Mitigating Risk in Missions

Stacey Hare and kids in the village

Last week I wrote a blog about how fear for safety keeps many people from considering missions, especially when it comes to raising children on the field. One of my points in that blog is that missions is not a monolith. The risks that my missionary friends in Mexico face are different from the ones we face, which are still different than the risks my friends in Ireland face. So, any advice I could give would either be very specific to Cameroon, or very general.

That said, here are three general tips for mitigating risks in missions:

1. Join a missions agency.

I have recently heard that Radius International (a missionary training school in Mexico) actively discourages missions pastors from sending their missionaries through agencies. This is reflective of a trend I have seen in churches to “cut out the middleman.” And, throughout the years, I have seen missionaries sent out by their churches with no missions agency. While I appreciate the heart behind this (churches wanting to support their missionaries in more than just finances), I believe that joining an agency is the best way to mitigate risks.

Here are a couple reasons I think joining a missions agency is a wise choice:

a) Mission agencies offer specific experience. Your missions pastor may have been a missionary in Indonesia for 20 years, and have tons of great wisdom. However, he cannot tell you how to apply for a visa in Cameroon. He doesn’t know if it is safe to go out at night in the village. He probably doesn’t have contacts to help you know how to educate your children in China. Churches have limited experience, and therefore can only offer limited help when seeking to avoid risk. Mission agencies, on the other hand, usually have extensive experience in multiple fields spanning decades. World Team has been around in some form for over 100 years!

b) Mission agencies offer specific methodology. I learned great things about missions in seminary and at my churches in the US. Primarily I learned history and theology, those subjects that are very important. However, they didn’t teach me how to learn an unwritten language. They didn’t teach me how to analyze that language and develop an alphabet. They didn’t teach me how to plant a church when there are no Christians. They didn’t teach me how to wire up a solar system at my house. They didn’t teach me how to keep my family safe in a Cameroonian village. For that, I needed missions agencies, with decades of experience, and well-thought-out methodology. I am super grateful for the underlying history and theology that impact our methodology. But, the practical methodology is the only thing keeping me from repeating the mistakes of the past. This includes, by the way, sending young children off to a boarding school. I believe that this was a mistake for many missionaries in the past. Our agency helped us to understand why this would not be a wise decision for our children.

c) Mission agencies are better at vetting. When we first went to RACE (World Team’s assessment of aspiring missionaries) I was amazed. They asked questions that I would never have even thought of. They knew not only what it takes to make a godly man, but also what it takes to make a missionary that will endure on the field. I have only continued to be impressed as they have vetted the tutors that have come to home school our children. They have vetted the other missionaries that we are on the field with. They have rejected candidates that I would have thought would be a perfect fit. My family is safer because World Team caught red flags that both we and our churches have missed.

2. Listen to locals.

There is no one in the world that is more protective of my safety than my friends in the village. They give me (often unsolicited) advice about how to stay safe, and how to protect my children nearly every time I see them. I have found that they often have a much more realistic view of dangers than I do. This doesn’t mean that I always listen to them. Sometimes they are too averse to risk-taking, wanting me to choose safety over honesty. Other times they takes risks that I would never dream of taking. However, listening to them has been very helpful as I consider the best ways to mitigate risk for our family. In some places, that means that your fear of snakes in the house is unrealistic. In other places, it means you should keep a machete by the door. Either way, it is good to hear what your neighbors think are realistic fears.

You might assume that locals fear or even hate missionaries. I am sure there are some people who do hate and fear us. However, when a missionary starts working somewhere, they invest their lives in people. They help as they are able, and sometimes even save lives. They learn from the people and then also teach, often to people who are thirsty for knowledge. Almost every missionary will eventually have close and trusted nationals that they can listen to. Find those people and listen.

3. Listen to missionaries.

Have you ever asked your missionaries how safe they feel? I think you might be surprised. Since I posted last week I have seen several people comment on this blog, and on Facebook. Many of these comments related how they or their children have thrived on the mission field. In my experience, most missionaries do not live in fear. I don’t think this is because they neglect their children and ignore danger. Rather, I think it is because missionaries find ways to mitigate risk in their specific situation. One of the best ways to mitigate risk on the mission field is to ask experienced missionaries what they have done. This is always fun because you end up hearing great stories. And sometimes you hear difficult stories and learn from them as well. Either way, you are able to have a realistic view of the dangers and how to mitigate them.

If you read the comments on my last blog, you will note that some people have expressed ongoing concern for missionaries’ children. One commenter said, “there remains a large problem of fieldworkers not doing enough to invest in their family’s health.” I don’t want to minimize this missionary’s experience. And certainly my personal experience is limited. However, I have literally never seen this in the 10+ years of my ministry on the field. All I have seen is faithful parents that invest their lives in their kids, and are careful to maintain their safety physically, mentally, and spiritually. The missionary dads I know spend WAY more time with their kids than their counterparts in America. When we lived in the village, I read to my kids the book Little House on the Prairie. I realized in reading it that my life in Cameroon looked a lot like the Ingalls’ life. There is no 9 to 5. The kids don’t go off to school. Almost every aspect of life is lived together, including ministry.

I have come to learn to be careful not to assume when I see struggling children that the parents are not being faithful. No matter how well I know a family, the slice of their life that I am privy to is just a small piece of the puzzle. Life with children is a 24/7 rollercoaster that none of us is prepared for. I can only see the public part of the lives around me. What I am often missing are the hours of prayer, pleading, discipline, and sleeplessness. The missionaries I know are good parents. The behavior of their children is the result of many factors, and quite of few of those are completely out of their control. I have caught myself judging parents based on their children, and when I do, I repent and ask the Lord to help them.

In order to mitigate risk for our family, we decided to move our family center to the capital of Cameroon. We did this exclusively for our children, as it really only makes our ministry more difficult. When we made this decision, I had numerous people express surprise because they knew that Stacey and I are very dedicated to our work. To be honest, their surprise was a bit hurtful. We have always sought to balance our ministry and our children and though we are not perfect, I do not have any regrets as to our work/life balance. I do feel like people have made judgments based on only seeing part of the picture. I invite you to ask us questions, challenge us, help us be better parents. However, sometimes wrong assumptions cause people to judge before they know all the facts. Rather than assuming that missionaries are unfaithful parents, consider us as just regular parents seeking to mitigate the risks as best we can.

The truth is, I do not live in fear. Stacey does not live in fear. Our kids are doing really well. If I was to quit my job with World Team and pick a place for our family to live, I would still choose Yaoundé, Cameroon. I think that given our history, given our children, this is the best place for them. I think it is highly likely that when they are adults they will agree with our decision. Does that surprise you? If it does, take a moment to consider your assumptions. If you are a Christian parent, you seek to mitigate risks for your children, seek to find work/life balance, and wrestle with how to apply general biblical truths to your specific family and environment. Us too! The difference is just in location and types of risks. My hope is that all of us can help and encourage each other.


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.

1 thought on “Mitigating Risk in Missions

  1. David I recall you asking for help for the school. I can get on their home page but have no idea how to donate to them. Help! Thanks, Eula Pavelka

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *