Christian words or terms (like mission and evangelism) and to always think what the consequences might be if your newsletter got into the wrong hands. It's good to explain to your readers that wrting certain things might endanger your family or your work . The reader then knows to take a step back and read 'between the lines' in order to discern how things are really going. It is ironic that those who face the most difficulty in communicating their news due to their situation are often those folk who need the most support and prayer.
Having a regular pattern to sending your newletters is good. The traditional stance has been to send a full letter 3 or 4 times per year. However, the ease of online communication means that you can send a brief update more often enabling your supporters to walk your journey with you, rather than only meet you at the staging posts along the way. Some people do this monthly, the keen ones weekly! Beware, however, that more often doesn't always mean more interest. Some readers will be fatigued by the amount of communication if you send it too often.
One of the main reasons of writing is to ask for prayer, and having a few 'prayer points' is a really helpful way of guiding the thoughts and prayers of supporters. It is encouraging to see how God has answered previous prayers so having some points of thanksgiving is good too. This also helps the writer to stop and give thanks rather than just have a rolling 'shopping list' of prayer.
Whilst not comprehensive, maybe this has given you enough inspiration to get writing. Perhaps my final point would be to encourage you to remain true to yourself. Don't try to dress it up too much but just write about what you are doing and what you are facing. That way your readers will get a true window into your situation and will feel privileged to join you on the ups and downs of your journey.