What is your plan of action when the political situation around you deteriorates to the point where your safety is at risk?
A big part of my training as an attorney is managing risk. In risk management, the potential risk of an action or situation is weighed against the potential benefit. When the risk outweighs the benefit, a good risk manager recommends against taking the risk.
In 2010, as I was preparing to lead a missionary-care team to Thailand, pandemonium broke out in Bangkok. In no time, the Thai army was in the streets and the U.S. State Department issued a Travel Warning against travel to Thailand. In a flash, the seesaw of risk vs. benefit slammed down on the side of risk. We all wanted to go, but our safety was central, and our sending church could not knowingly send us to a place that our government declared an unsafe place.
During this time, the missionaries we knew were also faced with a very important question: What should our family do?
When you live in a country that becomes unstable, questions like this are tremendously difficult. I was amazed to discover that the missionaries and their church did not have a policy and procedures for handling emergency situations. What about you and your sending organization? What is in place for when emergency situations come to you?
So that’s my lawyer side.
Often my lawyer side butts heads with my faithful-follower side.
Eventually we made it to Thailand after the unrest was quelled. During our visit, the missionaries ask the question,“Are we supposed to be (or called to be) safe?”
My missionary friend asked this question after reading an article (that neither one of us can now find) that discussed the impact on congregations where the missionary/church leader left when political instability and individual safety became too great an issue. One paraphrase that was burned into my mind went like this:
The people in the churches we plant are learning a very different Christianity than what was lived 1800 years ago. Now, new Christians are learning that Christ is great when things are good. But as soon as safety becomes an issue, we’re outta here.
This stands in stark contrast to what Rodney Stark shows in his The Rise of Christianity: Through many of the biggest plagues and crises, it was the Christians who stuck around while the others bailed, and that made Christ a person worth believing in.
It also brings to mind Francis Chan’s discussion of praying for safety in Crazy Love:
We are consumed by safety. Obsessed with it, actually. Now, I’m not saying it is wrong to pray for God’s protection, but I am questioning how we’ve made safety our highest priority. We’ve elevated safety to the neglect of whatever God’s best is, whatever would bring God the most glory, or whatever would accomplish his purposes in our lives and in the world.
What do we do with THAT?
I want to leave you with these questions today: How do you strike that balance between the risk manager in you (or organization) and the potential that is always greater than can be calculated when working with God?
If you operate under an emergency evac policy, what are some of the guidelines you follow? What are some guidelines you wish you didn’t have to?
If you work in a place that is constantly unstable or dangerous, how do you reconcile the competing safety and savior factors? How does the “changing face of missions” change our reactions or plans to emergency situations?