In my transition from Military Special Operations to serving in missionary security I have noticed that the majority of Missions Organizations tend to overlook certain security aspects. I believe this is a product of twos commonly held views. The first being that there is no real or cost effective way to prevent security incidents and that organizational security is only relevant once an incident has occurred, or that security, through the Security Manager, is against risky operations – Engaging locals in a foreign land is inherently risky.
When considering security needs for Missionaries, minds often quickly jump to kidnap/hostage survival and rescue or emergency evacuation actions. Which is fair given the severity of impact those situations bring to bear. But the reality is, most missionaries will not be kidnapped or taken hostage and emergency evacuations are typically not an annual event.
The reality is that missionary security comprises the more frequently occurring low-impact issues that have higher probability (traffic incidents, identity management, sexual harassment, etc.) while maintaining a capability to manage the more publicized and notorious events like kidnappings. This spectrum of responsibilities is challenging, especially when budget restraints
are weighed in as well. But there are ways to approach organizational security in a missions context that can address the value/cost equation.
The missionary security I advocate is the development of contextualized organizational security. That looks like organizations hiring or contracting a security service that can “bake security into the operations”. This “baking” allows for a security director to know and understand an organizations mission, vision, and goals and use that information to determine contextualized security practices that will mitigate identified risks. Risks that have been identified, with mitigations strategies put in place, have a lesser chance of high organizational impact, specifically, the personal impact to employees and their families and the high costs (insurance, resources, legal, etc.) that come with significant events.
But what do I mean by “contextualized” and “baking”? Contextualized means with an organization’s specific factors as key variables for security considerations. A security director who understands the organization’s goals, expectations, and risk tolerance can incorporate those specific parameters into mitigation steps.
For example, an organization wants to send missionaries into a rural location for discipleship of indigenous peoples. That location has suffered recent violence where foreigners transiting without local guides have been assaulted or murdered. That’s a pretty intimidating landscape, right? But the organization feels called to reach those specific people. Rather than focus on event response actions alone, a qualified security director could incorporate training, staffing,
and operational protocols for that location that mitigate the risk. Staff would be trained on situational awareness and violence avoidance, made aware of the specific risk, screened for suitability to that environment, with a mandate in place to the use local guides whom staff establish trust with. This seems simple but there are many factors that go into the specifics of these mitigation steps. It require a very specific lens to be able to recognize all of the important factors as well as the experience to understand what effective steps might look like.
Awareness, preparation, and mitigation development are invaluable security tools that can save an organization (and staff) considerable time, effort, and stress. The best way to deal with the crisis is to avoid it in the first place! While Mission’s organizations, and the industry as a whole, often focus on Crisis or Incident Response, the reality is that including security into the program and operational planning process is often more holistically beneficial and cost-effective. Having
a qualified Security Director allows risks to be identified and dealt with before they ever materialize. A security director who knows the organization and the staff profiles is best prepared to develop pre-event security policy and procedures that can minimize the probability and/or impact of a situation. Which in the end, makes for more confident and emboldened missionaries. Further, investing in a Security Director, or qualified consultation for smaller organizations and churches, avails a better opportunity for contextualized security protocol rather than a default assessment like “place x is too dangerous” or “country x is anti- evangelism.” By folding security in from the beginning, organizations can be bolder and drive farther into the world!
About Our Security Partners
Our security partners have 20+ years in counter-terrorism and special ops intelligence and have been serving in the missions industry since 2015. They aim to empower people to take the Gospel to the hardest places by creating and leveraging strategies that speak to all peoples. If you'd like to get in touch with them, please reach out to our team at email@example.com.