When Elder Britten Schenk, a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in the Brazil Sao Paulo East Mission, was seriously injured in a bus mishap a week ago, his family in Hyde Park, Utah, immediately did three things.
First, they prayed. Then they started working to get the necessary airplane tickets and visas to fly Elder Schenk's parents, Steven and Karla Schenk, to Brazil to be with their son. And then they set up a blog at elderbrittenschenk.blogspot.com that they could use to update family and friends on Elder Schenk's condition.
Stimulated at least in part by media coverage of the incident, the blog has been viewed more than 63,000 times, with more than 300 comments offering words of love, faith and encouragement.
"We started this blog as a way to communicate with our family and friends and update them on Britt's condition," the Schenks wrote on their Wednesday blog entry. "We now realize that we have more friends and family than we could have ever imagined. It brings tears to our eyes to read the many comments of love and support for our son."
The use of blogs as a tool for sharing missionary experiences is growing as Latter-day Saints around the world become more comfortable with online technology. LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said "generally, blogs documenting the experiences of missionaries are maintained by family members or friends from home. Often these blogs draw upon letters or photos sent by the missionary."
According to Trotter, there is no official church policy for missionary blogs beyond the general guidelines regarding personal Internet use found in the church's General Handbook of Instructions: "Members are encouraged to be examples of their faith at all times and in all places, including on the Internet. If they use blogs, social networks, and other Internet technologies, they are encouraged to strengthen others and help them become aware of that which is useful, good, and praiseworthy."
Rules for missionaries doing the blogging themselves vary from mission to mission, although Trotter said that a few missions are testing the possibility of using missionary blogs as a way of "sharing the gospel in their assigned areas."
Wade Walke said he started the LDS Mission Blogs site when his son, Tyler, was getting ready to go on his mission. "I wanted to have a central place where I could keep his blog and the blogs of family and friends who also had missionaries serving in the field," Walke said.
The missionary blog turned out to be "very useful for sharing letters and photos from him," Walke said, so he set up the blog site as a way to "help others start their own missionary blogs."
Unfortunately, he said, "the demand for this service has declined and there are so many other options available that I no longer see the need to keep this site going." He has closed LDS Mission Blogs to new blogs, and will close the site permanently after all of the missionaries currently using the blog site have returned home.
Still, as the Elder Schenk experience has shown, having a central location to which interested family members and friends can come for missionary updates can be practical and handy. But it is not without controversy. The LDS.net blog site has recently featured a discussion of missionary blogs, with participants expressing concern with missionaries (or their family members) who share the specific names and locations of people with whom the missionaries are working.
"If I were investigating a church," one commenter wrote, "I can tell you right now that I would absolutely not be happy to find out that the missionary was writing about their experience with me online, even if my name was changed."
Another commenter said that if blogging is within the rules for missionaries, "they should be given some etiquette lessons on what to say or not say. I'm not a fan of them sharing personal info on investigators. Letters home are different. The blog should be (available) to invited friends only, not for the entire world to read."
Under special circumstances, such as Elder Schenk's recent accident, the missionary blog can be invaluable as a source of information for those who are interested in the missionary, as well as a source of comfort and strength for the missionary's family.
"We are so thankful for the overwhelming love, support and prayers that we feel from so many," the Schenk's wrote in their blog. "Britten has touched so many lives! We thank our Heavenly Father for his kind mercies."