In This Issue:
By Shane Bennett
If your head’s spinning and your stomach hurts a little when you look around these days, you are not alone. There’s enough craziness afoot to make the most stoic among us reach for the antacid. If it were just the wacky run up to the U.S. presidential election, that would be enough (for those of us living in the States). But big issues on many fronts lobby for worry space in our brains. The Bible says not to be afraid, so there must be a better way.
In addition to prayers and tears (which might be among the best responses), I’d like to pass on a huge, but eminently doable challenge. It will not be easy, but the payoff could be fantastic.
Say “Yes” to the Pope
You’ve probably heard what Pope Francis asked of Europe recently: “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, and every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome.”
He went on to say, “Before the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death in conflict and hunger and are on a journey of hope, the gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned.”
He also underlined his challenge by saying his diocese in Rome would be first in line!
Putting the question of papal authority aside for a moment, let’s ask: What about you and me? What about your stream of the faith? Your church? Your town? What if this challenge caught hold throughout the church in our country or even the global church? It’s more of a hassle than the ice bucket challenge (see our article on the power of slacktivism). Imagine, though, what could happen as a result!
The First Six Months
I currently live in a little mountain town of a few hundred people. As part of our church’s facility, we have six RV sites for campers. My pastor and I are scheming about finding an RV, putting it on one of the sites, and using it to house a refugee family for their first six months in the U.S.
What about your church? Do you have the faith, creativity, and energy to catalyze this among your people? Can you forward this to your denominational or association leaders?
In all honesty, when I raise my hand and say, “Our church will take a family,” I don’t know who to say that to. I’m pretty sure the Pope’s not counting, although I can’t wait until he lays this challenge on U.S. Catholics during his visit here in a couple of weeks. For starters, at least, go to We Welcome Refugees (World Relief) and ask for more info.
Yes, There Will Be Problems
Refugees will have difficulties, some will do bad things, and all have walked down paths most of us cannot begin to imagine. Our example is Jesus, who set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing at least in part the pain that awaited him there. Who defied social taboos by touching lepers, hanging with tax collectors, and extending grace to the guilty. Who for the joy set before him endured the cross.
Three Ways to Respond
- Can I ask you, with all seriousness and sobriety, to pray and consider what it would take for your church to house a refugee family for their first six months in the U.S.?
- Can I ask you to share this article with your pastor and ask him, as I asked my pastor last night, “Is it totally dumb for us to think about doing this?”
- Finally, would you consider forwarding the article to three other people in three other churches with a comment that says, “We’re thinking and praying about this. Will you do so as well?”
Maybe it doesn’t work for you to bring a refugee family to where you live. No shame. What about flipping it around and taking your family to where refugees are?
I flat out love the thought of family missions trips. And I especially love them when they happen among unreached peoples. Granted, that adds complexity, but also a powerful pay off.
Consider this: You, your spouse, and the kids take five days or a week to sweat and toil, interact with people who are different from you, try new foods whose prices don’t make sense to you, and return home tired but changed. Yes, that could describe a trip to Disneyland. But I’m thinking something further afoot. What would it take for your tribe to participate in a family mission trip?
A Closer Look
Two big red flags snap and crackle in the wind of that question: Safety and cost. A third flag often hangs limp until you decide to go, then it flies: Is there relevant, helpful stuff for us to do? So let’s take a closer look.
Yes, you’re safer at home. At least in the short run. And yes, it’s easy to mock someone’s desire for safety when it’s not your kids and wife. And yes, I assume we’d all agree in principle that wisdom and faith are often in tension when we think about our family in the kingdom of God. Jesus said both, “Follow me” and “Be shrewd as snakes.”
If your family mission trip includes getting on a plane and you actually have a family, things get pricey in a hurry. Three things that could help:
- Drive to where populations of unreached refugees are gathering. This is getting increasingly easy in the U.S. and many other places.
- Just take some of the family. I can already hear echoes of the chaos and fights this might engender, but it could be your solution.
- Receive grace from God to spend a chunk of change in a way that will change your family for the rest of its history.
Honestly, what can a foreign family do in a short-term time frame?
Be there. You can be there. My simplistic model for any mission trip right now is this: Hear their story, tell your story, share God’s story. Most anyone can do this with a mite of training.
Add to it some praying for sick people, some contributory labor, and some intentional learning, and I’ll argue with anyone on the worth and relevance of a family mission trip.
The cool organization I work for has groups living in some of the coolest (and hottest) places in the world who would gladly welcome a bold, humble, servant-minded family to hang out with them for a week or two. I’d be happy to link you up. Many other groups would say the same.
I’m also pulling together a family trip to Sicily to care for refugees there. Looks like it will happen around March 21-25. If that’s your kids’ spring break, or if you home school and can flex the school calendar a bit, I’d love for you to think about coming along. Shoot me a quick note and we can talk about it.
Editor’s note: See also this article on family mission trips and the links it includes (ShortTermMissions.com).
Sailboat image: Easysailing, Flikr/Creative Commons
What’s Your Status, Gladys? Setting a Course for Global Engagement
By Shane Bennett
My wife and I have a text message shorthand question to ask how things are going when we’re apart: “What’s your status, Gladys?” Neither of us is named Gladys. I just like the rhyme. And I’m hoping it will stick in your mind as I ask you what your status is relative to God’s work throughout the world. You know: missions, the Great Commission, call it what you like.
What’s your status, Gladys?
What is your part and how well are you playing it?
If you’re the epicenter of your church’s cross-cultural efforts, if you’re confident and comfortable in the role God has you playing right now, or if you’re up to your ears with an unengaged people group, this article isn’t so much for you. It is, however, for people in your sphere of influence, so please consider passing it along.
If, on the other hand, you sense God asking you to engage in a more significant way, if there’s a niggling somewhere in your heart or mind, and you’re not sure what to do or how to get going, read on. This is going to help.
The process is simple:
A. Set a course.
B. Determine the very next step.
C. Kick down the obstacles.
Let’s take a closer look.
A: Set a course.
Maybe you’re thinking about the world for the first time. That God might be asking someone like you to join someone like him in amazing global work is a new concept. You’ve got to figure out how to get going.
Or maybe you’ve been following Jesus for a while and always thought missions was a cool idea, but never actually took the leap. Now God’s saying, “The water’s great. Get in here!”
Perhaps you’ve been logging hours for the world but have this crazy hunch that God wants to strap some rockets to your efforts and light the fuse!
The first thing to remember is that you can’t do everything. If you try, you’ll be lousy at the whole list. Paul was right about that body of Christ thing: God is smart enough to equip each of us so that together we can accomplish what he has in mind. The trick, of course, is determining if you’re a hand or a heart, an elbow or an epiglottis. (Is anyone that part of the body?)
You didn’t ask for advice, but here it is: Don’t let this decision paralyze you. Trust in the equipping (and when you goof, the redeeming) power of God and get moving.
Some people shake out the basic modes of involvement in missions into praying, sending, going, welcoming, and mobilizing. Consider simply picking from the list and moving in that general direction. Definitely seek God at this point (and every other). You’d also be wise to seek the input of people who are wiser or more experienced than you are.
Keep in mind: These categories can overlap. Choosing one as a focus doesn’t lock you in forever.
If you can honestly say “I feel that God wants me to play a bigger part in his globally expanding kingdom, but I don’t know what part,” let me offer you two options to consider:
1. The unengaged
Focus your copious skills and energy on an unengaged Muslim people group. Read this Practical Mobilization column from a couple of months ago. Check out this list from the International Mission Board. Then talk to someone like the kindly mavericks at Frontiers about how quickly you can dive into the deep end!
2. The overlooked
Let me invite you, as personally as I can in an article like this, to join me in a growing effort to respond to the heart-wrenching humanitarian crisis and amazing gospel opportunity unfolding in Sicily right now. I think there’s a place for you in what God is launching, and I’d love to explore that with you. Let’s do something epic together.
B: Determine the very next step.
Regardless of the general direction you choose, education might be your next step. Perspectives classes, which may be the best introduction to God’s global purposes, are starting up right now all across the U.S. and beyond. There are other classes and curricula that cover similar ground which may be in the works in your church or town. Ask around!
Signed up for Perspectives, now what? Generally, look to see what your tribe is doing. How does the direction you want to head in work at your church? How could you contribute there? Is God unfolding something cool at your church that he has in mind for you to contribute to? Moving forward with your tribe can be very powerful.
For specifics, this site has some great ideas for each main role. Also consider these:
Set an alarm on your phone for 10.02am and simply pray as Jesus said to in Luke 10.2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Tell a fund-raising friend that you’re trying to learn to send, so you’ll support her $20 (or $200) a month for six months and then re-evaluate. Ask to get on her email newsletter list.
Get a passport! You may not be able to go anywhere cool without one.
Call the closest university and ask if any international students have signed up to be paired with local friends. Agree to be one of those local friends.
Forward this email to three friends who might walk with you as you move toward the world and God’s work in it.
C: Kick down the obstacles
It would be so cool if knowing your general direction and clearly understanding the very next step led seamlessly to action. Sadly, in the real world, things like fear, apathy, and busy-ness conspire to keep us where we are. Might as well be honest about it. What is most likely to keep you from taking your next step?
Thinking your friends will think you’ve lost it?
Wondering where the money will come from?
Mired in uncertainty?
Do this with me: Name it and un-claim it! Seek God’s power and a friend’s, pastor’s, or mom’s support—whatever is required. Take that very next step.
One caveat: If it’s all you can do right now to breathe and your next step is pretty much just trying to stay alive, please don’t let these words further burden you. My prayer for you is that God soon brings you out of the valley into refreshing green pastures and quiet waters.
So what’s your status, Gladys? What’s the main direction, what’s the very next step, and what do you need to kill to take it? God’s grace to you and to us! I’m hungry to see his purposes fulfilled on the earth. I want to see his blessing blossom in every family. And both the Bible and experience indicate it’s going to take a lot of us showing up with all the strength and smarts and persistence we can muster, coupled with the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We need you. Your contribution matters. If God is nudging you forward: engage!
» We welcome your comments on this article below or on our Facebook page. Please share it freely.
In This Issue: Beware the Florida of the Mind
Beware the Florida of the Mind
“Your Story Is Still Being Written”
By Shane Bennett
Mel Sumrall grew up in a large Depression-era family in the Texas panhandle. At 17 he joined the Marines and spent the next three years in the South Pacific. Upon returning to the US, he went to the University of Colorado where he picked up a degree in mechanical engineering—and a wife. He and Patty moved to Pueblo, Colorado, and Mel quickly moved up to production supervisor at a large steel mill.
They were living the dream: great job, financial security, four beautiful little kids, and fine standing in the community. Then disaster struck and fundamentally altered the course of the Sumralls’ lives. Patty took their baby, Pamela, to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling well. By that afternoon Pamela was dead.
In the midst of the deep depression that followed, God began to speak to Mel through a wise and caring friend who prayed with him and shared the Bible with him. Even though Mel had prayed to accept Jesus when he was eight years old, this was the first time he’d been intentionally discipled. Slowly he shifted from living for himself to living for Jesus.
Mel’s discipler had continually challenged him to shift his skills and kingdom investment from running a steel mill to running a church. So at 48, the Sumralls traded the security of their Colorado situation for seminary in Texas. As four years of seminary drew to a close and no church seemed eager to turn Mel loose with his emphasis on discipleship and the equipping of the saints, the Sumralls decided to start their own. Denton Bible Church was formed.
As the church grew, Mel wisely brought it a partner, Tommy Nelson. Nine years after Tommy stepped into DBC’s pulpit, Mel stepped out of it.
At 62, Mel was near retirement age, but Mel wasn’t big on retiring. Mel and Patty began a third career: training pastors internationally. Together, they ministered in over 40 countries, developed training courses, discipled pastors, and left a mark that is visible today in thousands of churches world-wide.
Last week I got to hear this man speak. He’s now nearing 90. I felt as if I was in the presence of one of Jesus’ buddies. I thought, “I want to be like Mel.” I wondered how many “maybe-Mels” are out there wondering if God is done with them.
What does Mel’s life tell us? Your whole story has not yet been written. Yes, you may have more days behind you on this earth than ahead. Yes, your culture may be intimating (or outright shouting) “Move over, Buddy, you’ve had your chance. Make way for new blood.” Yes, you may be tired and discouraged.
But Mel Sumrall and our Father in Heaven would say you are not done. “No matter how old you are, your story still matters,” says Mel. “You have something to offer us. Your story is still being written. Your contribution is not locked up in the past in years gone by.”
Can you imagine starting something at 50 or 60 years old that is so big it eclipses whatever you’ve done up to that point? What if working on problems and overcoming challenges is how God brings renewal to our lives? What if you are just getting started and the past decades have been preparation for what’s next?
It’s okay to celebrate what has happened. It’s okay to be tired. But it’s not okay to be cynical. There is a real-life Florida, a paradise for retirement. But (with apologies to hard-working Floridians) there is also a “Florida of the mind,” and you shouldn’t go there. Don’t give up. Remember Saint Paul wrestling with this in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
What is your next mountain? That step that will require the best you have to give and then some?
Thanks to Lawana Robinson for her great bio on the life of Mel Sumrall and Denton Bible Church and to my Indiana pastor, Matt Carder, for much of the verbiage at the end of this article. Please listen to Matt’s whole encouraging sermon. Thanks to MissionNext for helping cut trails for significant work among the nations, especially for those later in life. And thanks to Mel and Patty Sumrall for a wonderful example.
Three kids in Sana’a, Yemen. Source: yeowatzup (Flikr/Creative Commons).
What You Can Do for Those Waiting for their Day to Come
By Shane Bennett
The big news in my family is that our oldest, Joseph, has gotten engaged. This is a whole new world for us. I’m happy the only boy in the clan is the one diving in first because I hear it’s a bigger deal when daughters have weddings! With that in mind, and the reality that it was only, what, a month ago, the girls were all diapers and cheerios, I’m must say I’m glad they’re so far unengaged. But that likely won’t last, will it? There is good reason to hope that their day will likewise come.
In recent years missions experts have begun to talk about people groups still waiting for their day to come, for perhaps the first efforts for the gospel to begin among them. They’ve called these groups unengaged. Though the way the term is used may vary, the actual definition is precise: a people group is unreached when the number of Evangelical Christians is less than 2% of its population. It is further called unengaged when there is no church planting strategy consistent with Evangelical faith and practice under way. A people group in not engaged when it has been merely adopted, is the object of focused prayer, or is part of an advocacy strategy.
Mike Latsko, in an article for Mission Frontiers asserts that 34% of all unreached Hindu peoples are unengaged, as are 43% of all Buddhist unreached and 59% of all Muslim unreached.
That 59% number translates into 1168 distinct Muslim people groups among whom, as far as we can tell, no one is currently living, speaking a local language, and working hard to spark movements of disciples to Jesus. That means if each church in my home state of Indiana took on one group, they would all be covered… with churches to spare for Hindus and Buddhists!
Can It Be Done?
Like many things, engaging the unengaged is easy to understand, but very difficult to do. I checked, and not every church in Indiana is interested! And beginning work among unengaged is not the only thing God is doing. But 1168?! You and me and God?! Why would we not think we can do this?
Well, there’s the fact that it’s hard. Many of the unengaged Muslims live in really hot places. Almost all of them speak foreign languages! In America, and maybe other countries as well, we have spent the past decade nurturing a fear and anger toward Muslims that plays right into the hands of the more antagonistic elements of Islam. And the list goes on. The “con” column is long and formidable.
On the other side, Latsko says, “We can do this if we will. His Word is sufficient. His Spirit convicts and empowers. His presence is sure. We have the money. We have the workers. We have the know-how. The unengaged have been the new hidden, but they are hidden no more. We can do this if we will. So let us do it in our day, in full dependence upon him, and in collaboration with one another. Let us do it in our day, and give honor to his name. Let us do it in our day, and hasten the day when many others will sing with us, ‘Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised.’”
So what do you think? What might you do? Before you answer, in a phone call just this morning a friend asserted, “Everything you do changes you.” So your smart response at this point would be to do nothing! Because anything might lead to something else and before you know it, oh my!
If, however, this idea of dropping that 1168 number to zero is getting under your skin, if the Holy Spirit is niggling you, implying that, in fact, it is people like you who do things like this, or if you relate to Saint Paul in that you’ve made it your ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not already been named, lest you build on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:20-21), then what might you do?
Five Things You Can Do
Here’s a (laboriously) alliterated plan to get you going. And if you’re already going toward the unengaged, would you mind taking a minute to comment and encourage the rest of us?
Let’s ask God to take away our “Jonah” eyes and help us see the peoples of the world as he does. Let’s dream big that God could use us to start a new work among a new people. Let’s pray that he keeps us humble along the way and that he brings a sharp cadre of teammates to work with us.
2. Dial in.
At some point, just pick a people! God loves them all and plans to do a great work among each of them. You can consult this list for starters. If it kills you to narrow down to one people (Myers Briggs P’s, you know who you are!), connect with a ministry like Frontiers to find a strategic city in which many unengaged Muslims peoples are present.
3. Develop a tribe.
Get Seth Godin’s book Tribes, read it in an hour, and put it into action. You can also read about how Jesus pulled together a bunch of people to launch his start up. Good people all over the place are waiting for you to lead them!
Actually start to engage. Discover who else cares about your people and contact them. Start writing a newsletter for your group. Make a Facebook page. Equip people far and wide to pray. Take a subset of your tribe to visit your people. Pray and then ask everyone you meet if they might be able to lead the first team.
Equip five people to do for another unengaged group what you’re doing for “yours.”
What if we could live to see the number of unengaged people groups drop to zero? May God let it be! If I can help you in any of this, let’s talk.
» Comment on this article below or on our Facebook page and please forward or share it freely. See also an earlier article on this topic, Sowing among the Seedless: Learning to Love Jesus among the Unengaged.
In This Issue: Too many needs, too little time.
- Too Many Needs. Too Little Time. How to respond to a world of seemingly unlimited requests for help
- Subversive Mobilization: Don’t Let Media Wreck Your Mission Trip
How to respond to a world of seemingly unlimited requests for help
By Shane Bennett
I’ve had an unusual and troubling experience over the last couple of weeks. If you read April’s Practical Mobilization column you may remember me harping on Sicily and the staggering number of migrants landing there lately. I’ve been scheming and dreaming about this situation for several months now and was happily surprised to see the issue foremost in my mind become the issue foremost on global media. I didn’t want more boats to sink just so the issue would gain greater prominence, but I did want to responsibly “strike while the iron was hot.”
Then the Himalayas shook to their roots, thousands perished in minutes, and Nepal pushed my issue right off the front page. I confess, part of my brain though (but only briefly), “Ah, man, there goes the attention I’d hoped to leverage for migrants in Sicily. There go the funds I was hoping to raise.” I’m not too proud of that response!
It’s indicative, though, isn’t it? We live in a world of incalculable need. Global connectivity brings needs to our attention and the curious can now even watch HD drone footage of latest devastation. You probably get more requests for prayer, funds, and involvement than you can possibly respond to. You love Jesus, but you can’t do it all.
About a month ago, I fell in love with a relatively new movie called The Good Lie. Rent it and watch it this weekend. It’s a story about refugees coming to America. It’s a Hollywood film, with a predictably happy Hollywood ending. Except for the gut-wrenching reality that this reasonably good outcome occurs in the context of tens of millions of unhappy ones. It’s almost too much to deal with.
How does a heart of compassion respond?
My friend David recently expressed his feeling of being, “bombarded with many requests even from my own community as we launch another season of short-term mission trips.”
What do you when a dozen bright, young, college students send you letters asking for prayer and funds? Even when you consider that your paltry paycheck is many times greater than that of most people in the world? What does God expect of us when each crisis seems more devastating than the one before?
These questions call for book-length answers and long conversations over coffee or something stronger. At the risk of being trite, let me float out some thoughts. Please bless the rest of us by commenting and letting us know how you deal with these common issues.
1. Keep God at the center.
I’m sorry if this goes without saying, but as we consider the need of the world and the various requests to respond that we encounter, we’ve got to remember God, who he is, and what he is doing. He knows the number of hairs on every head. He knows every tummy ache, every loss, every relentless search, every sleepless night of despair, and every thought of suicide. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is not unaware of the pain. He has calculated the need.
If I didn’t believe that, I’m not sure what I would do.
But I do believe it. And that is the first layer of response for me: God is more concerned than I am and it’s his responsibility more than mine. I (we) have the actually quite stunning privilege to partner with God in his response to the world’s need. Is that not remarkable?
2. Don’t shut down.
One response option is to decide to simply not respond. It may be the extreme version of “bloom where you’re planted,” e.g., “I’m planted on my couch and I will bloom here while I binge watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.”
I remember wresting with this during a long-ago sojourn in Mumbai. My team leader and I were in a cab driving through a part of town where people gathered to beg. When one guy wheeled up to my team leader’s rolled-down window and asked for something, my TL stared straight ahead. The beggar glanced at me and said, “Uncle is a bad man. He will not even look.” Before he could ask me for something, we rolled away.
I could understand where my team leader was coming from. On the one hand, the need was too great for us to fix it. We knew enough to sense how very little we knew about the situation, the real situation, of most of these people. So a clear option, which we both went with from time to time, was to shut down and simply not connect.
Please don’t do that, not every time. Please don’t kill that part of you that cares.
3. Choose where to give.
I want to be more generous than I am. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 challenge me: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” And Jesus teaches us, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Assuming that you can’t give to everything, how do you decide?
It seems too trite to say, “Just ask God and do what he says.” At the same time, I know I need to cultivate a greater sensitivity to God. Two weeks ago I was driving away from lunch with a young man who was working with me for the day. He said, “Hang on a second,” and then proceeded to pull a couple of dollars out of his pocket for an aging man begging on the corner. I was challenged by this guy, who though younger, poorer, and, as far as I know, less Christian than me, looked a lot more like Jesus than I did. I’d noticed the man begging the day before but did nothing. I need to learn to listen better.
I also think we’d be wise to invest more in fewer things. If you regularly get fifteen summer mission support letters, perhaps you could decide to give significantly to two of them, trusting God to provide in other ways for the rest. (In fact, though it’s beyond my authority, I give you permission to do that!) Or ask God if he would give you a burden for a particular kind of work, maybe in a particular place. Then dive into that and live free from guilt over what you’re not doing.
4. Learn to say no.
Briefly, you’re free to toss unsolicited direct mail. You’re free to not “like” causes that make it to your Facebook news feed because someone invited their whole friend list to “like” it. Revel in this freedom.
But if a friend writes, calls, or texts you, please respond. Speaking as someone who raises funds to feed my kids, a “no” is better than no response. I know you’re busy and things get lost. Heavens, I’ve ignored more than my share of personal requests as well. Maybe we can band together and decide that we will respond, even if that means we need to say no.
5. Choose how to give.
Maybe your best gift to someone who’s asking for prayer and funds is to really give them some prayer! Actually do it! Write out your prayer and send it to them. If you’re prone to forget, carry a small token, a marble or something, with your keys for a couple weeks, and pray each time you bump into it.
Maybe your best gift is advice. I think we should assume the best and be quite cautious about judging what someone feels that God is asking them to do. But if you have grave concerns beyond just looking for a reason not to give (or is that just me?), please share them. You may save someone a busload of grief.
This side of the fullness of God’s kingdom we will have pain and great need. May God overwhelm us with grace to respond as he desires. May he free us from guilt over what we can’t or don’t do. May he multiply our gifts and service to his great glory.
Image source: Angelinux (Flikr/Creative Commons)
Our friends at DELTA Ministries are helping us all again: Check out their hour-long webinar on Tuesday, May 19 on “how to keep social media from wrecking your STM trip.” Here’s a little description:
“What rules do you have for social media on your mission trips? Social media can be a great way to build relationships with those you just visited, but it can also destroy those relationships. This webinar will talk about how to use social media in appropriate and contextual ways before, during, and after your short-term mission trip.”
Become a Smaller Target:
Seven ways short termers can lower their profile, not get robbed, and return home alive
By Shane Bennett
The clock ticked relentlessly as I toyed around with the content of the call I’d soon have to make to her dad. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve lost your daughter. I’ve lost your daughter. Yes, you’re right, it was my responsibility not to lose her, but I have.” My stomach hurt pretty bad just thinking about it.
Our group had spent the day scattered around the Turkish city we’d come to know and love. We were all due to return to the apartments at 10pm. Sharon didn’t show. I flipped back and forth between fear for her safety and anger that she was probably fine, but just lacked the good sense to get home on time.
Just before official throw-up time, I heard her happy, chatty voice precede her up the stairs. I smiled as she recounted her amazing day then, borrowing language from twenty years into my future life as a parent, I asked her to get ahold of me and let me know next time. After a heavy sigh and about 30 exclamations of “thank you, Jesus!” I fell into bed.
Although the day may come, I am very grateful I haven’t lost a short termer yet. In the few hundreds of short termers I’ve interacted with in some way—led, trained, or cheered on—there have been no deaths or kidnappings and wonderfully few lost wallets, passports, or dreams.
So maybe a key way to stay safe on a short term is to go with me! Say, to care for refugees in Sicily, perhaps? (I was hoping you’d come to that conclusion on your own, but didn’t have the patience to wait!)
But maybe you have other plans for other places. All the same, you still don’t want your companions, especially if they are kids, to die in the process. My friends at Crisis Consulting International share these time-tested starter tips to help you keep a lower profile and stay out of trouble; essentially, how to become a smaller target.
1. “Be wise as serpents…”
Learn all you can about the peculiar risks and dangers of your destination before you go. Seek the wisdom of your local hosts, but also expand on it. Their street smarts lower their risk and may cause them to minimize your danger. Seek additional information from sources such as the U.S. State Department and from the company supplying your travel medical insurance.
2. Make sure you’re insured.
Include reliable international medical and evacuation insurance in the budget. Your church’s insurer probably offers this product or you can find a number of options online (e.g., search at Brigada.org). The cost of a medical evacuation in the case of an accident or illness can easily be tens of thousands of dollars. Without insurance, you may have to come up with that money before an evacuation will be initiated.
3. Be a smaller target by being a bigger one.
There is safety in numbers. Crime studies consistently indicate you are 80-85 percent less likely to be the victim of a crime when you are with at least one other person. Pairs are good; small groups even better.
4. Look local.
As much as possible, blend in. Granted this is harder to do if you’re following point number three, traveling as a group. You can find the balance. Learn from your local hosts what dress is appropriate. Pay special attention to cultural norms. Don’t advertise your citizenship, your religion, or your wealth by wearing clothing that draws attention to you. Consider staying at mission guest houses (or airbnb.com places, a recent favorite of mine) rather than western hotels. If it is safe, use local transport rather than tour buses.
Can I say something specifically to American readers about looking (and sounding) local? If you’re not American, don’t feel excluded, just happy that this may not apply to you.
- No T-shirts! Nothing raises the profile of a short-term team more than wearing brightly colored, matching T-shirts with the name of your church or the ministry you’re visiting. It is not unusual for criminal gangs to have “spotters” at airports watching for this. They look for a group of (wealthy) foreigners and see them as soft targets (easy to prey on).
- Quiet down. I’m sorry, everyone else. We can be so loud. I’m writing this while returning home from a trip to Sicily (wanna go next time?) You may know, Sicilians are no wilting flowers, but Americans are even louder! Remember this: lower and lean. Lower your voice and lean in to talk. Honestly, I don’t know if this will really make you a smaller target, but it will sure make you more pleasant to be around!
5. Keep connected.
Plan for more than one way to communicate with each other and back home. In an emergency, communications are a critical part of staying safe, getting the help and resources you need, and reassuring families and others that you are OK. Cell phones are great (ever wonder what William Carey would have done with an iPhone?) but are not enough on their own! Too many things can disrupt the cellular networks. Consider a satellite phone or a satellite tracker that can send text messages.
6. Minimize material loss.
First, think seriously about leaving your stuff at home! Carry only the cash you need. If you will be using a credit card, take only one. Consider carrying a “throw-away” wallet with outdated identification like expired airline mileage program cards and a small amount of local currency. Secure your “real” money in a wallet around your neck, looped on your belt, or carried inside your pants. And can we all decide ahead of time not to risk our lives to protect or save replaceable assets like cell phones, money, and youth pastors? (Just kidding about youth pastors!)
7. Get training.
Since following these directions could possibly result in you feeling overly safe and secure, can I heartily encourage you to seek the further services of my buds Bob Klamser and John Lites at Crisis Consulting International? They have 30 years of experience helping people prepare for service in shifting security situations.
Three final thoughts:
- Please forward this article to a couple of people you know who are taking teams somewhere this summer. The more often we bring back everyone we take, the happier I am.
- Here’s my personal tip for keeping safe on a short term project: Stay off of volcanoes, motorbikes, animals (wild or tame), and drugs. Yep, there’s a story for each of these, but you’ll have to come to Sicily with me to hear them!
Image: SpirosK photography (Flikr / Creative Commons)
Editor’s note: Find this article helpful? You might also appreciate these previous columns from Missions Catalyst: