Team Crisis & Emergency Preparedness
Edited and Adapted by Anna Owens
Be Ready for Anything and Trust the Father
Leaving one’s home to step out on God’s mission has always involved risk (Matthew 10:16-25). Jesus himself did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but rather, condescended himself down to earth amongst mankind to die on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8). However, his death was not an accident but part of God’s grand plan of redemption. When you lead a global trip overseas, the loss of comfort, competency, and control in a different culture heightens uncertainty and causes your confidence to diminish. It also increases your sense of dependence on the Lord. By no means do we intend to be careless in our short-term trip plans as a church, but we also refuse to allow cowardice to stymie our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. If you are struggling with having courage to lead because of the potential dangers, consider the following Scripture passages: Joshua 1:9; Psalm 5, 46, 121; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15. Also, remember that Christ is our Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-25; Isaiah 9:6-7).
Situations You May Encounter
The following is a list of potential situations that someone on a global trip may experience and how you can respond.
- Loss of passport - If you lose your passport, the trip folder will contain the location of the nearest embassy or consulate locations for the country you will be traveling to, as well as color copies of your passports and stamped VISAs if necessary. Take these copies with you to the embassy and stay with the team member until the replacement is completed. We encourage you to memorize your passport number in case it or your color copies get lost or stolen.
- Separation from team - One of the best ways to avoid getting separated from the group is requiring that a person never travel by themselves. You can assign travel buddies, or teams if the group is larger, to help ensure that your team members are constantly looking out for one another. For outings planned in advance during a free day, discuss and determine a place and time to meet once activities have concluded. Make sure every team member knows the name, phone number, and address of the hotel or house you are staying in. Most hotel check-in desks have business cards with this information on it that you can take and place in your wallet.
- Personal Injury or Medical Emergency - If a member of the team is a medical professional, you may want to appoint them as the team medic. As a team leader, be familiar with your team’s health concerns such as asthma, allergies, and prescription medications. If someone on your team has a severe food allergy, let your Sent One know. This information, as well as printed travel insurance cards, is found in the trip leader folder. Travel Insurance is always purchased for you and your entire team by the church. In addition to this, you should research and ask the Sent Ones about the medical care available for where you are going, including the hospitals closest to your ministry site, and carry that contact information with you at all times. Never send someone to a hospital alone. The person in need of medical attention should always be accompanied by the team leader, a team member, or Sent One.
- Food and Water Safety/Staying Healthy - Make sure your team reads over the information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the country you will be in (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/). You and your team are not required to get all of the recommended immunizations listed on the CDC website; however, they are strongly recommended depending on the country. These immunizations must be paid for by the trip participant and are not included within the trip’s budget. Staying up to date with routine vaccinations (i.e., tetanus, MMR. TDap) as well as Hepatitis A and B are especially good to have covered regardless of where you plan to travel.
In addition to this, here are some helpful tips on how to avoid illness or disease while eating, drinking, and traveling in less developed countries:
- Wash your hands or use sanitizer gel before eating.
- Drink bottled water (make sure it is sealed upon purchase) or use a water purifier.
- Use bottled water to brush your teeth.
- Avoid ice unless you know it is from filtered water.
- Only eat cooked vegetables.
- Only eat fruit that can be peeled.
- Be very careful of the types of food you purchase from street vendors (packaged food is usually okay).
- Lean on the wisdom and insight of the Sent Ones. Typically, they know what foods to enjoy and which ones we should avoid.
- Get sufficient rest.
- Use insect repellent, especially in places with a lot of mosquitoes.
- Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
- To avoid parasites and fungi, do not go barefoot.
Common Crime Threats - Some of the most common crises occur when money or property is stolen. Pick pocketing, mugging, burglary, carjacking, and even identity theft are examples of troubles your team may encounter in any part of the world. The easiest way to avoid major loss is to not bring anything that you can’t live without (i.e., jewelry, an heirloom, laptop, iPad, etc.). Be careful about using debit and credit cards at ATMs. Cover the number pad as you put in your pin number so that no one nearby can see. Also, be mindful when paying for things and taking money out of your wallet or purse. Remember that you are wealthy by the world’s standards, and there are people who may be tempted to pickpocket you after you flash a wad of cash out in the open.
In fact, most of our smartphones may be worth more than or equal to the yearly wage of a worker in a developing country. In addition to being careful with money, you should be intentional to secure your information and identity electronically. If traveling to a secure country, wipe your computers and smartphones by taking off any information that is potentially harmful to you, your team, or the Sent Ones if placed in the wrong person’s hands. You should also consider encrypting or password protecting these devices as well as backing up your computer before leaving.
Less Common Crime Threats - Despite their highly unlikely nature, there are some things you can do to mitigate greater risk as you travel or if you find yourself in one of these situations. Remember to be alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep a low profile and try to blend in with the public as much as possible. Ask the sent ones or international partners about specific security concerns the team should be aware of.
When abroad, it would be wise for your team to always travel in groups. In some cultures it is frowned upon for women to be alone in public so having a male team member always present with female members is wise. When returning to your hotel for the evening and when away, all team members need to make sure that they lock their doors. Never tell strangers where you are staying. If you see political demonstrations, quickly distance yourself from protestors to avoid danger. If you encounter an explosion or terrorist bomb attack, move away from the scene as quickly as possible. There are often second bombs set to harm first responders. If held at gunpoint or threatened, give them what they ask and flee if able. Money and passports can be replaced, don’t risk death for material things. If kidnapped or taken hostage, give them your staff crisis contact phone number if asked and try to deescalate the situation by asking questions and humanizing yourself.
Natural Disasters -With the exception of a disaster relief trip, we will not send a team into a potentially dangerous environment such as a recently flooded region or unstable terrain resulting from an earthquake. However, this does not mean that natural disasters such as a volcano eruption, hurricane, flood, or earthquake can’t happen while you are overseas.
There are few additional ways you can be somewhat prepared for a natural disaster. The first thing to do is to have a “go-bag” already assembled and by your side wherever you are. This “go - bag” can be a backpack that includes all the important things you might need such as: your trip leader folder, cell phone, cash/credit card, passports, first-aid kit, map, dictionary, and shoes. Upon arrival establish an emergency contact in your country you would need to communicate with should the phone lines and internet no longer be available. This person can be one of our Sent Ones, the leader of their team, or another trustworthy national partner. Sent Ones and their sending agencies often have contingency plans in place for crises. You should also identify a rally point for your team members (such as a hotel lobby or well known location) and your emergency contact. It is of utmost importance that you account for all of your team members as soon as possible and then move quickly and carefully together to meet your contact person. Lastly, try to get in contact with the staff as soon as it is safely possible and prevent your team from communicating back home until their safety is ensured.
The staff will have already registered you and your entire team with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This program helps the U.S. Embassy contact you and your team in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency in case an evacuation is necessary. It also helps family and friends get in touch with you in case of an emergency.
In many parts of the world the opportunity for a continuing witness could be lost if care is not given to security in communications. This communications policy is to help give guidelines to protect our international Sent Ones. The mission field itself dictates the level of security. In some cases, communication can be very open while in other places Sent Ones and the nationals could be put in danger. The key principle is to do nothing that will hinder the spread of the Gospel.
Social Media Security - In many of the countries you may travel on a global trip, our Sent Ones need to maintain a high level of security to ensure their safety. We would never want to say, do, or post anything online that could potentially pose a danger to our members abroad.
- The Sent Ones and staff will inform you of how careful you need to be before and during your particular trip.
- If you are traveling to one of these secure countries, never mention the location, the type of ministry, the names of the Sent Ones or nationals they are working with, or post pictures of these things on any social media account.
- Encourage your team to resist the temptation to feel like they always have to share every aspect of their lives online. Everyone can settle with simply taking pictures and privately showing them to friends and family once they are back home.
Print or Verbal Correspondence - Remember, English is understood and spoken by many people who live outside of the United States. Know that others may be eavesdropping on your conversation even if they might be speaking a foreign language. Likewise, many governments that are hostile to Christianity are able to monitor the language used in email correspondence so be careful with what you type. Also, watch your voice level while in the country. Americans tend to be louder while speaking than people in other cultures. Avoid bringing undue attention to yourself and your team.
- Refrain from putting a Sent One’s name, location, and/or ministry together in print or publicly (verbally, especially in larger settings). Never use full names of people on the field nor distribute their addresses without their consent.
- Photographs can be used in print as long as names are not in connection with them.
- Refrain from using the word “Missionary” in emails or print.
- Church letterhead, envelope, or return addresses should not be used when sending information to Sent Ones.
- Emails should not have church or religious email addresses or words on subject lines. Email is like a postcard and most restricted countries print off a hard copy for reading each piece of email that flows through servers in their country. Terms to use in emails, blogs and/or print when speaking to or in reference to our Sent Ones.
Lastly, please review the table below to know what you can and cannot say in and while communicating via email or publicly with Sent Ones in secure countries.
Christian Terms Not To Use:
- Holy Spirit
- Church, or Sojourn
- Mission, Evangelism Witnessing
- Church Planting, Church Planting Movement,
- Prayer, Prayer Walk
- CEO, Father, Dad
- Friend, Son
- Spirit, Ghost
- Book, Manual, Guidebook, Map
- Fellowship, The Body, Groups, Family, Home body,
- Group work, EV, Sharing, Talking
- CP, CPM
- Lifting up, Talking, P-walking
- Pool Party, Dunking
*Sent Ones will provide trip leaders with a list of words they commonly use.
Please remember that use of controversial words could jeopardize the safety of the person and the security of the work being done. One can never be “too safe” when it comes to communications on the field. However, communication is essential for the Gospel to go forth.