by Robert Klamser
We must attempt to evaluate situations in an objective, rational manner.
In June and July of 1990, Contingency Preparation Consultants closely monitored the security situation in the Philippines, as threats to the safety of the expatriate community, including missionaries, increased. The kidnapping of a Peace Corps worker was followed by a number of threats issued by the New Peoples’ Army. Some of these threats were directed specifically at missionaries. Finally, on July 1,1990, we issued an advisory letter recommending, among other things, that missionaries located in rural areas with a significant NPA presence evacuate to urban centers until a specific period of heightened risk passed. Although CPC had issued a number of advisories in the past concerning threats to missionaries around the world, this was the first (and so far, the only ) time that we recommended evacuations.
Our recommendation received a mixed reaction (to put it mildly!). Some mission agencies were appreciative, some had questions, and some followed the recommendations. However, we received strong criticism from a number of sources, primarily the field leadership of various mission organizations in the Philippines. Generally, the criticism described our recommendations as overreaction. Critics blamed us for impeding the work of many of these organizations.
In January of 1991, while conducting seminars in Manila, we learned that two missionary teams operating in a rural area of the Philippines did in fact evacuate and return to Manila during that first week of July. They reported that upon their return to their villages, people told them that their evacuation preceded by only a short time the arrival of NPA kidnap teams looking for them. Since that time, two missionaries and one infant child of a missionary couple have been kidnapped in the Philippines (all have been recovered), and one other missionary has been shot and killed.
This situation illustrates the dilemma surrounding the question of ministering in areas of threat and violence- when to stay and when to go. Missionaries feel called by God to serve in specific locations, and risk is part of that calling. God is unquestionably sovereign, and, to many, worrying about threats to their safety is an abdication of that calling and an intrusion on that sovereignty. However, as those of us at CPC have developed our ministry of providing security services to mission organizations, we have concluded that there is a great deal of room within God’s sovereignty for man to exercise his knowledge, wisdom, and discretion in deciding when to stay and when to go.
Generally, mission organizations, and more specifically their leaders, confront the issue of evacuation in the midst of an acute crisis- should we leave or should we stay? Since this question itself presumes that there are some circumstances in which missionaries should leave, we suggest that the more appropriate question is how to decide when to leave and when to stay. This question should be asked, discussed, evaluated before a crisis occurs. Clear policies should be decided then.
In order to decide "how to decide," we need to evaluate the inherent roadblocks to decisions on evacuation. We have found that these roadblocks generally fall into four areas: (1) the desires of those directly involved; (2) the pressures that are brought to bear on all the parties; (3) the expertise of the leadership; and (4) the availability and quality of information to support decision making.
The desires of those on the scene are genuine, frequently set in a foundation of Christian service and sacrifice, and are certainly a factor to be considered. But sometimes these desires are so strong that they cloud judgment. Both those on and off the scene involved in decision making should recognize the potential for desire to override good judgment in tense situations.
In many cases, decision makers face heavy pressures. Leaders need to recognize the pressures for what they are (almost always the desires of others) and note the potential for a bad decision because of them.
The leaders’ expertise is a key factor. Leaders in a tense or threatening situation need to be mature and seasoned enough to project a calm, "in control" image. If they do not, those following will rapidly lose confidence, and a kind of organizational anarchy can quickly develop. Leaders also need to be willing to make tough decisions and to accept the potential consequences of those decisions.
Finally, the availability and quality of information is crucial to determining whether to evacuate. Without good information, even the best decision is merely a guess. In virtually all crisis situations, the caliber of the organization ‘ s response will be tied directly to the quality and quantity of information available.
Contingency Preparation Consultants recommends a systems approach to managing the evacuation question. As in all properly executed forms of crisis management, this approach should have a historical component (What has occurred in the past? How was it handled? What can we learn from that incident?), a present component (What is our situation now? How prepared are we? Do we have adequate policies and procedures in place?) and a future component (What risks are we likely to face in the future? How can we prepare for them?). Responding to each of these requires information.
The ability to get and evaluate information concerning any threat or risk is the cornerstone of preparation for and management of crises, including evacuations. Many mission organizations tend to rely on government sources for security information, excluding virtually all other data. Working with governments all over the world, we have found embassies and ministries that are extremely competent, professional, and willing to help. We have also found and ministries that are lazy, ignorant, politically corrupted, or simply incompetent. But in every case, we have never found a single source, government or otherwise, that can provide a comprehensive, multifaceted analysis of a security threat.
We strongly recommend that mission organizations identify, cultivate, and use a variety of information sources. These sources should include governments, the news media, other missionaries and the expatriate community, trusted nationals, and, if necessary, competent professional advisers. Only by constantly seeking information from a variety of sources will an organization have a sufficient body of facts upon which to base realistic contingency planning.
Next, the organization should examine the risk or threats in particular locations or regions. There are a number of systems used to evaluate risk, but all have two basic components: (1) assessing the potential consequences of a particular threat, and (2) assessing the probability that the event will occur within a specific period. Based on this information, the organization can prioritize its planning process.
Having come this far, the organization should closely examine each situation and determine when to evacuate. For example, shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, CPC was asked to assist several mission organizations in the Middle East in their evacuation planning. Some of the criteria we suggested for them included:
1. Do we represent an attractive target? In other words, given the political situation and goals of the combatants, could we be considered "legitimate" military targets due to our nationality, religion, etc.?
2. Do we have tactical assets that would attract military action? Do we operate public communications facilities (radio or TV)? Do we have vehicles or aircraft that armies, guerrillas, or other combatants would desire?
3. If our staff or facilities were captured, would confidential information be compromised? If so, would this put local believers and those who have supported our work at risk? (It is one thing to accept personal risk, but quite another to place others at increased risk without their knowledge and consent.)
4. If we don’t evacuate, does our continued presence increase the risk to nationals associated with us or who simply live and work near us?
5. Have we received any warnings or threats?
As the organization develops and assesses these criteria for particular threats and locales, it should also identify and evaluate its alternatives.
1. What are the consequences to our ministry if we evacuate? Can we operate from another location outside the threat area? If so, what will be the comparative effectiveness of our ministry? What will be the comparative cost?
2. What is the potential cost to the ministry if we are captured, kidnapped, or simply listed as "missing"? What crisis management and negotiation and recovery costs will we incur? How do these costs compare to the costs of operating from a different location?
3. What is the potential cost to the ministry if we are killed? Using a concept of stewardship, consider the investment the organization (and, in a broader sense, the church) has in a missionary with 10 to 20 years’ experience on a sensitive field. How long will it take to train a replacement and for that replacement to gain the expertise of his or her predecessor? If someone dies, does the loss (human, organizational, and financial) represent a sacrifice that was necessary according to God’s plan, or was it the result of human desires overcoming wisdom and prudence?
Once the organization has criteria for deciding when to evacuate, the only remaining step is to determine how to evacuate, should this ever be necessary. Perhaps the most difficult step is to identify who has the authority to direct an evacuation. CPC recommends that the local (field) leaders and headquarters leaders share this authority. In many crisis situations, information is severely restricted at the scene, due to logistical or political factors. It may be that those closest to the threat have the least information about the situation. In those cases, headquarters personnel may have access to "the big picture" and should retain the authority to order the evacuation.
However, in other cases, only those at the scene will have adequate information to determine whether leaving is necessary. Some of this information may be so sensitive that it cannot be transmitted to headquarters, and field leaders must act on their own. This joint authority needs to be based on a high level of mutual trust and respect, so people do not waste time in critical situations by unnecessarily challenging information or asking unnecessary questions.
Finally, we need to have specific procedural plans for evacuating. What will people take with them? Does anything need to be destroyed (such as confidential records)? Where will the evacuees go and how will they get there? Do funds for airline tickets, taxis, etc., need to be set aside? Where will the evacuees regroup? How will they communicate their status to headquarters? All these factors need to be settled in advance and told clearly to all who need to know. Because these factors are location-specific, this part of the evacuation planning must be done at the field level.
Although some of these questions and procedures sound cold and calculating, they merely represent an attempt to evaluate the situation in an objective, rational manner so people can make informed decisions. The ultimate criterion must always be God’s direction for our individual lives and our corporate ministries. If we clearly understand his guidance in a particular situation, there is no need for further decision making. If, however, God leaves the decision in our hands, we must use all the resources and wisdom we have, so our decision will honor him.
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