Pastors, team leaders, and volunteers going on mission need to be concerned about the increasing trend of crisis situations when traveling overseas. Obviously, Mexico and the border have been a recent concern for us here in Texas, and then the team detained in Haiti has been a strong reminder that despite our benevolent intentions, things can go significantly wrong.
The reality is that any time that an American leaves U.S. soil, he/she is no longer under American law. Americans can sometimes even be targeted or hassled in countries where the people have an aversion to the west. BEFORE going overseas, it is vital that we understand basic travel and safety principles that could drastically reduce or even avoid a crisis situation.
In addition, pastors and church leaders need to be aware of the high likelihood of litigation issues if anything goes wrong on an international mission trip, including Mexico. Experts say that the best we can do is to demonstrate that we have made every possible effort to provide for safety and preparation. Many of the overseas incidents are avoidable to some degree, and all have the potential to hinder future volunteer trips and stall missions programs.
Questions like: What happens if someone goes missing? Who do we call if a team is detained by the government? What are our rights if held by foreign government officials? What is the best way to go through customs when on a mission trip? How can we do some preventative training with our team before leaving for the field?
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of kidnappings, illegal detentions, car-jackings, home invasions, and other violent crimes against people traveling internationally,” said David Dose, security expert and president of Fort Sherman Academy. “These acts underscore the growing danger and the call for security training to address these specific issues. As we are called to go, just staying at home to be ‘safe’ is not a realistic option for many of us. We must find innovative new ways to reasonably continue going where we are called, and that means being better prepared to travel and respond to challenges appropriately.”
There is a major concern regarding youth teams traveling along the Mexican border and into Mexico as more incidents have occurred. I understand that a mission partner or pastor on the Mexican side of the border may say that there is no problem for volunteer teams to come. But, I honestly would not take their word for it because they are not thinking from the perspective of a foreigner and may not be aware of the dangers. My recommendation is to do the research yourself. Go online to http://travel.state.gov/ and check for any specific travel warnings for the particular area where you will be going. You might even contact the local FBI officials near that area since they will be aware of specifics that your mission partner or Mexican pastor may not know. When traveling with students, I would urge extra precaution.
“The vast majority of all short-term mission teams will never experience a major security crisis,” said Dose. “But unfortunately, these situations are occurring more often. So we believe that it’s a good precautionary step to provide training just as you would buy insurance. Not to plan for the accident, but rather to be prepared if and when it happens.”
Another excellent tool for pastors & leaders to use to provide training to all volunteer team members is the DVD-based curriculum, Safe Travel Solutions. This DVD curriculum contains six lessons of video training with printable instructional support led by Fort Sherman Academy’s president, David Dose. An authority in hostage survival and anti-terrorism training for civilian and faith-based audiences, Mr. Dose has consulted not only in training, but also in recovery efforts of persons detained or kidnapped outside the United States. To order the DVD, Safe Travel Solutions, go to their website: www.safetravelsolutions.org
Since its foundation in 2001, the Academy has trained over 13,000 people from 47 government, commercial, church & mission organizations. To date over 62 of those graduates have since endured and survived incidents like those covered in the training workshops and DVD based curriculum, Safe Travel Solutions.
I have personally received training from both David Dose and the DVD curriculum. In this world of uncertainty and increasing violence, I believe that it is vital for anyone leading teams overseas to commit to take the time to be prepared in the event of a crisis. The stress level in a crisis can be drastically reduced even by team members just knowing that there is a plan and response in place.