Is It Too Dangerous? [Part II]

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?

We continue this month with Part II of my interview 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.  Randy takes over as executive director from founder Bob Klamser on July 1.

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

  1. Since the gospel involves risk-taking, what do you tell church leaders who know the Bible commands us to “go” yet are dealing with sincere members who ‘push back’ out of fear?

RM: At CCI we talk a lot about “stewardship” rather than security. We ask people and churches to ask how “going” or “not-going” aligns with good stewardship principles. The Great Commission does entail risk, but good stewardship allows us to carefully evaluate those risks allowing us to sometimes go into risky situations but to do so much better prepared.

The individual believer is the one irreplaceable asset, so the key to good stewardship is providing individuals training in travel safety/security. This will ensure that ministry leadership has good policies/procedures in place, and that there is a very good crisis management plan in place, which helps lower the risk of bad events and consequences.

I think it’s also important, with short term missions in particular, to consider the impact-reward of sending high schoolers to certain parts of the world. I personally was motivated to continue in missions from my short-term mission experiences. My work in Haiti, however, was probably not impactful in terms of spreading the gospel.

To put this in context, if you’re a church considering sending a high school team to Port au Prince, Haiti today… I don’t think that’s a good risk-reward. Sending a long-term adult trained missionary, however, may make more sense in terms of cost-benefit and risk-reward (e.g. a friend recently asked me about taking his church high schoolers to Haiti just as it was becoming the kidnapping capitol of the world. I advised “no”).

NOTE: MissionConnexion/MissionWorks provides low-cost travel insurance at MissionArmor

  1. Many larger churches have security teams led by retired law enforcement or military personnel who can be so “risk averse” that they discourage their church sending teams going to places where caution is necessary, but otherwise safe with leaders who are prepared. What advice would you give in these situations?

RM: Personally, I think having a missional and church history perspective helps overcome risk aversion. If I could recommend a program that all sending organizations (and organizational security folks) should attend, it would be the Perspectives program. If we don’t have a good understanding of human sin, Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, and his longing for all people… then we’re going to stay safely ensconced in our suburban churches next to the latte stand in the foyer. Life is risky. Visiting Chicago is risky. Crossing a busy road is risky. But carefully considering risks and planning for them helps us reduce risk so that we can act missionally.

  1. What is the best training a church should take if they are unfamiliar with this area of safety and security especially related to church life in general, and, short-term mission trips specifically?

RM: If a church is sending folks directly (versus through an established missions organization) then start by training church leadership in crisis management. CCI offers such a course for organizational leadership. It helps them identify risk assessment, contingency planning, policies/procedures and how to set up a crisis management team. We typically conclude such a training with a full table-top exercise which people find very helpful and enlightening.

Crisis management training can also help a church with domestic crises that may pop up and not just international ones involving missionaries. Short-term mission trip leaders should also receive some sort of field security training. We offer our Field Security Seminar (FSS), which other organizations may refer to as HEAT training (Hostile Environment Awareness Training).

  1. Can your training be accessed online, or must it only be done in person, and what about cost?

RM: The bulk of our training is offered in-person because it includes hands-on training and scenarios, however we do have some shortened courses that you can take online. Pricing depends on whether these are closed training events to a particular hosting organization or open to any folks who apply. Our website will typically display these. We can do hybrid courses as well where a particular organization may bring us in for several of their staff but open up the course to outside individuals as well.

  1. What’s one story you can share of how your training saved a life or protected the welfare of those who participated with you?

RM: We’ve had hundreds of people go through our training over the last few decades. More recently, we had somebody who attended our FSS, which included a section on surviving a kidnapping/hostage scenario, come back to us, and report they had been kidnapped and had survived the kidnapping because they followed our training. This is the best endorsement we could hope for. Of course, we can’t measure the negative/violent events that thousands of our students have avoided also because they attended one of our courses. This is the paradox of prevention.

On the other hand, as an organization we pay attention to global cases where the outcomes aren’t so good. We can point to numerous examples where there were negative consequences for people who had no training, who didn’t have organizations that were prepared to handle crisis events, and who didn’t have (and follow) good policies and procedures.

It has been decades since I hitchhiked throughout Europe for six weeks and smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. I was always aware of my surroundings, but so much has changed and I don’t know that I would advise anyone to do it today! However, I do stand behind everything that Randy has shared here, and in our article last month. I also strongly encourage you to check out their website and schedule a live training with CCI if you are planning to take an STM team out in the coming months.

Also, plan now to attend our STM Connexion training at both our regional MissionConnexion Southwest and Northwest events!