Posts Tagged ‘travel safety’

short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW


Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).


Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org


Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.

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The recent State Department travel warnings for Americans going to Europe raise good questions for those of us who are planning imminent trips to Europe—or really to anywhere in the world where these BIG warnings about terrorist threats occur.

In our own personal travel and in planning the travel for Let’s Start Talking teams, we have dealt with these kinds of warnings, threats, and sometimes actual occurrences of public violence in many different countries. We had workers in Russia when tanks rolled down the streets of Moscow in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1989 when civil war broke out, and in Thailand during at least two major episodes of violent uprisings.

Sherrylee and I flew in and out of the Vienna airport where terrorists threw hand grenades and opened fire in 1985. The same year on June 19, another bomb exploded in a trash container in the Frankfurt Airport, the very one we were flying in and out of that year with our three kids and our LST workers.

Let me repeat though very clearly: at no time have we or any of our LST teams ever been in imminent personal danger that we were aware of. So the question is, how do we try to keep ourselves safe in a world where terrorists hijack planes, shoot up tourist hotels, and blow themselves and others up in public market places?  First, get your thinking straight!

  • If we are afraid and stay home, the terrorists have won. If we are afraid and stay home, the Devil has won (just that battle, not the war!)
  • Staying home is not safe either. Sherrylee and I were in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. One hundred sixty-eight people were at home—and died in a terrorist attack. We can’t be afraid!

Then there are also very specific things you can do when traveling—but you can do these things without being afraid. For instance,

  • I am always aware when traveling that I am safer AFTER going through security than before. So we don’t dawdle any longer than necessary in the pre-security area.
  • We listen to the news when we travel—the international news—and try to anticipate hot spots politically.
  • If we find ourselves or a team unexpectedly caught in a threatened area, we listen to what the local people are saying about how to respond. Sometimes, running to the nearest airport and trying to flee the country is the most dangerous thing that you can do.
  • Avoid large political gatherings. Actually large crowds of any kind are bigger targets.
  • Keep your eyes open for anything unusual.  This means being aware of what is usual in a foreign place, so it just means looking around a little more purposefully.
  • Register your trip with the U.S. Embassy. You can do this online at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.  The State Department has a special travel site at travel.state.gov with lots of good information and tips.
  • Give your loved ones your itinerary and overseas contact information before you leave.

That’s probably enough.  Some people’s risk tolerance is much greater than others, so people make different choices about where to go and when.  Occasionally we have had to rein in some college student that thought he was invincible and was doing things that even made the local people nervous!

The best advice I can give you is to walk close to God and to live in a way that if Jesus comes today, you will be delighted.  To live without fear of the Second Coming makes the uncertainty of traveling through this world much less frightening.



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