When mission workers are caught in a country facing a crisis, there are three options: evacuate, relocate to a safer part of the country or hibernate in a safe place until the conflict comes to an end.
Louise Brown and her family chose hibernation. She and her husband, Arthur, had been BMS workers in Beirut, Lebanon, for just a year when, in 2006, the Israeli military began dropping bombs on the city.
They had arrived back in the country less than 24 hours before the airport was bombed.
When they heard the first explosions, they rushed to their balcony to see what was happening.
“As I was watching the bombs drop, Lebanon went from being a country I had been sent to, to being my home,” Louise says.
The family restricted their movements, sticking to the safer parts of Beirut, but they never thought of leaving.
“I got the pictures out that I’d brought back from England and started putting them up on my wall,” she says. “Because this was my home. I wasn’t moving from it.”
Their staying had a profound impact on Louise’s relationship with her local colleagues, friends and neighbors.
When Louise met her old Arabic teacher a few weeks after the bombings, her teacher came and hugged her, saying, “You’ve been my friend, but now you’re my sister.”
For others, escaping danger would mean permanently relocating to a safer place.
Rory (not his real name) works with BMS in Afghanistan. Day to day, life is hazardous; you have to be constantly aware of security protocols and gunfire.
Attack helicopters and military checkpoints are not just something you read about in the news.
Living in that environment can be very stressful, and people cope with it in different ways.
“There’s no condemnation if it’s too much for people,” Rory says. “You know that you won’t be forced to stay.”
While living there has its tensions, and Rory and his family have relocated within the country to give their children more freedom, they chose to go to Afghanistan knowing it was dangerous—and they have chosen to stay.
“The safety level is not the first thing I think about in terms of where I’m being called by God to work,” Rory says. “At some point, you have to trust God that you’re going to be all right, or maybe you’re not, but that this is something that should be done.”
From training women to safely deliver babies in a country with the highest infant mortality rate in the world, to working with HIV patients, to fighting for the rights of women and children in conflict contexts where land grabs and rape are rife, it’s hard to overstate the impact of the work being done by mission workers in conflict areas.
It’s also difficult to understand the possible ramifications of never having sent them.
While sudden outbreaks of fighting cannot always be predicted, it’s important to assess all the foreseeable risks before sending mission workers into any potentially dangerous situation.
“Holding true to a strategy of working with the least evangelized and most marginalized is inevitably going to lead you to places that are conflict affected,” Steve Sanderson, BMS manager for mission projects, says.
“We do a lot of risk assessment, ensuring that we don’t put people in a situation where there is a clear foreseeable harm; and where there is a foreseeable harm, we take every step we can to mitigate that risk,” he says.
Yet, whether you’re a development worker in Afghanistan or a teacher in the United Kingdom, no one can be guaranteed safety. All life involves risk.
“The world isn’t a safe place,” Louise says. “Just because I’ve got a British passport doesn’t mean I have a right to safety. The idea that I wouldn’t be sent somewhere dangerous, when other people are living in these situations, to me just doesn’t make sense of the gospel.”
Danger exists and terrible things do sometimes happen, but while there continues to be need, BMS will send mission workers to countries where their skills can best be used to bring hope and a future to some of the world’s poorest people—people whom God has created and whom he loves.
And we will also continue to do everything possible to minimize the danger to our workers, so that they come home to their loved ones knowing they have done what God called them to do.
“Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world’,” Rory says, “not ‘go into all the world as long as it’s 100 percent safe.'”
And so our workers go, sharing God’s love through the fire.
Sarah Stone is a writer for BMS World Mission. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of BMS’ quarterly publication, Engage, and is used with permission. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Stone and BMS @BMSWorldMission.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.