The world is today different than the one I grew up in. When I came home from the hospital for the first time, I traveled safely in my mother’s arms in the front seat. When I rode my bike to school, I didn’t wear a bike helmet, no one did. Today, neither one of these would be acceptable. Most would say this is progress, since our tolerance for risk as a society has waned and instead we favor risk aversion. We have taken our risk aversion and applied to many aspects of society. Employers require background checks, airbags are standard features on all vehicles and the home security business is booming. But what if we apply this same level of risk aversion to the church? There is no doubt the western church sometimes adapts the sentiments of the culture in which it exists. In doing so, it can create a standard of safety and low threshold for risk that are more cultural than biblical.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked when talking about a trip to Haiti is “Is it safe?” Before I address the question, I try to measure the inquirer. Is this a parent looking for assurance before they send off their 15-year-old daughter to a foreign country for the first time? Is this a lawyer testing me on preparation and crisis preparedness? Is this a Pastor crossing his T’s and dotting his I’s before he presents us to his congregation to support? All are valid scenarios that deserve a thoughtful answer.
My approach to each varies, since the question comes from very different places. Taken at face value, the answer is “no.” Nothing is 100% safe. So, answering the stated question is not really helpful since it’s usually not what they really want to know. Instead, I typically answer “What is your tolerance of risk? What is the likelihood of a team being confronted with a dangerous situation? What steps have you taken to prepare for a crisis?” These are what I have found to be the real concerns. Now, there is a difference between risk and uncertainty. Risk can be identified and calculated. Uncertainties, by definition, are unknown. Even an individual or organization with no risk tolerance cannot mitigate away the unforeseen event. All the risk analysis’ and proactive planning in the world cannot stop a driver coming from the other direction from crossing the yellow line.
Should I pray for safety?
Many believe ministry needs to be safe. Some believe God owes us safety and security like it’s an amendment in the Bill of Rights. But this is not how the bible reads. Paul never asks the churches to pray for his safety. When the psalmist prays for protection, it’s always from the evil one, not traveling mercies and safe trips. He prays “preserve me” because he is being hunted for being God’s man and doing what God has called him to do.
In the scriptures, and even in our world today, we tend to see the gospel advancing in areas where there is tremendous risk. The countries were the Church is growing most rapidly today are India and China. Both countries have histories of torture, imprisonment, and even execution for those that are followers of Christ. The advancement of the gospel in these countries comes at great cost to some who have a remarkably high tolerance for risk. We cannot forget that Jesus loves and died for dangerous people who often live in dangerous places. Some are called by God to these areas with very little safety net. Now I never begrudge a parent who prays for their child’s safety. But since safety is more of an illusion than we care to admit, maybe a better prayer is that they would trust God and endure with joy in times of uncertainty and struggle.
Is Haiti Dangerous?
Love in Motion has low risk tolerance. That is a reflection of where we are and what we do. Religious persecution is almost non-existent in Haiti. Where there is political instability, riots and violence, they are typically easily avoided. The usual participant on one of our trips does not feel called to areas of extreme danger and genuine high risk. There is nothing wrong with this. Many are experiencing missions and crossing cultures for the first time. They are just learning how God is working in other areas of the world.
Now, just because Haiti and what we specifically do there are relatively low risks does not excuse us from due diligence; we are very purposeful in asking questions concerning risk. I continually evaluate our activities, measuring risk vs. value. I have ongoing conversations with security experts, Haitian nationals, and American expiates in Haiti. We do these things because they are wise. We are not so foolish to think that by engaging in all these conversations that we have created a danger proof environment. Uncertainties happen and we plan our responses as best we can.
Is God Safe?
In asking this question my mind immediately goes to C.S. Lewis’ classic, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” specifically the scene where Susan and Lucy are asking about Aslan (The fictional character who represents Jesus Christ):
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
In this simple exchange, Lewis does a masterful job or reminding us a life of comfort and predictability are not priorities in the Kingdom of Heaven. In His goodness, God calls us to places and events to advance the gospel and chip away at the things in our lives that do not look like Him. And sometimes, those places are not safe.