Traveling Abroad Safely: Trust + Wisdom

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Remembering the One We Serve

Finding security, we know, only comes through Jesus and trusting Him. He is first and foremost whom we rely on for security. He has plans and purposes for our lives that we have not dreamed of! These tips from field experts are not being shared to stir up fear in anyone’s heart, but to provide practical wisdom from the folks who have been thinking about security and doing this successfully for the many years since 9/11 when America awakened to the changing world of security needs.

The two most vulnerable times for individuals or teams when traveling abroad--wherever they are going--are when staying in a hotel or when being transported from the high security (hopefully) of the airport to your chosen secured location for accommodation.

Home-Away-from-Home Selections

In many of our Vineyard Missions partnerships you and your teams will be staying with locals or at hotels recommended by local contacts/friends. The local on-the-ground intelligence like this, available through networking with people we know, is a great asset for making decisions. It is exactly the same tool that the “Big Boys” of the airline industry and government use too.

“(H)otels have inherent vulnerabilities that security managers must address. In many locations, they are the place where foreigners and local elites congregate, a characteristic that makes them attractive to terrorists and militant groups” (ASWG, 2018, p.1). When choosing a hotel ASWG suggests developing a “risk profile” that includes assessing characteristics or factors of the lodging locations you are considering. Leaders will weigh these factors for each location, according to the specific risks in that particular nation. Factors to consider may include:

  • Being part of a recognizable Western brand

  • Serving alcohol or having the only bar in a country where alcohol use is restricted or prohibited

  • Playing host to dignitaries and political conferences

  • Accommodating military personnel

  • Location relative to international transportation in case of a need for evacuation

  • Card access on the elevators might be an important feature in a high-crime environment

  • Multiple routes (mitigates fore-knowledge of route and ambushes and allows drivers to avoid construction and accident prone zones)

  • Physical features of the hotel and their security program

  • Proximity to safe havens and emergency response

  • Distance from high value targets (i.e. museums, embassies, government or financial buildings)

  • Hotel quality

  • Hotel self-sufficiency

Most of the factors are self explanatory, and “air carriers may also develop a profile of the typical guest that stays in the hotel, as adversaries may consider that a factor in targeting” (p. 2). The quality of the hotel figures in, not just because high quality often provides more creature comforts for their guests, but the ASWG asserts, “There is often a direct link between hotel quality and associated sanitary practices and oversight which lends itself to a safer environment” (p.3).

While leaving the hotel is a given for us in missions (since we are there to interact with people rather than stay sequestered in a false bubble of protection) most airline crew are “less likely to feel compelled to leave a good quality hotel to seek dining and entertainment options, thereby reducing potential exposure to outside risks” (p.3). So, it never hurts to remain alert as you are out and about. If something feels fishy about a taxi driver, you can wave him on and take the next one. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you in every step. Ideally, there will be someone in the congregation you are visiting who can function as a driver, and as a bonus, you can get to know them more personally with the extra time you will be with him or her, besides that you may be providing an economic boost for his family.

Transportation Security Levels and Options

Many attacks worldwide have occured while people were in transit, whether they were targets of opportunity or planned attacks. There are different ways of weighing and combating the risk factors of transportation. Predictability, visibility, recognizable identification, and routine drop off and pick up points all are factors missions leaders can weigh.

In an area where economically-motivated crimes (i.e. kidnapping for ransom, pickpocketing) are the main concern, a bulky visible security detail may serve as the best deterrent to shift criminals to a “softer target.” Whether in transit or out and about, keep luggage secured and out of plain site.

If terrorism is the main concern, the decision will have to be made whether a convoy of well-identified, well-equipped bodyguards and vehicles is better than going incognito and splitting your team into smaller, less obvious groups of 2-3 people to avoid detection in everyday transportation options like taxis, “randomly” chosen and driven by drivers who are plain citizens, or a local reputable company who uses unbranded vehicles and is aware of up-to-date risk factors in their city.

Safety concerns while traveling abroad reach beyond deliberate attacks. Risks are also inherent from from incidental events, such as civil unrest or routine traffic issues. Just like at home, the more time spent in transit, the higher the odds of an accident. In missions, we generally spend more time in vehicles--especially when we don’t get to take the wheel--than at home. In planning, consider:

…[in] many parts of the developing world in particular, a road traffic accident with injuries can be a very serious situation. This is in large part due to poor response times by emergency medical services and lack of good emergency medical care in many places...an injury that might be relatively minor and easily treated in your home country may result in serious complications in a less developed country. Another consideration is the risk posed by crowds that can form following an accident. These crowds may become confrontational and act out violently against the driver or occupants of the vehicle (p. 4).

Four levels or categories of drivers

  1. Known and/or safe driver;

  2. Security trained driver;

  3. Security trained driver with close protection agent; and

  4. Security trained driver and escort team.

There are variations and additional considerations, including armed security escorts, armored vehicles, lead cars, and GPS tracking.

Summary

When selecting transportation and accommodation vendors, review multiple sources of the vendor’s employee training and preparation “for irregular and potentially dangerous incidents. How do they track and communicate with their vehicles or security officers on site? What is their plan for dealing with incidents like a vehicle breakdown or their procedures for handling a checkpoint? What is their general capability level?” (p.5). A mission leader may perform route analysis or designate primary and alternate routes, or need to designate safe havens and an emergency plan for their teams.

All that can get expensive. Yes, it is the Lord’s money and we want to spend it wisely, however, going with the lowest bidder for transportation and accommodation contractors may not the best choice when taking responsibility for your missions teams.

Hints for Dealing with Fear in Your Teams

Fear can take many forms when doing missions. It also can sneak up on people who don’t normally deal with fear. While a healthy caution is a positive trait, we know succumbing to a spirit of fear is not the best Jesus has available for us to function well in this journey of life. He invited us into freedom from fear through His perfect love for us and knowledge of us, His creation. Whether fear is manifesting in you or your team related to becoming a target of a terrorist attack, experiencing a crime, a fear of flying, not being “enough” to minister once the team is on the ground, or fear of the unknown that is coming, it becomes an opportunity for spiritual growth and fresh recognition of our dependence of God, both abroad and at home.

Sometimes the fear of the unknown can be assuaged with providing more information. Albeit, many times, there is just not information to be had. Megan Pool tells her beautiful story of overcoming her fear of flying here. It can help to name the feeling, and call fear to bow its knee to Jesus, as every knee in heaven and earth must bow to the name of Jesus (Is 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10). There is risk in doing missions. It is getting outside the comfort zone of life as we know it to experience life in someone else’s culture. As John Wimber said, “Faith is spelled R.I.S.K.” If we are not operating in faith, what are we doing here anyway?

In closing, I’d like to visit another quote from John Wimber, and though it is somewhat out of context, it still rings true concerning the issue of safety and going to the ends of the Earth as Jesus commanded (Matt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). “I am just change in God’s pocket. He can spend me how He chooses.” Overcoming fear is such a friendship builder with Jesus. He knows what is ahead for us, and He is worth our trust. When God has invited us into the redemptive story He is writing in another nation, He will not abandon us, nor leave us ill-equipped for that mission. Let’s be obedient and grow into that role and relationship with Jesus first, trusting Him, while using our wisdom to also consider safety as we do His work.

 

Compiled and adapted for Vineyard Missions’ work by Kim Frolander from the July 31, 2018 report by Aviation Security Working Group (ASWG) entitled “Considerations for Selecting Secure Hotels and Transportation Abroad,” a source submitted by MLT Jerry Reddix for Vineyard Missions.