Lessons Learned the Hard Way
In 2004, our church sent a team of youth to Kenya. During the trip, the team was van-jacked, driven to the bush, and harassed. Some were hit and beaten, and all were robbed of their passports, valuables and money.
As a church, we did not handle the situation well, either before they went or after they came home. A risk assessment would have told us that the most common crime in Kenya’s major cities, and in particular Nairobi, is car-jacking, but our team was unaware of the danger.
Church-Based Crisis Management
Short-term teams face a variety of potential risks. Automobile and other accidents, serious illnesses, natural catastrophes, violent crime, political unrest, imprisonment and terrorism head the list. The first thing we did to prepare for future crises was to look for other churches from whom we could learn. We quickly found that few churches were proactively addressing risk issues for short-term teams. So we set out to rectify that situation.
Evaluate Risk in the Destination Area
Part of risk mitigation is appropriately vetting trip destinations. We have cancelled trips due to the unhealthy level of risk at a destination. Part of our vetting process is to prepare a risk assessment on each trip destination with a numerical score indicating the risk level. We have designed a risk assessment matrix that grades a county/destination on different areas including political climate, overall crime, crime against American tourists, health services, emergency services, communications, road conditions, and several other areas. These evaluations are prepared by experienced, professional evaluators who also have short-term missions experience. Individual scores in each of these areas are tallied to provide a country score with a matching warning: (1) travel with common sense safety, (2) travel with caution, or (3) consider postponing travel. For youth trips, we recommend a lower threshold for postponing a trip. Seasoned short term missionaries who have experienced high risk areas will have a higher overall tolerance for risk.
Establish a Crisis Management Team
The next step we took was to develop a crisis management team (CMT) to handle future crises. Yes, we expect another incident. I recently saw an insurance billboard which said 1 in 8 people will experience a vehicle accident, and such accidents are the number one cause of injury on the mission field. Based on these statistics alone, the chances are high we will experience another situation in which we will need to respond to some type of danger.
Train All Team Members and Leaders
The third step we recommend was to begin a standardized training program for every short-term team and team leader, including a mandatory, yes, mandatory, session on risk assessment and crisis management. During this training, we present common-sense steps to increase vigilance and awareness and address such issues as driving in foreign countries.
Establish a Policy and Stick With It.
We often heard from churches, we do not need such a program since God will take care of us. We fervently believe we are in God’s hands but as in Nehemiah it became necessary to work with a shovel and a sword. In other word, they prepared for a problem. In the New Testament, we find examples of Jesus or the apostles departing quickly or taking detours to avoid potential adverse situations. We strive to strike a balance between two key principles: It’s not about safety, it’s about ministry, and There are no prizes for being a risk-taker. Apply those guidelines and take some of our advice, and you and your church will be better prepared for short-term ministry in today’s world.
Here’s the easy way to get this information. Dr. Lee Jacobs and I documented our research and personal experiences in a book, Going Prepared. You can obtain your copy at www.going-prepared.com.