By René Houtman
It is a strange feeling to write about the need to be prepared for violent situations as a Family in Missions as we are at this moment in the midst of a crisis (coronavirus) that is gripping the entire world.
I don’t think anyone of us saw a crisis coming on this scale. We all downplayed the corona pandemic in the beginning. We joked about it. Me too. As humans we are always inclined to believe that such things happen to others, but not to ourselves. However, we are now all involved, and should all consider what measures we should take to minimize the risk.
We may find that if we are not prepared for it, we can just fall from naivety into fear and panic. That is exactly why preparation is so important. Not that it will make a crisis less severe. A crisis remains a crisis. We can never fully imagine what it will be like in advance. A crisis will always affect us physically, psychologically, mentally. However, the intensity of our reaction will greatly be determined by the degree to which we are prepared.
What is a crisis?
By crisis we mean a situation of intense danger or suffering. It can be a violent relational conflict (divorce), a physical disaster (tsunami, war), a life-threatening situation (armed robbery), a sudden change in our life with far-reaching consequences (evacuation, death of a loved one).
A crisis means confusion, uncertainty, fear. A crisis may take a short or long time, but the impact has a profound effect and lasts a long time.
It is naive to want to go into missions and not want to think about crises, the possibility that we will have to deal with them and how we can best prepare.
Why do we have to be prepared for a crisis?
- Because crises are inevitable in missions
- Because we need to respond to crises adequately
1. Crises are inevitable in missions
Jesus Himself prepared His disciples for violent situations that they would experience. He spoke of the coming destruction of their beloved Jerusalem, of disasters to come upon the world, of persecution, of the hatred of the world His disciples would face. And He didn’t say, “Don’t worry, you’ll get through it”. He said “Please note, I told you this beforehand”. (Matthew 24,25)
A book that everyone who serves in missions should read is: Facing danger by Anna E. Hampton (2016). Hampton lists 4 trends that make crisis preparation necessary:
- Increasing danger and persecution of Cross-Cultural Laborers, especially (but not only!) In Muslim countries.
- Increasing attrition rates. Many workers leave the field for reasons that could have been prevented and before they have actually been effective as workers.
- Changing Sending Countries. Many workers come from poorer countries, receive less care and have fewer opportunities to maintain their mental and spiritual health.
- Increased brokenness of Christian Laborers. Because of the dysfunction in our Christian churches and families, a lot of Christian workers struggle with issues of identity, relationships and faith. Childhood trauma often only comes to light on the field.
Every missionary worker has to deal with the stress of living in a different culture (You may have experienced the honeymoon phase during a short overseas trip, but now you have to go through real culture shock).
Life in a different culture is more unsafe, just because we don’t know how things work and are not familiar with all kinds of unwritten rules and customs. We need to find our way in a country where life is different from what we were used to. Different things are required from us than what we learned in our home country.
Moreover, it is soon not about one stress factor, but about an accumulation of several: we don’t have our trusted relationships around, traffic can be riskier, medical care is often further away and its quality may be poor, electricity and the internet connections can be unreliable. Such an accumulation of factors can already have a traumatizing effect. Imagine a mother with a child who suddenly becomes very ill; her husband is traveling for a few days; she wants to go to a doctor for help for her child, but the electricity is out. So, no light or internet; and the baby is also crying … All in itself not necessarily serious things, but all together a lot of stress factors.
Children and parents
For families, there is an additional factor: children are always dependent on their parents, but even more so in crisis situations. Children will mirror their parents’ reactions. If their parents are stable and able to cope with what is happening, children will experience less emotional damage. If their parents cannot cope with the circumstances, children may be traumatized. We can already imagine that physically: children are much more at risk if their parents do not oversee a dangerous situation well. When it is about psychological effects this will be less directly visible, but no less real. When children see fear in their parents’ eyes, it leaves a deep impression of insecurity.
2. How do I respond to crisis?
Jesus gives His disciples instructions for the crises that are coming: what to think about, how to behave. Not just to cope with it, but how else can they be effective in their calling?
If you want to be effective, be prepared for crisis. In such a situation you have to make important but difficult decisions, which can have far-reaching consequences. You will need all your knowledge, insight and experience to avoid exposing your family to unnecessary dangers. Your faith and spiritual values are essential, but not enough. You also need your common sense, to assess situations you have never experienced before and evaluate the options you have for protecting yourself and your family. It also comes down to practical insight: what can you do not to make the danger greater than it already is.
How do we understand God’s voice in such situations? How do we avoid hearing Him say things that we would like to hear instead of what He wants to say to us?
Hampton mentions 12 myths that we as Christians can have to speak or comfort ourselves. For example:
- You are never safer than when you are at the center of God’s will
- Taking risks is part of our calling
- Suffering for God brings honor to His name
Hampton shows how easily such statements that may be true in themselves can be misused for irresponsible behavior. If we don’t prepare well for difficult choices, we won’t take proper precautions, we may behave irresponsibly.
Trust is not naive
The Bible calls on us to trust God, but never praises ignorance or naivety. Jesus talks about calculating the costs. When we go to the pool with the family, we will always look at how safe it is to our children. That certainly applies to a country, a city, a political situation where we may be living for years.
That does not mean that we should be guided by fear, or that we should avoid every risk. But it does mean that we need to look into the situation and take responsibility for our own life and that of our loved ones. God Himself has given us that responsibility. Trusting God doesn’t mean I don’t have to pay attention when I’m driving my car. Trusting God doesn’t mean I don’t have to be prepared for dangerous situations. Trusting God never leads us to irresponsible behavior. We should not tempt God, that is step into dangers in which He does not bring us. Or leave things we could have done to protect our own life or others’.
Mission requires careful stewardship of our time, energy and resources, of our life itself (Hampton 135). They are not our own, we received them to honor God with them.
So: do we honor Him in the way we are living our calling?
René Houtman is married to Ralda since 1982, at the time of publishing this article they have 4 adult children and 6 grandchildren.
They have been involved in pastoral care, Membercare, counseling and debriefing for more than 30 years.
Living in the Netherlands they joined YWAM in 2002 and also work with Le Rucher Ministries in France.