Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been part of two seminars on risk.  One considered the need for charities to comply with legislation protecting children and vulnerable adults, observe employment legislation, and take out insurance against risks that can’t be entirely managed away.  The other concerned how much risk our organisations are prepared to take when sending people abroad, particularly into potentially hazardous situations.  How much does the litigious culture we live in force us to avoid some legitimate risk, refrain from sending teams to unstable places where they can make a huge difference,  and pull our staff out of dangerous situations at the very time the local people need us most?  Apparently some of the first people on the flights out of Haiti after the earthquake were mission workers.  How tragic.

Evaluating risk is something we all do on a regular basis.  We’re so accustomed to it that we don’t even think of it as such, but each time we cross the road we evaluate the risk of not walking fast enough to get all the way across before that bus hits us.  When we choose a school for our children, we’re evaluating the risk of damage to their education or personality if we get it wrong.  When we take out a pension plan our advisers ask us what our risk profile is, so that they know how to invest our funds. Most of the time, we plan for safe options.  We talk about job security, or financial independence, but what we mean is ‘safe’.  Perhaps there’s not enough risk in our lives.  One of the reasons that apparently dangerous activities like bungee jumping, tombstoning or riding on roller coasters are so popular may be because people don’t get enough adrenalin in their lives without artificially seeking it out.

Perhaps we should actually be looking to live more adventurously.  We were asked at one of the seminars ‘Does God take risks?’  The answers varied, but it was clear that over the millennia his people have done.  From Abraham setting out from the security of Ur for an as-yet-indeterminate country which he would never call home, via Paul regularly suffering beatings, stonings and shipwrecks when he could have had a pleasant life as a Jewish rabbi, to the many missionary saints and martyrs of more recent centuries, God’s people have not been known for being risk-averse.  As Hudson Taylor observed, If there is no element of risk in our endeavours for God, there is no need for faith.

When I was first planning to go and serve God in a particularly undeveloped, post-conflict country in Africa, my best friend asked me what I thought the risks were.  Before I answered him, I thought about the potential damage to my career prospects and my finances.  I wondered about the impact on my hopes to have a family.  I considered the possibility of serious health problems – or even death  – due to landmines, gunfire, malaria or car accident.  In the end I concluded that there was no risk at all… because a risk only exists where what you stand to lose is of value to you.  As that missionary martyr Jim Eliot wrote: He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.