by Wilbert R. Shenk
In terms of policy development, there are certain areas that are more conspicuous by their absence than anything else.
In terms of policy development, there are certain areas that are more conspicuous by their absence than anything else. Whether this is due to the difficulty of definition in a given area or because of a lack of experience, the fact remains that there is such an unevenness in treatment. One such issue is instructions to field personnel who find themselves caught in unstable situations where violence may occur.
Out of a concern to find ways of preparing personnel to face such contingencies with integrity, a group of Mennonite agencies commissioned the drafting of such a policy statement. As part of the preparation for drafting the document, some dozen other agencies were contacted to discover whether they had a written policy and to solicit a copy. The responses were most cordial but yielded little fruit. The typical reply was that no such policy had been formulated.
If this were an age of calm, such a lack would be quite understandable. However, the past three decades have been especially turbulent and hundreds of missionary and service personnel have been directly faced with agonizing decisions arising out of emergency situations.
As a specific response to this need for guidance, this statement of guidelines has been prepared. First, it identifies the context for all Christian witness, then follows a description of the complex of relationships with which every worker is involved, and, finally, some principles are enumerated that can guide the worker in emergency situations.
I. THE WORLD, THE DISCIPLE AND THE KINGDOM THE WORLD SITUATION
Although all of human history has been marked by violence, it is in contemporary times that man’s violence against man has reached unprecedented proportions. This is manifested in various ways: the unrelenting efforts of nations to apply the most advanced technology and know ledge to weaponry and systems of destruction; the bewildering change brought about in human society through an ever-accelerating scientific revolution; the collapse of old social and political systems (e.g., colonialism) due to inward decay and moral culpability; the impact of a new quest for self-determination by the down-trodden peoples and nations of the world.
Realism requires that we view the basic human condition for what it is-a personal and collective rebellion against God. The finest and highest achievements of man are continually subverted and perverted by being turned against the common good and to the purposes of selfish men and groups. In short, the world is that place where the "rule of God" has yet to be recognized and accepted. Those persons and structures that do not follow the will of God will inevitably be under the domination of evil and the demonic.
THE DISCIPLE’S CALLING
The disciple is called to be a messenger. His witness is that there is "good news" for mankind. It is his privilege to proclaim that the power of evil can be overwhelmed and defeated and men can be liberated from the tyranny of violence by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciple witnesses as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. His loyalty to this kingdom and its king must be unconditional. The mode of his witness is modeled after that of the king himself, Jesus Christ. In the incarnation Jesus identified fully with man in order that he might reveal the Father perfectly. The incarnation above all else meant the rejection of resort to violent retaliation when confronted by the forces of evil. Instead Jesus took the form of a servant and accepted the way of the cross knowingly and willingly, thereby defeating the power of death and the demonic. It is this pattern of servanthood that is normative for the disciple.
It is the call of the disciple to live with the tension of the "already" and the "not yet," the eschatological awareness of the ultimate triumph of God’s kingdom in confrontation with this age which is not yet finally subdued. It is this eschatological awareness that informs the disciple’s ethical response to the world.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE KINGDOM
The message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God has come and that God’s rule-with its implications for justice, righteousness and peace-has begun. The coming of the kingdom of God signals hope for man.
The kingdom therefore points to the new thing that Gad is doing, bringing all things to completion in Jesus Christ. One important feature of this new creation is that it transcends the boundaries and barriers men have erected against each other. The biblical vision depicts the gathering together of men from all backgrounds in a new community under a new confession: Jesus is Lord.
A second feature of this new creation is that it results from the missionary response of God’s people. The mission is to the nations, to the peoples of the world. It requires a supreme loyalty to Jesus as Lord; the call of God’s people is to be agents of reconciliation "on Christ’s behalf." It is a vision and task that places all other considerations of national or ethnic loyalties, social status, or even personal security under its prior claim.
II. THE RELATIONSHIPS OF THE OVERSEAS WORKER
Though the Christian worker professes in his commitments and values the Kingdom of God and strives to incarnate in his style of life the universality of this Kingdom, he is also a member of a variety of groups whose relationships are frequently in tension with the Kingdom of God. Because of these relationships the overseas worker will recognize that all of his actions implicate the persons and organizations with which he associates. It is unrealistic to think that he retains his private identity.
A crucial issue is the way in which the worker identifies in his new context. The effectiveness of his service depends on achieving genuine rapport with church and community. On the other hand, his true value will be limited if he loses his capacity for constructive but critical evaluation. In addition it should be noted that the reason for not seeking total identification is not because neutrality is the ideal stance, but rather that it is impossible to become an agent of reconciliation apart from an ethically independent position. To give substance to this intention there should be program efforts designed to work actively toward this evangelical goal of effecting reconciliation.
To the local church.The primary relationship of each worker on the field is to the local fellowship of believers. As much as possible, the overseas worker should enter fully into the life and work of the local church in the area where he is assigned, thus giving visible expression to the unity of believers and the universality of the church.
One who is affiliated with a local church overseas nor mally enjoys the same rights and privileges as any other member of the church, unless these rights and privileges have been modified by congregational policy or by the laws of the country. There may be instances where freedom of religion and expression granted to a citizen is denied an expatriate.
The overseas worker should be unformed about the issues and problems that affect the life of the people with whom he is working. His involvement in their struggles will be determined to a certain degree by the laws and customs of the country in which he works and the attitude and judgment of national colleagues and church leaders.
The overseas worker should also bear in mind that the church has far too often allied itself with political and social leaders who perpetuate injustice and support privilege for a few. When the worker finds this to be the situation he must seek to challenge the church to a sense of righteousness and justice. If he fails he must decide in which manner he can exercise his conscience or adjust to the situation. There may be occasions when workers will remove themselves from unjust circumstances or face expulsion as a witness of conscience.
Where there is injustice and oppression, the worker will feel inclined to identify with the oppressed, the poor and the imprisoned (Luke 4:18-19). The ministry of reconciliation compels us to strive to overcome evil with good; to support the things that make for peace, and to work to end the conflicts that rend our world. The concerned worker will not only exercise his conscience regarding evil, but will use means for exercising this conscience appropriate to the way of Christ and constantly challenge the church to its responsibility.
In recent times the church, particularly those bodies relating to overseas communions through mission and service agencies, has frequently had its activities proscribed. We regret such developments which may indeed be judgments on the church’s failure to be authentically responsive to the context in which it exists. On the other hand, there is no reason for us to expect an easy, comfortable existence for the church. Whatever the case, the local worker should not allow difference of political ideology to be the primary basis for decision making.
To the sending church.A second relationship is to the sending organization or church. It is the sending group that commissions the worker and provides various kinds of support. The worker will want, to the extent possible, to keep the sending group informed as to iris whereabouts and the general situation and to enlist their moral and prayer support.
It is the responsibility of the sponsoring group to demonstrate its support and confidence in both the worker and the local church or Christian fellowship with whom the worker associates by vesting in them the responsibility for making any decisions in a time of crisis regarding the temporary reassignment or relocation of the worker. This confidence is justified by the faith that the "two or three" gathered under the Spirit’s blessing will be guided in their search for the will of God in difficult circumstances. While we are concerned for the safety of all God’s people, we very much believe that God’s people are in truth strangers and pilgrims in this world and that the cross we are called to bear will include suffering and even death.
To the host country. The overseas worker will recognize that he does not carry the rights of citizenship in a country other than his own and that the peoples of most countries will want to form their own government and their own life style. He will avoid imposing his own ideology or culture on the people whom he serves.
As a resident of a foreign country, the worker will respect the government’s laws and regulations particularly as they relate to alien registration, taxes, customs, monetary exchange, permits for travel and licenses of various kinds. Good judgment, tactfulness and Christian grace should be demonstrated at all times in contacts with government officials. Because of the danger of misinterpretation, caution should be used in making statements, especially written, that criticize or reflect on government policies and activities, living standards, cultural practices, or educational levels.
The overseas worker should realize that his movements and attitudes, expressed and unexpressed, are under constant surveillance. In areas of tension and conflict the civilian or military governmental authorities may maintain censorship of all incoming and outgoing mail. It is necessary, therefore, to be prudent and use good judgment in writing official and personal letters about local and national political situations in the country where one is serving. The same is true for what is kept as part of the local files and records.
Since the Christian is concerned with the total needs of man, both individually and socially, an overseas worker will be concerned with the political, economic and social issues confronting the host country. He will recognize that it is impossible to maintain a truly neutral stance. However, as an expatriate, it will be expected and may be specifically required that he abstain from political involvements. In all situations the counsel and advice of the church leaders is to be sought and duly respected.
To the sending country. The overseas worker should avoid giving the impression that his primary loyalty, either politically or culturally, belongs to his North American homeland and to the diplomatic, commercial, or military representatives of that homeland in his field of service. He will be especially sensitive to the appearance of preferring to shop or to socialize in contexts related to his homeland. As a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven he knows that all people are embraced by God’s love and concern and looks forward to the time when the whole creation will be brought to unity in Christ. He will express the conditional nature of all national attachments both verbally and in his attitude and life style.
The worker thus need not feel compelled to be a defender of his homeland and its government, "right or wrong." Where his home government does take a stand for what is right and seeks to help other nations in their struggle for liberty and justice, he can be grateful, and participate, according to his abilities and availability, in these efforts. But, as sometimes happens, if his government has policies and practices that support the oppressor, he should not dear to affirm that this government like all governments, stands under the judgment of God for its misuse of power. He should not fear expressing his concerns about such policies, according to the dictates of his convictions and conscience.
III. PRINCIPLES OF ACTION DURING OPEN HOSTILITIES
Throughout the history of Christendom, Christ’s servants have worked in the midst of danger and conflict and have often risked personal security to be obedient to their calling and assignment. Today, overseas workers live and minister in countries that may at times experience unrest, civil war, or other types of danger, hostility and conflict.
Occasions may arise where the gospel is on trial and the worker directly involved. In such situations he is to follow the example of Jesus, who refused to retaliate or defend himself and on the cross prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies.
In times of crises there are no easy answers for the overseas workers who dry to fulfill their responsibility. It may be possible to continue one’s work even though the rest of the world, through propaganda and sensational publicity may deem the situation impossible.
Consult the local church. In any consideration of actions in an emergency, the interest of the local Christian church must be paramount. The process by which this is ascertained is very important: A genuine effort must be made to get the true feelings of the church and not just polite answers. This may require consulting a variety of people. The decision of a worker to remain and share in a dangerous situation with a local Christian group may strengthen and encourage that community. Conversely, the presence of expatriates may be an embarrassment or even a cause for reprisals against the nationals. Therefore, a worker should not selfishly decide that he will remain at any cost. On the other hand, it may be very difficult for workers to return with the respect and goodwill of the church after a total evacuation if the church or local group did not share in the feeling that the evacuation was urgent.
Search for means to end hostilities. In conflict situations the worker must take care not to identify with any particular local faction or point of view at the expense of other peoples. Rather, there should be concern for reaching understanding and meeting human needs on both sides of a conflict. The worker should strive to be a spokesman for peace and reconciliation, seeking for clarification and discussion of the issues causing the conflict. He must urge the renunciation of violence or the use of violence in any form, in settling disputes.
Bind up the wounds of the suffering. In the midst of conflict there are almost always persons who will need food, medicine and shelter. Workers should use these opportunities to show the love of God in the midst of distress. In such situations, due caution should be exercised to assure safety and security, but personal safety should never be the sole factor in making decisions. On the other hand, it should also be remembered that life is given by God to each individual and is therefore a sacred trust. To carelessly or thoughtlessly endanger one’s own life or the life . or lives of others is not necessarily a Christian witness.
Contact government officials. Local government officials should be contacted and due consideration given their opinions in making plans and decisions. Orders of the legally constituted local government to leave the country should usually be obeyed.
Workers may also want to keep in touch with their own consulates and officials. It should be remembered that consulates tend to exercise considerable caution because they are responsible for the safety of their citizens. They may advise but they cannot command. It is worth remembering that consulates make decisions on the basis of their own nation’s interest rather than on a Christian or humanitarian basis. If a worker refuses the advice of his consulate, he should realize that he thereby assumes personal responsibility for his own safety. Sometimes the consulate of another country may have better insights into the situation than that of the home country.
TO LEAVE OR NOT TO LEAVE
This is the last issue to be faced during an emergency. The normal stance of an overseas worker will be to fulfill his commitment to the church and community in which he resides. Danger in itself is not necessarily a cause for evacuation. The act of staying or leaving in itself is an important indication to the local church and community of one’s sense of mission and identification.
In a conflict situation the decision to remain or leave should be arrived at only after the fullest possible consultation with the local Christian group and agency co-workers. It is usually preferable that decisions be arrived at corporately. However, due consideration must be given to regional or local differences that render a uniform decision for all workers impossible. Some consideration will be given to children and women and the ages of the persons involved. There are also differences of style and gift among persons that make some more competent in stress situations than others. In any case, every effort should be made to respect the decisions reached by the group or individuals in it concerning staying or leaving.
The decision to leave does not imply a return to the homeland. Normally the workers will travel to the neighboring country to await further instructions from the sending agency. Throughout the process workers will be expected to try to remain in communication with the sending agency but no unnecessary risks should be taken simply to fulfill this obligation.
The worker should thus find it possible to move without being fearful of the work collapsing because of his absence. In a similar way the worker is not expected to be so preoccupied with property that he would find it necessary to risk life or safety for its protection.
We expect the Christian worker will even in such situations "seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness" as a testimony of hope and confidence rather than the panic of fear.
The above statement is available in pamphlet form from the Mennonite Board of Missions, P. O. Box 370, Elkart, Ind. 46514.
Copyright © 1975 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.