Thursday, January 31, 2013

How To Know If Your STM Trip Is Too Risky

Recently, a short-term mission team from New Zealand was in a car accident in Kenya and three team members died. It was nothing short of a tragedy. From an earthly perspective, I can’t imagine why people who sacrificed to serve God would die what seems a senseless death. While most trips go off without a hitch, tragedies can happen whether a team is in a safe place or a dangerous one. As leaders in short-term missions, what do we do with risk and danger?

This brings up an interesting dilemma. If God has called us to something, should the risk even matter? The argument can be made that the very fact that one would consider risk shows that he or she should not participate in a trip. However, we are also the overseers of precious lives that trust our leadership. We would not be good stewards of our team if we took them into risky situations unnecessarily. So how do we go about managing risk and taking care of our people? Here are some ideas to consider as you plan and even make policies.   

First, you have to decide as an organization or church how much risk you are willing to take on. At DELTA, we classify ministry locations into mild, medium, high, and critical. Some groups might find they don’t feel comfortable with anything more than a medium while others might be ok with a high or a critical field location. What is important is that you have considered this and made a decision on what is acceptable before you are faced with the specifics of a particular team.

Once you know your risk threshold, develop a system for gathering information. Consider a service like Frontier Medex that sends daily updates of current events so you are informed of new incidents. The US State Department as well as other international state departments can have some good information too. Make sure you also include local sources of information like local news outlets, missionary partners, or others who have first-hand knowledge.

Second, develop a way of quantifying the risk. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard objections to mission trips over safety, but the person can’t vocalize what makes the trip dangerous. The best way to handle generic objections is to have information. I use a Risk Assessment Tool that allows three people to name the 3 or 4 biggest dangers and evaluate both the likelihood it would happen and the severity of the impact if it happened. For example, getting kidnapped might be low on the likelihood but high on severity. Contracting an intestinal bug might be high on the likelihood but low on severity of impact. Once the risks are defined, you can make a plan to mitigate them.

Third, have a crisis and contingency plan. Don’t wait for something bad to happen to figure out how you would react. A good crisis and contingency plan includes an emergency response team. It should also spell out the duties of the emergency team members, procedures on notifying families, who will monitor the ongoing situation, who will be a “spokesperson,” how you will document your action steps, and so on. It should also include policies on who decides when evacuation is mandatory and who pays for mandatory and optional evacuation.

Fourth, be prepared. Make sure you purchase travel medical and evacuation insurance. It can cost, literally, less than a couple of dollars per day. Other ways to be prepared are to ask your host about what plans they have for emergencies, give your team leader an In Case of Emergency form that has emergency contact numbers for people in the host country and at home, include forms for logging injuries and collecting the information required by the insurance company. You may also want to have the name of a crisis consulting agency handy so you know who to call in an emergency.

Does this seem overwhelming? Start with the first step before worrying about the other 3 or contact DELTA Ministries to purchase their Crisis and Contingency Plan or to receive coaching on developing your own.

Questions for the author? Need coaching or consulting? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

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