Is It Too Dangerous? [Part I]

By Bill MacLeod, Director, MissionConnexion 

Are you considering leading or participating in a short-term missions trip this summer? Have short-term missions become too dangerous? Is the risk / reward proposition now becoming such that the risk far outweighs the reward, internationally and even domestically?

Recently I met with Randy McAlister, co-director of Crisis Consultation International (CCI) which, since 1985, has been the premier provider of security and crisis management services to the international Christian community. CCI serves Christian humanitarian, mission, and church sending organizations by providing training, consultations, security, and risk assessments and emergency support. Randy will take over as the executive director from founder Bob Klamser on July 1.

Since so much of our MissionConnexion / MissionWorks ministry centers around mobilizing churches and individuals into missions opportunities, I welcomed his perspective…

  1. Were you a Jesus follower when you started in law enforcement? What motivated you to get involved in law enforcement and later to join up with Bob Klamser and CCI?

RM: I’ve been a follower of Jesus my whole life. I was raised in the church and accepted Christ when I was 10 years old. My father was a Bible college professor when I was growing up and is now serving the missions community himself.

In college, I was actually pre-med and never thought about law enforcement. After college I went to paramedic school and worked as a paramedic in Minneapolis for a few years and saw a lot of violence and victimization. That’s when I started thinking about law enforcement as a way to prevent violence as I saw law enforcement as ministry and part of my Christian identity.

Over the years I began specializing in violence risk assessment and my last three and a half years were spent on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force where I worked closely with the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU-1) on targeted violence and terrorism prevention.

During college, I participated in several short-term mission trips to Haiti and Honduras with my Christian student group. That ignited my interest in international missions. When my father joined his mission organization, I asked him about security and safety procedures.

In showing me some of their policies I discovered that Crisis Consulting International was credited with some of those. That led to an email to CCI and Bob Klamser as I had finally found a way to use my law enforcement experience and training to further global missions. I’ve been volunteering with CCI since 2015.

  1. In your opinion has the world gotten more dangerous or are we just more aware of things?

RM: Luckily, we have actual data on this so there’s no need for guesswork! Risk, of course, is very local and regional. Obviously “hot spots” pop up all the time, which is why it is imperative that short term missions groups are aware of what’s going on in the areas they are traveling to and that they continuously practice good risk assessment and planning.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), homicide rates are actually down over the past few decades while deaths from warfare appear to be very stable across time (excluding WWI, WWII, and Vietnam). Accidents kill millions of more people around the globe than intended violence does every year. We are generally just more aware of dangerous incidents because of the immediacy of news and social media today.

  1. From your professional experience, what is the greatest threat to church safety today? 

RM: Ignoring risk altogether and failing to plan. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. What he meant is that plans rarely survive the first contact with the adversary, but the process of planning ensures you are not forgetting important questions about risk, reactions, and mitigation. Having a well thought out plan helps you more quickly organize a response to a crisis (such as a medical evacuation plan for instance).

  1. How safe are short-term mission trips many churches will be involved in this summer? Do you have a checklist for leaders to gauge threat levels, in planning, and, once in-country? 

RM: When I first went to Haiti around 1990/91, it was a week after a military coup. We had zero training around security and really no risk-assessment. I think this has changed a lot in the last decade or so, but many churches are still way behind the curve.

I know many churches will lead their young people this summer on short term trips with virtually no formalized plans for assessing risk or for properly managing a crisis event.

Proper risk assessment and planning requires work and multiple sources of information. I haven’t found the ideal checklist per se, but I typically start with these:

  • U.S. State Department, from both US official government sources and receiving country government. Then I look for other government sources (Australian government for instance).
  • OSINT (open-source intelligence) such as local news sources. Plus, having trusted “boots on the ground” at the receiving location is invaluable.
  • ASIS (American Society for Industrial Security) and OSAC are groups that have a ton of resources.
  • OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council) Any church that sends workers overseas should be a member. OSAC is a public/private partnership between the U.S. Department of State and any U.S. based organizations working overseas.

Crisis Consulting International provides training on its EZRA risk assessment tool for people who take our training. EZRA allows organizations to conduct both strategic (long term) and tactical (near term) risk assessments through a structured methodology developed by the U.S. Government and adapted by CCI for ministry organizations.

  1. How has CCI been able to help churches and their teams prepare for effective and safe short-term mission trips in the USA and abroad?

RM: One simple free resource we offer is an example of a short-term mission trip safety and security plan. Proper preparation starts with well-conceived polices around security issues. We’ve helped multiple churches and mission organizations work through drafting policies that mirror their values and implementing trained crisis management teams. The worst time to learn about managing a crisis is during a crisis so churches should prepare ahead of time.

For leaders of short-term teams, getting some sort of travel/field security training is highly recommended at the very least. We offer a Field Security Seminar (FSS) course made for any workers who are going overseas. Our services, trainings, resources, and model policies are all available at https://ccionline.site 

This is Part I of my conversation with Randy. I will highlight the rest of his important responses next month.