Who is safe anymore? No one! But international workers are exposed to many more dangers. We travel more. We live in sensitive and sometimes volatile places. We are often the first targets for violence.
It’s been almost 11 years since I wrote on international safety issues. At that time the World Trade Center bombings had just happened. In the intervening years our world has been rocked by any number of other terrorist attacks, tribal wars, and crazed shooters killing innocent people.
Where can we find safety? Do we hide in our houses and never venture out? That’s not possible. Do we go back home? We knew when we signed up for international service that we stood higher risks than those who remained home. Many of us signed papers releasing our organization from responsibility should we be kidnapped and held for ransom.
While we were working in Nigeria, we took a break in the highlands. A preacher spoke to a small group gathered that Sunday. He quoted Jesus: “Listen! I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves.” Then he looked at us with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I suppose you know that could be dangerous.” His was a message of encouragement to tired and battered workers, but also a reminder that if we are facing unusual dangers, we need unusual wisdom, grace, and faith.
But among all the dangers, we have an assurance in our hearts that we are where God wants us to be. We take seriously Psalms 91- the song of protection for those who love and honor God. We know He is our Defender and Protector in times of trouble. We’ve seen Him protect us.
Yet we also know we live in a broken world with evil people planning havoc for the innocent. So we take Proverbs 1:32-33 to heart.
“Inexperienced people die because they reject wisdom. Stupid people are destroyed by their own lack of concern. But whoever listens to me will have security. He will be safe, with no reason to be afraid.” (Pro 1:32-33)
So we balance wisdom and alertness with a deep trust in our Faithful Father.
Here are some practical steps we should take right now.
- Sign up with the US Department of State for the STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). It is a free service for U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency. You can also receive routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
- Check the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Begin with the Worldwide Caution. From that page you can see the short-term alerts and long-term warnings for areas and countries. Whether you are a U.S. citizen or not, this information is available to you.
- If you haven’t seen our earlier article Safety Precautions, you might take a few minutes to see some common sense precautions that are as valid today as eleven years ago.
Here are a few tips for personal safety:
- Stay aware of local news and avoid hot spots.
- Don’t walk or jog alone. Go with a buddy.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to the people around you. Keep your eyes and ears open and your hands free.
- Don’t talk or text on your cell phone, but have one tucked in a pocket to notify someone of your location.
- Don’t wear conspicuous clothing or jewelry. Wear comfortable, sensible shoes. Carry only the money you need for that day.
- Take the elevator rather than stairs. Stand at the door and be ready to step off, if someone gets on that makes you feel uneasy.
- The rule of thumb is to make eye contact, as attackers may fear you being able to identify them. You must know if this will work or backfire in the culture in which you are living.
- If you think someone is following you, switch directions or cross the street. If the person continues to follow you, move quickly toward an open store or restaurant or a lighted house. Don’t be afraid to yell for help.
Armed with this knowledge, you can be wise regarding your safety. But your greatest protection is in your personal relationship with the God. I am reminded of a story a friend told me.
A woman was sent to a dangerous place on an assignment. With fear and trembling she asked her support team to pray for her and remember her while she was away.
Soon after arriving, she was standing on a street corner. She felt a prompting to cross the street. So she did. As soon as she was safely across the street, a bomb exploded where she had been standing.
Instead of making her more fearful in that dangerous place, she immediately felt a strong sense of comfort. She said, “Now I’m sure God will direct me to safety.” Her safety and ours is in our sensitivity to His direction. Yes, many of our number have laid down their lives for their Master. We may need to do that too. But let’s be wise so we do not have to face that day prematurely.