Fear and the Myth of “Safety”

Danger mines

A few months ago, I read a blog in which some missionaries were talking about a difficult event that occurred with their children. In the comments on that post, a woman wrote something to the effect of: “If you have young children, it is clear: God has not called you to missions.” I was not really surprised. People have asked us questions about our children throughout the years that belied the same assumption: missionaries are unable to keep their children safe on the mission field.

I have found that the main reason people do not consider missions is because of fear. It might be fear of the unknown, or fear of rejection, or fear of inadequacy. In the case of the above commenter, it is fear for the safety of children. Without any data to support my claim, I think that this particular fear is the main reason parents do not consider missions.

As I have both raised children in a Cameroonian village, and watched my friends raise their children all around the world, I have found that this fear is not based in reality. There are two main realities that have lead me to push away the fear and pursue missions:

1. Safety is a myth

No parent wants to reflect on the first reality, even though deep down we know it is true. This reality is: you cannot keep your children safe. Of course, there is a lot we can and should do to protect our kids, but there is so much that is out of our control. There are parents who ignore this reality and obsess over the safety of their children. They don’t let their kids climb trees, or walk to school, or learn from their failures. In a fallen and cursed world, these parents end up doing more harm than good.

Believing in the “myth of safety” can also lead parents to believe that they can keep their children safe IF they keep them in one particular place. This ignores another reality: every place has its own set of dangers. Cameroon has a higher risk of certain illnesses than America, to be sure. I have had malaria 5 times, and all of our kids have had it at least once. But you know what my kids do not experience? LGBT propaganda, school shootings, or kale! None of my children currently thinks that they were born the wrong gender. I have never had to worry about my kid getting shot. My kids never bring home kale and expect me to eat it (I really don’t like kale).

This is not to say all my kids are seeking the Lord, they are not. But there are dangers in America that are completely foreign to Cameroon. The question is not, “Is Cameroon more dangerous than America?” but rather, “How can I seek to protect my kids wherever they are?” Believing that your kids would be in danger in Cameroon, but safe in America, is an extremely dangerous attitude. It can lead parents to ignore the dangers of their own culture.

Ultimately, while I believe that parents ought to protect their children, “keeping them safe” is an unrealistic goal. There are many bad children and sometimes when children get hurt, or turn wayward, it is a direct result of parental negligence. However, especially in the Christian community, parents tend to do everything we can to protect their kids. But we are simply unable to “keep them safe.” No matter what we do, risk is all around us. Every time you put a kid in the car, you take a risk. We are willing to take risks in the car to go to the grocery store. Should we not be willing to take risks with our kids to fulfill the Great Commission?

My point in this is not to say, “You know what, my kids are going to die anyway, let’s go into missions!” Rather, my point is that there are dangers all around us and we all seek to mitigate those risks. You put seatbelts on your kids, so do we. You seek vaccinations and medications, so do we. If you are avoiding the mission field because you think you cannot keep your kids safe, on one hand, you are right. They are in danger. However, don’t let fear rule in your heart. Figure out the facts, and make decisions based on real dangers, not imagined ones.

2. Vague ideas lead to fear, not wisdom

The second reality is related to the first: fear rarely deals with reality. When people talk about “the dangers of the mission field,” they tend to clump all of the dangers in the world together. So, they are not imagining raising children in Cameroon, they are imaging raising children in a place that has: malaria, terrorism, snakes, volcanoes, sharks, oppressive governments, poor education, cannibals, human trafficking, piranhas, land mines, etc.

We have friends that are missionaries in Germany, Spain, Indonesia, Ireland, Dubai, PNG, Mexico, France, Turkey, Afghanistan, and others. When we read their newsletters we are often amazed at how different life can be. The struggles even of missionaries living in the capital of Cameroon vs. the village are completely different. To make a blanket comment that parents of young children should not be missionaries because they cannot keep their children safe is just overly simplistic. My experience has been that people who exaggerate the dangers of missions do so because they are afraid.

Fear never leads to wise decisions. This is probably why there are so many “fear nots” in the Bible. There are real dangers in the world, but God does not want us to make decisions based on fear. Rather, he wants us to “go, and make disciples of all the nations” trusting in him to care for us and our families. It is easier to do this if you are considering real dangers in real places. It is true, in Cameroon, we have to be careful for venomous snakes. My missionary friends in Ireland do not have to worry about that. Rather than avoiding missions because you fear everything, find out what dangers there really are. Then, you can face reality and seek to mitigate real dangers.

We live in an age where Christians have been participating in missions for thousands of years. Seek to find out how much danger missionaries really are in. Find out how we keep our kids safe. You can just ask us! We raised our kids in the village from age 4 to age 13. We got sick, and injured, from time to time. But our kids have thrived in many ways. We felt like some of the moral dangers in the village were too great for teenagers, so we moved to the capital. Here in Yaoundé, we have been able to mitigate those dangers. I can honestly say, after 10 years in Cameroon, I do not believe that the dangers here have been greater than remaining in the US. Rather, the dangers have just been different.

Go, and make disciples of all nations

Stacey wrote a post years ago called, “You might not be ‘called,’ but are you willing?” If you find yourself too scared to even consider missions, I encourage you to read it, reflect on the verses, and seek to trust the Lord. I don’t believe that every Christian should pursue moving overseas as a missionary (in fact, that model wouldn’t work). However, I do believe that every Christian should be willing. And I believe that more should go than are currently on the field. More single Christians should go. More parents of young children should go. More parents of teenagers should go. More empty-nesters should go. Jesus said,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)

God wants MORE missionaries on the field. If you are reading this and you have never considered the missionary life, take a second to pray. Pray that the Lord will lead you into a better understanding of the Great Commission. Pray that you would understand what role you should play in that commission. And pray that you would not be ruled by fear, but that you would be bold in faith.


Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.

6 thoughts on “Fear and the Myth of “Safety”

  1. I do think there is an important balance to be had, less for physical safety, but more of spiritual & emotional stewardship of our immediate families, no matter what line of work parents are in, nor what part of the world they live in. Any time work consistently hinders a parent from parenting well, there’s a problem… any time work comes between a husband and wife regularly… problem. That applies to a two parent working family in the suburbs, rural pastors, urban day laborers… anyone. We are called first to our immediate family as our nearest neighbors and then also must consider our duties to extended family (espec elderly relatives)… again applies to anyone in any line of work. I’m glad to see more missionaries considering the well-being of their children after the decades of neglect which many MKs endured (being shipped off to school very young or absolutely neglected by their parents for the sake of “the work”), I’ve also seen pastor’s wives and kids completely neglected as dad’s ministry takes absolute precedence… just like we see kids suffering as parents work long hours in “secular” fields of work.

    1. I actually think the two errors spring from the same issue: fear. Missionaries wanted to serve the Lord in the past, but feared for their children and so they sent them to boarding school. Today people don’t go to the field because of fear. Two errors, same underlying problem.

  2. I grew up as an MK. I knew that my parents trusted the Lord with a lot of things, including their kids as they founded an orphanage in another country. I did go to boarding school, but it was a blessing because I came from a dysfunctional home. As I look back, I realize that living with my same parents in America pursuing a job, making money to support the family, and etc would have made it much harder for me to follow the Lord. Even though my parents were imperfect people, I was greatly impacted by seeing their trust in the Lord. Yes, I did get a severe case of hepatitis that has an effect on my health these 40+ years later, but kids get sick here, too. I look back on many dangerous situations with fires, snakes, sickness, robbers, financial provision and much more and can see God’s hand of protection many times over. Forever grateful for this legacy!

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Christina on this. As a longtime fieldworker, I too am constantly wondering how much better things would be on the field if more came and more invested (There are sooooooo many apparent holes in the landscape around me). But I also see lots of folks on the field who seem oblivious to the shattering of their families.

    While we have learned from history, there remains a large problem of fieldworkers not doing enough to invest in their family’s health.

    It need not be a binary or go and fear not or don’t go because you are afraid. Indeed, sometimes it seems like parents say, “I did all that you said, God, and I went overseas. My children are in your hands.” This is a big contrast with the careful strategy orgs and field units show in their outreach and ministry efforts.

    Similarly, I see many kids leaving for their passport countries with bitter souls. There is no guarantee that any kid from a believing house will end up solid and strong, and kids can and do get embittered in non-field families…but, we can and should do better.

    It is important to make sure that field workers and organizations do the hard work of maintaining balance. This is going to look different for each family, depending on the circumstances and needs of each family member. But, when I look around at my peers, predecessors, and the next generation, I still see too much of a “let go and let God” mindset when it comes to child and family wellness.

    One of the biggest obstacles to family care on the field is that we have so little information from the Bible on how best to do the kinds of things that you and my family are doing. I am not saying that the Bible is not sufficient, but rather that the work of applying biblical wisdom in this area is particularly challenging. People might walk away from Acts or Timothy or Ephesians with key verses for cross-cultural EV and discipleship, but not so much for how to take a nuclear family and plop it down in an area with almost no church support and/or cultural peers.

    And this then is connected to the current pressures to go and spread field workers to the unreached, a pressure most acutely felt or expressed in the Biblical Translation realm in our part of the world. Movement-promoting movers and shakers can be in a nice cosmopolitan area, but to do BT usually requires a greater level of isolation, particularly when a low-profile is seen as necessary.

    Thanks for starting conversations like this, David.

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