Note: This page will be updated regularly with new recommendations.
I (David Cox) have been a missionary for about 28 years now, and if you count the years on deputation, around 30 years. In my lifetime, I have gone from nothing electronic to speak of to using powerful desktop computers now. When I was in my schooling years (1964-2002) computers hit the scene and are now common. My education (much after school was self-taught about computers, and I even taught myself Foxpro relational database, and programmed my own software) has spanned both no-computer, and computer. So let me start off by a couple of much needed points that people need to understand.
1. Computers are greatly helpful to make life easier for you. But the flip side is that whereas computers save you “busy-time” in doing repetitive or intensively searching type work, it will quadruple your learning time.
2. Wisdom and prudence is to use what is best adapted for a task, and know every alternative you can, and switch between methods or instruments to find the best fit between ease-of-use, time commitment, and quality.
Let me explain this point with an illustration.
EXAMPLE: If you have a prayer letter list of 12 people, which should you use to track these people and send out your prayer letters? A.) Excel. B.) Specialized Missionary Software. C.) Mail merge of Microsoft Word. D.) None of the above.
My choice is D. None of the above. Get yourself some 3×5 cards and write the addresses down. Laziness is a sin, and frankly, to set up those programs, learn how to use them, and then use them is a great waste of time. If you don’t already know how to use them, and can set up stuff and execute them in a few minutes, then just use pen and paper. The point is that there is a trade-off between being quick, and getting to the point where you have the thing done. To keep up with software updates, changes, and new methods on how to use them, well, it is a very high investment of time. Spend two or three days learning the latest Microsoft Office is not without significance. In a lot of cases, a simple pen and paper approach is better because there is zero learning or overhead to doing things that way. Believe me, after I spend two days trying to learn how to set up a database, entering the data for my mailing list, and then trying to learn how to do a mail merge, I felt it was a waste of time. Buy a box of mailing labels to go through a photocopier, type the addresses on each one with a typewriter, and then photocopy (using your scanner-printer) when you need them, and you are done. Change of address? Pull the label off, type on a blank sheet the new address, and stick it back in the place where the old one was. This type of doing things is easier than using the computer. A key problem of the self-employeed (like us) is that with no boss sitting on our desk every day challenging us as to what we are doing, we tend to procrastinate. There is no better point of leaving work to procrastinate than trying to get some program to do what you want. (I recommend trying to learn your programs in non-work times, like Saturday mornings or late evenings).
So before you use any software program, ask yourself what is the trade off between what it will do for you, and what it costs you to get it up and running, and what it costs to maintain it. Money is always a consideration here, but that is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is what will it cost you to learn the program, and make it do what it is supposed to do so that you get production out of it.
Now I am going to recommend some of my favorite programs. Note that note all of these programs are as useful as others. My mindset is to go the cheap, useful, and effective route.
Open Office – This is my software of choice. I have had and used Microsoft Office products (not all of the suite is useful to me obviously) since 1986. Microsoft Office is the number one Office Software on the planet, but Bill Gates & Co. are wanting to go to a 365, where they charge you a couple hundred dollars a year every year you use it, so why? Comparing Open Office and Microsoft Office, they both do the same thing basically, and in the few points where Microsoft does something that OpenOffice doesn’t, they are esoteric things that you would probably never use anyway. I find Open Office much more easier to use, and the learning curve seems a lot flatter than Microsoft Word. I have studied tutorials, found out how to do something in OO Write, and then said, Wow! That is neat. I looked into Microsoft Word, and you can do the same thing, but I never found it in the many years of using Word. Another thing to consider is that Microsoft Word is guilty of spaghetti code bloat, which shouldn’t bother you except that it is extremely large in program file sizes.
Missionary Presentation Software
I don’t know of any missionaries that don’t need to present something to somebody. If it is not for their supporters, then it is teaching their people on their field of service. Seems every missionary needs to be able to make presentations. Thank the Lord that the “old days” of making an image into a transparency are over. I actually bought a set of block letters in rub on sheets, placed them on 8.5×11 pages, then used a camera and slide film to photograph each one, develop it, and then use it in my slide presentation with actual slide projector. Again, thank the Lord those days are over!
Open Office Impress – Again Microsoft PowerPoint is the premier leader here, but OO Impress is a free alternative that can do most everything Powerpoint can. I would recommend that you use Impress. If you want to go the PowerPoint route, fine, but before you purchase, download free Impress and play around with it. Then find somebody with PowerPoint, and ask them if you can use it for an hour or two. I think you will think again about paying for something when you can get it for free.
There are websites that will allow you to make presentations and then to export them (directly or through third party software) into a video. These presentation software products should be carefully examined. Some are excellent. Here I am going to make some separations and evaluations for you.
Prezi.com (Complete ministry presentation) – I have used Prezi, and let me give you my impression. First of all, it is a very capable presentation software. It is different from PowerPoint/Impress in that it puts everything on a single slide (actually you can have more than one). But the point is that it uses a zoom in and out tactic, in which you put sections of your presentation in different areas on a main image (these are extremely small and you cannot read it when the program is totally zoomed out). From there each step zooms in or out to go through a path on that main image. While there is a progress and connection plus to this, it is still kind of “kinky” in that it gets kind of confusing zooming in and out. After you have seen two or three Prezi presentations, that goes away, but non-technical people sitting in a pew might not understand it too well.
Focusky – Same as Prezi but not through a website but on your computer.
Powtoons.com (Excellent point by point presentations) – I would find it difficult and cumbersome to make a ministry presentation on Powtoons. It is really a teaching tool more than a presentation tool. Having said that, it is an excellent, quick, and forceful teaching tool. For teaching doctrine, it is really nice. For your ministry presentation, it is a bit too cumbersome to get images in and out, and Impress/PowerPoint would be better.
Photo Montage Software
fotor.com – This software is for making a photo montage of continuous photos, zooming in, out, and panning with music. It allows you to make a montage for your computer (video), or a collage (various photos overlaid one on the other), or even to make a birthday card. It is website driven software, i.e. you use it online.
animoto.com – This is a well known website/creator. Free version limits to 30 sec.
ipiccy.com – This is a free online montage maker, but it has a lot of photo editing features. Has local storage so you can store your stuff on your own drive, not in the cloud. (Good idea)
photovisi.com – This is another website software for using online to create montages. It does seem to be as robust as Fotor.com though.
kizoa.com – This is another website dedicated to Photo montage creation.
Photoshop Tutorials –