Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.
—Acts 20:28 ESV
Each year, about two million US church-goers travel abroad to build schools and churches, provide medical care, teach in orphanages, and spread the message of the gospel. Most local people welcome ministers of the faith. Yet, some among the multitudes view these sojourners, instead, as particularly vulnerable victims. Good stewardship calls for church and mission trip organizers to ensure their team safely returns home to share stories of caring rather than crime, and of praying for others rather than being preyed upon.
Church and mission leaders can and should take reasonable care to anticipate and mitigate knowable risks to their travelers. Be sure to do your homework. Do not go to high-risk areas, such as war zones or countries experiencing violence or political turmoil. Contact your organization’s administration and the administration of the organization where you will be serving to ensure that they know where you are going and can support your mission group in the event of an unforeseen need. Time is well spent learning the “ground truth” about the destination:
- Local crime problems
- Areas to avoid
- Safe havens
- Customs and culture
- Medical care and hospitals
- Insurance coverage1
- Laws about proselytizing
- Natural and weather threats
- Water- and food-borne illnesses
- Airport issues
- Ground transportation
- Roads and alternate routes
Even basic advice provided to each member of the team can help foster the essential concept that everyone must play a role in ensuring the security and safety of the group. Situational awareness and vigilance as to suspicious persons surveilling the group, unsecured valuables and supplies, use of ATMs and carrying of money, solicitations of personal identifying information, daily briefings, carrying emergency contact numbers, and redundant reliable communication methods are all recommended and proven best practices that reduce the risk of victimization and incidents.
A crisis-management plan should be developed and disseminated to the group. The plan should include specific, assigned roles for leadership, communication among the group members and to folks back home, emergency notification contacts for family members, and information about evacuation and shelter, medical emergencies, civil unrest, active attacker scenarios, and even kidnapping.
Travel security firms can provide professional expertise to help you plan a successful mission trip. Choose a firm that knows the nuances of your destination because they have personnel on the ground there. Verify the depth of their experience and ask for references who can vouch for their performance in that location. Seek their guidance on vetting your ground transportation, identifying risks and threats, knowing where to get medical attention, and transiting through the local airport. The peace of mind provided by professional support is well worth the nominal cost.
Prior planning and preparation will lessen the anxiety factor for your travelers and satisfy the due-diligence requirements that help lessen the liability for you and your organization. “Hoping for the best” no longer qualifies as due diligence to mitigate risk. Good stewards take proper steps to care for that which has been entrusted to them. Remember, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17, NIV).
1 Travel insurance should be purchased that meets the needs of your group and organization and may include coverage for accident, sickness, trip interruption or cancellation, and emergency evacuation and repatriation.