My response to, “This missions trip is too dangerous and risky.”

CourageI’ve received several emails from youth workers wondering about the potential dangers of taking their groups to places like Haiti and Mexico. One youth worker is even thinking about canceling their trip to Mexico this summer because of all the fighting they hear is taking place. Since I was in Haiti last month and will be returning next month, I can speak to that. I’ve never been to Mexico, but I know and trust the opinion of several missionaries who are quite familiar with the country. I’ll be going there to serve in July.

Here’s my response to one such youth leader who asked specifically about Mexico. The principles apply to Haiti, as well.

First, [based on what the missionaries there tell me] the violence in Mexico isn’t much more than you’d expect for that same demographic here in the US. There are bad things happening there, but just like you’d avoid certain situations in any US city, like avoiding certain streets and use good common sense, the chances are very low that something bad would happen to you. We just hear about all the bad stuff. The same things happen here in the US on a daily basis — we just don’t hear about it as much. Plus, you’ll have a missions trip leader with [your organization] who will know the ropes and keep you safe. And I’m sure they would tell you not to come if they felt it was too dangerous after serving on the ground there beforehand.

Second, I personally think it’s about time Christian Americans stop worrying about their comfort and level of risk and start living for Christ no matter what. I know you’d say that to your teenagers about the discomforts of living as a Christian in their school. I think the same applies to every other area of life. Jesus’ missions trip killed him, and thank God it did.

Giving up control of our lives and turning it over to God 100% is what He asks for, not just when it feels safe or convient for us. My life belongs to God. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do stupid things and trust He’ll save me from all harm, but when He calls me to serve Him in missions, I know that’s in accordance with His will because He said so in Matthew 28 and many other places in scripture. Whatever happens while I serve Him is up to Him.

The greater things you risk for God, the greater things you’ll see Him do. The more outside your comfort zone you get, the more you’re forced to depend on God. The riskier it is, the more you have to trust Him. And I think that’s exactly where God wants us to be. We often don’t see the power of God displayed in our lives because we rarely give Him the opportunity to do so. We keep it all safe and under our personal control.

It’s time to remove the “but” from this sentence: “God, I trust you 100%, but…” That is an oxymoron. It contradicts itself! Taking big risks for God is definitely an adrenaline rush, and always so totally worth it.

That’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but you asked. By the way, that’s pretty much exactly what I said to my youth group parents who asked about the safety in Mexico, too. Sometimes we have to challenge their faith also.

Shouldn’t our fear of the Lord be greater than our fear of the unknown? Personally, I think American Christians freak out too much and forget who their God is.

How would you respond?

Posted on March 30, 2010

  • First, you are brave to post this. So thank you for that.

    Second, amen to all you've said. It's one thing to intentionally take a group into a war zone. It's entirely a different to take them into a place that has some crime. Like you've said, the chances of something happening are remote.

    When parents bring such concerns I simply ask them who their God is. I feel like a lot of people don't really believe in the God you and I believe in. They worship a weak god who thinks its safer to keep their kids insulated from the problems of the world than it is to listen to God's calling.

    Love the response. I hope that the person still goes to Mexico.

    • Thanks, Adam. We like to talk about the faith and courage of people like David with Goliath, or Daniel with the lions, but rarely do we want to act on it ourselves. "But what if the giant kills me?" or "What if the lions eat me?" are very legitimate excuses I'm sure were going through their heads. Good thing their faith was bigger than their excuses.

  • Unfortunately, WOW and Blink 182 stole the phrase "reckless abandon." Jim Elliot said, "the man who will not act until he knows all will never act at all." Fortunately, we have a God who does know everything and can be trusted. If I live a life abandoned to God, then I know that my life is God's responsibility not mine. I believe that God is much better suited to care for me than I am. That may not offer comfort to parents but I have often seen children and teens with much bigger faith than adults…

    • I do have to admit after becoming a parent I am more timid about mission trips. Going to Haiti next month is the first time I've been scared to go on a trip. Maybe it's due to leaving Hannah behind, maybe it's due to being pregnant. But I know God will take care of me. When I was in highschool I asked my parents if they were ever nervous about me going on trips and they said no, they just prayed for me and gave me over to God. Although Dad did say he is nervous this time too with the pregnancy.

      • You must have a really caring and intelligent father to care about you and the new baby so much. They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

      • I've been pretty nervous about you taking the trip, too, but I trust your judgement and what you feel the Lord wants you to do. He'll take care of both you and the baby if that's His plan.

  • While I appreciate all of your comments, I must disagree in a sense. For those who know me well, I don't shy away from risk, and I often question where peoples faith is when they shy away from risk when it comes to serving Christ.

    Here is where I disagree. As a parent I have a responsibility to care for my children and keep them safe. My perception regarding Mexico is similar to yours and I was upset when my elders called off our trip last year. Still safety is not an issue we should ignore, and it is not always a lack of faith that causes a parent to make these decisions. It is often a sense of responsibility for our own kids, a responsibility given to us by God.

    We should be careful in how we respond to parents who are concerned for their students safety, both in our attitude and in our words.

    • Yeah, I agree with that. That's what I meant when I said I don't think we should do something stupid just for the sake of taking a risk. There's a difference between exercising wisdom and having weak faith. However, too often we default to the latter and disguise it under the banner of the former.

      For our context, I think it's best to push the pendulum back further in one direction hoping that it will balance out in the middle where it's supposed to.

  • Jerry Schmoyer

    It's been said that the safest place to be is in the center of God's will. Personal safety and c omfort aren't the issue – what does God want me to do is the only real issue. Dens of lions and fiery furnaces weren't too safe, either, but when its God's perfect will why hesitate? That's what Hebrews 11 is all abouot. I'm proud of you, Tim and Dana, you are doing the right thing and God will use you in a special way.

    • "It's been said that the safest place to be is in the center of God's will. Personal safety and comfort aren't the issue – what does God want me to do is the only real issue."

      Jerry, good point. This is a very touchy issue, and I do advocate making safety a top priority of our ministries. There is no need to take irresponsible risk. However, if God calls a group of people to do something, risk is involved, and we need to weigh that risk. If we consider the real (not imagined) risk involved and we believe that we are obedient in taking that risk because it is in God's will, then it is a good risk to take. This is what we need to lay on the table: am I willing to experience the potential negative circumstance for what I believe God is calling me to? Again, we're not talking about stupid, irresponsible risk. We're talking about willing to risk our comfort, our possessions, and even our own well-being to follow God. After all, isn't there a cost to faithful discipleship (Luke 14:25-33)?

  • As I read the post I began to wonder how I would respond. But then I read John's response. I'd have to echo what he said. I'm all for risk, but when it comes to the lives of other people I am responsible for, I need to take into consideration the concerns of the parents. When I began to drive at 17 my grandmother told me; "Driving is safe when your responsible. So just remember, when you take someone else on the trip with you you're carrying precious cargo that belongs to someone else."

    • Yeah, and like I mentioned in my reply to John, unnecessary risk for the sake of risk isn't what I'm talking about. This is a challenge to follow the Lord despite the risks and discomforts when He calls us to do something. Too often we bail on what God calls us to do if the risk and discomfort levels get too high.

  • My youth group is leaving for Mexico in just a few days (I'm not going since my wife is 38 weeks prego!) and this is an issue that came up last year and this year. When I talked to the missions organization we are working with they had a similar response as your post. I totally get your sentiment and I think it's great we have such fire and zeal for God and his work but here's my deal: I am asking these parents to put there trust in me…that I will make wise decisions and that I will do all I can to protect their children and I just think we are treading on a fine line when we ask parents to just get over their insecurities and just trust God. There is a big difference between a mature person (mature in their faith and mature socially) making a decision to go into a dangerous situation and a teenager getting hyped up by adults who tell them "if you really trust in God then you won't care what kind of danger you face." Besides, if a group of teens don't go to Mexico and don't build a few homes I don't think "the gates of Hades will overcome it". Proverbs 19 tells us that it's not good to have zeal without knowledge. So, I would say, cool your jets and help calm parents nerves.

    • I think we need to do both. As my email response above indicates, you address the concerns by giving parents and teens as realistic perspective about the safety concerns as you can. If their fears are unfounded, you address that. If there's some truth to their fears, you address that, too. I want all participants to have a proper perspective of what's taking place down there, not just what they're hearing from the media or the nervousness they already feel blowing the facts out of proportion from reality. I'm really not interested in surprising people with the level of risk involved after we show up at the missions site. That will erode trust faster than anything.

      However, after appropriately communicating the level of risk and discomfort involved, I think it's appropriate to challenge people to trust their God, allow Him to be in control, and cause both teens and parents to pray in ways they've never prayed before.

      • I'm with ya. I think you're right in that we need to help people have a clear understanding of what's going on. There is too much stereotyping and assuming. There is a military base right next to where we stay and when I tell people that I assume it will comfort them but so many make comments about the government being corrupt and a lot of that is fed from misconceptions and unfair rumors.
        I think we lay things out for parents and give them a clear picture of what's going on and if a parent pulls their kid, we've offer to talk and pray with them but if they are still stuck on pulling their kid, we have to support them.
        I have a few people here that want me to take my teens to a mission we work with in Haiti but until there is some real change in the conditions there, I just can't do it. But we have a family or two that want to go to Haiti and take their kids and I applaud them a overwhelmingly support them.
        So, I agree with you but I say let's not be too quick to lynch the parents that want to pull their kids. I'm praying for wisdom and safety for you guys.

        • Yeah. As far as the Haiti trip is concerned, I'm obviously at an advantage because I've already been down there post-earthquake and can speak to that pretty authoritatively (it's safe). I was very open about my fears before my first trip to Haiti (here and here, for example). Everyone was 100% supportive of me going, but few were willing to take the risk themselves until I returned. I humbly modeled for them in real life the challenge I'm offering in my post, which was HARD!

          I guess where you and I differ is that, if a student feels like God wants them to go and the parents are pulling them back due to safety/comfort concerns, I absolutely honor them and their decision, but I'll respectfully challenge them to separate their fear from their faith. Rarely will the parents change their minds, but I still need to speak the truth in love and use the situation as an opportunity for potential growth for the entire family.

          But maybe that stems more from my passion after actually going through the experience myself first.

  • Richard Jones

    I have taken groups to Mexico several times. Right now, I don't. I may again in the future. There are two factors: 1-I live in Tucson, AZ–near the border. All the border violence gets front page treatment here. 2-I don't want to argue with parents. There are places in the US where people are in deep poverty. There are places in the US where you can have a cross-cultural experience. I've tried all the arguments above when I was recruiting for my last trip. Some parents just aren't going to let their kids go. It's correct to believe that God will protect your kids or to ask "Who is God?". I have taken both my kids with me on trips to Mexico. I believe our groups will be safe in Mexico and never even see any violence. But just be honest. Parents are not going to send their kids on trips where they think they won't be safe. So parents and kids will fight. The parents will resent YOU for putting them in this place. Kids will feel like they are letting you and God down. Kids will pull back from commitment to the group because they are not part of the trip. Sounds like a high price to pay to me. Do you really want to create that kind of bad feeling in your ministry over where you go on a mission trip? Also, if something does happen (even if your kids are in the same town where it happens), you will never hear the end of it, your credibility will be destroyed, and probably you are finished at that church. Am I saying don't go? Maybe. If you think it is very important, why not offer two trips? A domestic trip for the mainstream group, and then a trip to Mexico or Haiti for high schoolers whose parents will let them go and your young adults?

    • We actually are doing two trips this year. Some of us are going to Haiti in 3 weeks, some of us are going to Mexico in July.

      In all humility, I still suggest that if our churches saw us living this kind of faith walk with Christ in our personal lives, maybe this wouldn't be such an issue for the people who are following us.

      • Richard Jones

        I think I have a different situation from many of you posting here. First, as I said, being in southern AZ, we get flooded with reports of Mexican violence. Second, probably 50% of my youth group are children of uninvolved or very fringe parents. So, encouraging them to show faith is not a big option. But I see the point that this may be a valid strategy in most churches. I just think that you have to pick your battles, and with all the good options that won't cause a fight, I choose one of those.

  • Tammy H

    This may be different than the subject matter but when we entered the world of adoption, we felt very uncomfortable and we had a lot of fears. Why? Because it is an unfamiliar territory in our surroundings. We knew very few families (and not many Christian families) who had experienced this journey.

    But God gave us enough of a nudge that we had to set all fears aside and get uncomfortable. I know now how it feels to totally surrender to God because so much of this journey was out of our control. Then when God told us we were going to travel to a developing country to bring home our son, we had to trust that wherever God takes us, there is no danger. I am a changed person because of my experience. Our daughters were also able to accompany us to our son's birth country and although this was not a "mission trip", I know that their eyes have been opened as well.

  • Tammy H

    Releasing our children into the mission world is the best way for us as parents to disciple our children to go change their schools, culture, country and world for Jesus. Of course you have to listen to where God is calling you to go. But fear should not keep you from following God's nudging. When we began our adoption process, people would ask us why travel overseas to adopt a child? Why not adopt in the US where there are so many needs here? We replied by saying that we will go where our hearts lead us, where God wants us to go.

    Right now our hearts are in our son's birth country and that is where we will be giving back and if we would have let fear get in the way, we would not be blessed with our beautiful new son. Like adoption, serving on the mission field needs to become less unfamiliar to the Christian church, including our children.

  • Nicole

    Amen to that! The American church does need to stop worrying about our comfort and take a risk for God!

    As far as teens go, however, I would encourage them to pray about it with their families, and submit to what their parents want while they are still at home. My mom wouldn't let me go on a trip to China as a teen, but now I am moving to India with my parents blessing. All in God's time…

    Another poster mentioned it as well… when it is group trips there is a different dynamic than personal mission trips. When I volunteered on Teen Mania mission trips, they told us to emphasize safety over everything with our teens… yet we could encourage them to go to the hard places OUTSIDE of the organization. When they were on our trips they were our responsibility to protect, but we still challenged them to take risks for God once they had the freedom to make those choices themselves.

  • Great thoughts Tim. I very much want to return to Haiti. My experiences there changed me and I'd love to bring my wife and those at my church who'd be willing to go. As you've said several times, Haiti is a relatively safe place. Are there dangers? Yes. There were two kidnappings just a block from us while I was there.

    But there are kidnappings a block away from us in the US too. Danger is everywhere and too often we let our fears drive our actions. I just started Max Lucado's book "Fearless" and can't wait to dig in deeper. That's the premise behind the book, learning how to live our lives with faith as our reaction rather than fear.

    Good for you for going back. Good for you for taking students. Good for Dana for stepping out and going too. I'm not sure when, but I will be taking my wife at some point. Heck, I even talked with an AIM staffer about maybe even bringing our young kids in the future (ok, cue the comments on that one!)

    Faith, not fear, is what I want my life to be marked by. Jesus had faith. He was crucified. Paul had faith. He was beaten and imprisoned. Stephen had faith. He was stoned to death.

    Don't get me wrong, we need to have wisdom. And faith certainly isn't reckless. But no matter how you cut it, faith isn't safe.

  • Exactly my thoughts, Josh. Thanks! You probably could've written this post better than I did! :)

  • John Alexander

    I think a lot of the responses above demonstrate a large level of naivete about the world. God gave us a brain and the ability to make decisions that are in our best interest. Going to a location where there is rampant cholera outbreak and the fear of being kidnapped for ransom or sex slavery seems to not address the ability to make rational decisions. I think many get caught up in the zealousness of someone who fires them up to do God's work. There is so much that can be done to help the less fortunate in our own backyards. I think many who go, go for the wrong reasons. They see it as more of a calling because it involves going so far from home. This is absurd! Ask the Holloways if they had it to do over again, would they have let their daughter go to Aruba? Sadly, people don't realize ramifications until it happens to them. People, wake up! Do God's work about you. This is what he really wants and do it day to day and not just a two to three week mission!

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