Jesus walked through the storm on the sea. He came near the boat. The disciples were terrified. “But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.'” – John 6:20
In seven days I’ll be joining a team headed to Guatemala for another short-term mission trip. We will build two houses, fit 50 people to newly re-manufactured wheelchairs, and distribute food and clothing to many households … mostly single mothers raising children living on the brink of malnutrition.
Most importantly we will be making friends while sharing the love of Christ.
There are some new members of our team; there always are (which is a good thing!). Undoubtedly, fears and anxiety will surface, not only in their minds, but in the thoughts of their families, friends and loved ones. “Will it be safe?” “What happens if … ?” “I just saw on the news …” “Maybe I made a mistake and should back out.”
I know about fears and anxiety because I’ve been there. This will be my 5th trip to Central America in six years, three of which have been to Guatemala and two to Nicaragua. I still get a little nervous, but each trip gets easier.
A few thoughts.
It is impossible to eliminate all risk. This is true, both home and abroad.
Natural disasters happen. Earthquakes roll and volcanoes blow. Mudslides, floods, and fires happen. Other than taking some common sense precautions, there isn’t much that can be done to manage mother nature.
People can be cruel to one another. Sin manifests itself in violence, oppression, and injustice. God’s laws and civil laws are broken by those who live a life of crime. Ego, hubris, greed, and pride incite atrocious acts, locally, regionally, and nationally. Tribalism, partisanship, populism, and history can add gasoline to a burning fire. Oh, yes; don’t forget to add in religion, especially deeply held divisive or extremist issues and values.
It is possible to do something about the human factor. It is possible to manage risks in such a way that overall risk is reduced to an acceptable or tolerable level. This is my strategy; I pray it can be helpful for you:
- Partner with a stable non-governmental organization (NGO) that is based in the location of your mission. Local personnel know the neighborhoods, the security network, the police, and community leaders. Bethel Ministries International in Guatemala know when police are needed for an escort and which neighborhoods to avoid. Bethel works months ahead of time with clergy and faith community leaders to build a network of support in an area where we will be working. Trust is built. Friends are made. Risk is reduced.
- Follow the rules. Your NGO will provide some basic guidelines for your safety. This is one time where it is essential that you completely comply with their rules. Rules from past trips have been: Travel in pairs. Never walk more than a block from the hotel. Don’t leave the safety of the hotel after dark. Leave the driving up to locals. Handle money with modesty. Keep your passport on you at all times. Trust in the experience and wisdom of those who live locally. They know how to enhance your safety. Risk is reduced.
- Follow the example of your team leader and fellow team members who have served on previous mission trips. Listen. Watch. Learn. Then, relax and make a friend, or grow a friendship that has already started. Follow in the footsteps of experience and Risk is reduced.
- Draw upon your faith. God has made possible this awesome opportunity to serve and love our neighbors; do you think we are called but meant to fail? No! God gives us partnerships with our NGO and its members. God sends us people to protect us, guide us, even direct us. God gives us the power of prayer, not only for ourselves but also for for those who are supporting our mission. God softened your heart for a reason. God filled it with love to share for a reason. God’s gift of grace is everything. Because of God’s gift, Risk is reduced.
Keep your eye on Jesus. “It is I,” he tells his frightened disciples. “Do not be afraid.”
Have a spectacular, spiritually moving mission experience!