Security is probably something you have not given much attention to, but you may inadvertently be at a high risk simply because you’re a foreigner. Christians often ignore these risks and assume that God will protect them because they’re doing his work, yet the large number of mission workers who have been robbed, raped, injured in accidents, abducted or executed makes it clear that these risks are very real and need to be planned for.
Risky situations include natural disaster, terrorist attack, military coup, revolution, riot, transport accident, robbery, rape, kidnap and imprisonment. But some of these events can happen anywhere – even in your home country – so don’t be put off your God-given mission by the risk, but take steps to manage the risk instead. You need to take steps to avoid all these situations, and develop a plan for what to do in the event of an emergency.
Before departure, check up on local conditions as advised by your own government, and check this advice regularly for updates. When your government advises its citizens to leave your host country, you would be extremely unwise to stay. If you’re British, subscribe to the FCO’s information service (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) so that you are kept up to date.
Keeping safe in your host country is a matter of common sense, and many of the things you need to be aware of are no different to the precautions you would take if you were in London, Paris or New York. However you need to be aware at all times that you may be in a country whose government and people may be hostile to Christians, to your mission and to people of your nationality in general. This heightens the security risk. You may also be a target for thieves and kidnappers because you are perceived to be wealthy. So extra caution may be necessary if you are to survive long enough to accomplish your ministry.
Here are some specific tips we can give you from our experience:
• Panic! Try to keep calm, keep your voice down and defuse a tense situation rationally.
• Go out on your own, or after dark, or without a local escort unless local leadership says it’s ok.
• Criticise the government, army or police.
• Make sudden moves at checkpoints or when being robbed.
• Make jokes when dealing with officials.
• Stop after an accident if your vehicle is still drivable. Find the nearest police station and report the accident.
• Attend any political rallies.
• Take credit cards with you unless you know you are going to need them.
• Accept lifts from (or give lifts to) strangers.
• Leave bags unattended.
• Take with you anything that you can’t afford to lose.
• Take photographs of police, checkpoints, airports, government offices or military installations.
• Put up a fight.
• Let a woman get in a taxi on her own.
• Head off the beaten track without an appropriate guide or security guard.
• Use any form of transport that looks unsafe, or if the driver looks tired, drunk or high.
• Flaunt wealth like watches, cameras, iPads or jewellery. If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t take it.
• Carry large amounts of cash on you.
• Take photocopies of your passport and ticket and carry them with you at all times while leaving the original securely locked in a safe at your base.
• If you have to carry money keep most of it in a hidden money belt and keep it out of sight. Don’t use it like a bum bag/fanny pack
• If you have a laptop, mobile, expensive camera or iPod, try to keep it out of sight and don’t use it in public.
• Be polite and patient with government officials, police and military.
• Make sure somebody always knows where you are.
• Avoid angry or violent crowds.
• In the event of civil unrest, stay inside and phone for help.
• Keep vehicle windows wound up and doors locked in towns so people can’t steal things.
• Always follow the advice of resident mission workers and/or local hosts.
• Keep the windows and doors to your room shut when you’re not in the room – even if you’re still in the same building.
• Keep an eye on luggage, particularly if someone comes up to talk to you, as they might be a decoy for a thief.
• Dress modestly according to local convention, particularly when visiting religious sites.
• Make sure you know the address and phone number of where you’re staying.
• Report any incident immediately to the police or your embassy as appropriate.
• Know what the evacuation plan is.
• Try not to attract attention to yourself by dressing differently from locals.
• Be aware of who might be watching or following you. A man who engages you in conversation may be a decoy for an accomplice creeping up behind you.
• Avoid going to dubious areas at night.
• Try to travel in the company of locals whom you can trust.
• Try to travel only in well-maintained vehicles and always wear seat belts or crash helmets if possible.
• Carry with you high quality medical gloves to protect you from infected body fluids when helping others.