The Boy Scouts motto is “Be Prepared.” Successful work as an expatriate should include knowledgeable preparation for potential areas of difficulty in living and working abroad. While preparing for crises is important, the objective is to be equipped to respond in faith with wisdom, accepting that God’s call sometimes involves inherent risks and that we are to be effective witnesses in all circumstances.
The following overview aims at preparing an expatriate to develop security precautions and guidelines in order to respond effectively in a crisis situation. Each country presents a unique political climate, differing local laws and customs, and a wide range of other variables, making it impossible to apply a simple standard of security precautions to every nation. Therefore, it is important that each person develops the appropriate security precautions and guidelines necessary for their particular location.
Defining a Crisis
A crisis is any real or impending situation that is creating or has the potential to create an unacceptable degree of danger to the individual and other personnel or the work of a project or organization. Work in restricted access nations especially requires the expatriate to have well planned, carefully determined responses in the event of unforeseen personal, political, or natural crises.
Expatriates, their families, or the ministry may be considered in a crisis situation when the circumstances are or could shortly get out of control and could:
- Endanger the lives of the expatriates,
national colleagues or their families
- Become a serious danger to the expatriate’s work
- Create major interruptions in the capacity to operate effectively
- Create a basis for wide-spread negative media exploitation
Types of Crises
- Family health emergency
- Hostage-taking situation
- Moral problem
- Natural disasters
- Political Coup d’etat
Pre-crisis Planning: Communication
Crisis management must begin well ahead of the crisis. Developing good channels of communication requires some time and effort but is an essential part of being prepared.
Step One: Establish local communication channels
Establish a high level of communication locally with someone whom you can contact quickly. This individual should be responsible for acting on your behalf. You should be accountable to this person for your whereabouts at all times (i.e. communicating your travel schedule so the local contact knows when you are in and out of town, the details of your itinerary, etc). Sometimes it is advisable not to have this emergency contact person be a spouse, family member, or relative, as they are often too emotionally involved to make important, difficult decisions during a crisis.
Expatriates should have some level of regular communication with other contacts within the country, as well, such as other mission group personnel, other expatriates, business contacts, neighbors, etc.
Step Two: Establish communication channels abroad
When possible, you should have the same high level of contact with someone outside of the country—perhaps with the person who acts as power of attorney on your behalf (see next column). Consider that sometimes information may be known about the situation outside of the country before it is known inside the country—i.e. a coup d’etat, assassination, hostage taking, or outbreak of war may be reported in the USA or elsewhere before you hear about it in the host country.
When in a crisis you should provide as much information as possible to your outside contact, such as key information to report to police, to the embassy, to the mission sending agency staff abroad, etc.
Step Three: Communicate with your nation’s embassy
You should register yourself and your family with the home nation’s embassy shortly after your arrival in the host country, and whenever changing addresses within the country. The embassy should also be notified when you leave the field. Give the embassy copies of all official personal documents (such as family members’ passports) and inform them of the family’s location within the country.
Provide a map to your home, if necessary, to be sure the embassy staff know where to locate you in the case of crisis. Also, provide details about the location of children and other family members if some are away at school or elsewhere.
Few of us wish to deal with the need for a will, but it is essential for all workers to have current wills made out and filed appropriately. This is especially true for parents of small to teenage children. There is software available for this procedure if you do not have ready access to an attorney.
Guardianship of children
File a clearly stated, legal document of guardianship for the children with the embassy, as well as with your organization and another contact. Also, file with the embassy a stated alternative guardianship effective until the family is no longer in the host country.
Power of Attorney
Have a power of attorney both in your home country and in the field—someone to act on your behalf. File with them a list of bank accounts, bills, expenses, copies of documents, etc. in a sealed envelope. The designated power of attorney in the host country should have copies of this information, as well. Additionally, you should make copies of all important documents and keep them in a secure place—copies of passports, visas, tickets, business doings, etc.
The Best Protection
The world is an increasingly dangerous place to be. Humanly speaking security is illusive at best. The Psalmist understood this and wrote, “Some trust in horses and weapons. Our trust is in the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7. God does not call us to safety or security. God calls us to service. While it is important to take proper precautions and to plan for the worst-case scenarios, our greatest security will always be in Jesus.
By Bruce Campbell Moyer