They are a team of 14, ages 16 to 83, traveling to the Caribbean, not to relax on the beach or enjoy the local cuisine, but to volunteer in Haiti at a local elementary school and another school for children with disabilities.
Or, they are a family of eight, who have given up the comforts of the United States to help more than 14,000 children in Zambia receive an education, counseling, spiritual teaching, food and more.
These are not ordinary travelers. They are missionaries who have felt a call to serve those in need in far-off places, often sacrificing safety, medical care and security. And they are just two examples of the millions of people doing missionary work at any given moment.
If you or your loved ones are considering missionary work, whether short or long-term, smart preparation and on-the-ground awareness can go a long way in mitigating those risks. Global Rescue’s seasoned travel safety experts, as well as missionaries, weigh in on the best ways to stay safe for this unique and noble type of traveler.
Preparation is Everything
“You have to understand the threats and vulnerabilities. And then make a plan to mitigate,” said Harding Bush, manager of operations at Global Rescue. “You can’t get rid of the threat but you can get rid of a complacent approach to planning. You can reduce your vulnerability.”
Start With Your Sending Organization
Ask what resources they have for preparation, which could include anything from write-ups about the current realities of life on the ground or even cultural training classes so you can interact respectfully and effectively with locals on the ground.
“Ask people from the organization who have been there what the three worst things that could happen to a missionary in your field and the three best things that could happen,” Bush said.
Missionaries often must navigate volatile political climates and religious persecution, so it is imperative to understand those dynamics before touching the ground.
Read the News
This may seem obvious, but people often stick to their usual news sources, even when researching current events in other countries. Bush recommends reading from a wider set of sources.
“Know the latest news on your destination country, not just from the U.S. papers,” Bush said. “Read the local news and the news from surrounding countries or major publications from elsewhere in the world.”
Understand the Medical Risks
If you’re traveling to a remote location, chances are your medical care will be spotty, and you need to make sure you have a plan if something serious happens.
“When people go to dangerous places they often think about terrorism,” Bush said. “But the odds are higher that they will get sick or injured.”
“Check with your health insurance provider to see what the limits are with coverage of medical services as well as emergency medical flights,” said Danny Lightner who moved with his family to Zambia six years ago to serve with a non-profit called Family Legacy. “Our experience is that most health insurance companies do not include reimbursement for emergency medical flights, or the services are very limited.”
There may also be some new illnesses you have not encountered before, and with the right preparation, you could bring medicine (like an antimalarial pill) to help you avoid getting sick. However, remember that not all medications are legal in every country. So confirm with your sending organization that your medications are acceptable.
“Do your research when it comes to the typical diseases where you live, how to spot the symptoms, and how to treat those illnesses,” Lightner said. “For example, we didn’t know much about cholera, malaria or tuberculosis when we lived in the USA, but when we moved to Zambia, we needed to understand how to avoid and potentially treat illnesses that we were formerly ignorant about.”
Prepare Your Devices
Depending on where you are going, there could be heavy government surveillance of your devices. You might accidentally put yourself, or others, at risk with something you thought was innocent on your phone or social media.
“Wipe your laptop and cell phone clean and get off social media,” Bush said. “Many missionaries these days are going low tech, focusing on human interaction.”
If you are in an area with high surveillance, get a local phone, he recommends. If you don’t change your number, people will start to wonder why there are so many calls from an international number. Note that satellite phones are illegal in some countries.
Bush also suggests downloading Signal, instead of Whatsapp, because it is a more secure platform for messaging.
Staying Safe in the Field
Once you’re on the ground, there are a few foundational basics to abide by, said Bush: keep your passport, or a copy, on you at all times, make sure you always can contact someone in and out of the country if you need something and try not to attract attention.
After all, no matter how long you are in a place, it is not your home country and not your culture. Your differences will make you stick out in a crowd and draw attention to you and those you are with. This could pose a security risk not just to you, but to those around you.
“If you are doing something the government does not approve of, keep a low profile,” Bush said. “Focus on the least controversial parts of your mission when you share what you do and closely follow your organization’s guidelines.
Have a Plan for the Unexpected
Rev. Cheryl Meinschein, a Global Rescue member, never could have anticipated that her mission trip would coincide with one of Haiti’s most devastating earthquakes in recent history.
“The important question was: are we going to be able to get home? How are we going to be able to get home?” Rev. Meinschein said.
The team at Global Rescue met Rev. Meinschein and her fellow missionaries, who were also Global Rescue members, in Haiti, made sure everyone was safe and then chartered a flight to get them out of the country to the Dominican Republic. They stayed there for two days and then caught a flight back to Philadelphia.
“I would not hesitate to take a mission trip anywhere in this country or out abroad, but I would certainly want the protection of Global Rescue to go along with me,” she said.
Natural disasters can be a risk, but so can seemingly harmless illnesses or injuries. That’s why it’s important to have someone you can call right away if something seems off.
“Communicate with your sending organization or Global Rescue as soon as there is even a remote hint that there might be something medically wrong,” said Jeff Weinstein, a paramedic and medical operations supervisor for Global Rescue. “Resources do not come out of thin air, so they need to be aware early on to be ready.”
For Danny Lightner, and his wife and children, living in Zambia comes with inherent risks that could necessitate medical care or an emergency evacuation.
“We wanted a plan that will pay for medical services whether we were on the mission field or back home in the USA,” he said. “And will also pay for emergency medical flights globally—making sure we are covered no matter where we are in the world.”
Global Rescue: an Affordable Solution
Global Rescue’s in-house medical team, along with its security experts and emergency evacuation services offer short and long-term missionaries valuable support at a reasonable cost, which can be important for missionaries who often raise support and have limited funds.
“What was really amazing to me was that there was no cost to us for the hotel or the flight back,” Rev. Meinschein said
“For missionaries doing tough work with no budget…they can’t support an emergency rescue,” Bush said. “It’s much less expensive to get a membership.”
Remember, setting yourself up to be safe and secure on your mission trip is not an example of a lack of faith or a waste of funds. Rather, it is faithful stewardship of the resources you have.
Get a free quote for a membership with Global Rescue today.
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