Protecting missionaries on the Southern border

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, February 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: missionaries at risk.

Here’s a picture of what they face working in Mexico.

Over a two day period last week, drug cartel violence in the border city of Reynosa killed seven gang members and one bystander. Rival cartels have been fighting for control along the border for years. 

The attacks are usually contained, but it’s not uncommon for civilians to find themselves caught in the cross-fire, and, increasingly, the victims of carjackings.

EICHER: Many mission agencies work along both sides of the border. How do they respond to the increased violence? WORLD Radio’s Paul Butler recently spoke with one missionary whose primary ministry is analyzing these day-to-day risks, and training other missionaries on how to minimize them.

Now, before we get started, you need to know that we are concerned enough for the safety of both the missionary and organization that we are using pseudonyms in this report.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: It’s a sunny winter afternoon in southern Texas. About 20 people are gathering in a multipurpose meeting room at Reach the World headquarters. Some are seasoned missionaries. Others are in training. Still others are missionary candidates. And they’re all here to meet with this man:

AUDIO: Part of my job is to prepare you for what are the actual, real hazards in Mexico…

That’s J. He’s a middle-aged missionary with lots of experience dealing with risk. 

AUDIO: The idea is that if you come across one of these things that might hinder you from preaching the gospel, or jut having fellowship with others…

In less than 24 hours, this group is heading into Mexico for church. This session is an introduction to missionary risk management. 

J: So on a daily basis, I do risk assessments for all of our mission fields. My goal is to identify security, safety, and health concerns that might prevent someone from planting a church.

Risk Assessment in missions is really nothing new, but over the last decade or so, it has become much more formal and intentional.

J: Whatever you’re going to do is going to entail some risk. And you want…to manage risk in such a way that the benefits far outweigh the costs…

AUDIO: Don’t let yourself fall into a panic…

This marks a bit of a culture shift in missions. In the past, it was sort of assumed that God would not only provide the funds necessary, but divine safety as well. And for some, there’s been a certain recklessness that is often confused with faith. 

So over the years J. has faced an uphill climb when it comes to doing his job.

J: When I arrived, there was a lot of questions: “are we no longer doing our work in faith?” And so what I did was explained to them the Biblical basis for what I do.

J. usually begins with Jesus’s instruction to his disciples in Matthew 10:

J: Well, you remember Christ was telling his apostles that you’re going to suffer persecution. When you’re persecuted in one city, you’re to flee to the next city. So to me that means Jesus is telling his workers to have an exit strategy.

Before becoming a missionary, J.’s training included various security disciplines, and he knows quite a bit about exit strategies… 

J: Now you can implement Christ instructions in an informed way… 

For a growing number of missionary sending agencies, risk management is a key part of mission training. Not to know if someone should go, but how they should go. 

J: You notice that we still go into a high risk area because we feel the mission is worth it. There are people here that we serve that have very little hope and the only hope that will benefit them at all is the hope that’s found in Jesus Christ. And so our missionaries know this and they’re willing to go there and accept the risks.

On Sunday morning, J. meets with the missionaries and guests for a 15-minute briefing before they go. He reports on recent cartel activity, health alerts, and gives final instructions on how to respond if separated from the group. These meetings are mandatory.

AUDIO: Does everybody have their travel documents? 

J: I coordinate with the missionaries or the missionary trainees to develop strategies to avoid that hazard, to isolate or eliminate it or to minimize the impact. And so that’s, that’s our aim. That’s why I call it A-I-M…

J. displays a map of Northern Mexico that’s been color-coded—making it easy to see where dangers exist.

J: And depending on which color your area is, will determine the protocols for going in and serving there. 

The protocols vary. But they always include filing a travel itinerary. J. may also require hourly calls or texts, or even assigning a GPS with a “helping hands” button. He has a team ready to go in and assist the missionaries if they get stuck or feel in danger. For J., most days begin the same way. 

NEWSCAST: Senseless violence at an arcade in Mexico… 

He watches local news, scours social media, and reads through various security briefings from government and non-government agencies. He doesn’t always look closely at everything as some of the videos and photographs of cartel violence are too graphic. But he does look, especially for patterns. And to understand what the missionaries may have to face. 

AUDIO: And the final option, depending on what situation is causing the isolating incident, you may want to involve authorities…

According to J.’s years of analysis, this is the safest time to enter this particular region of Mexico. According to his records, less than 1 percent of all criminal activity occurs here on Sunday mornings. Still, he’s vigilant—for that’s his calling. 

J: I’m really anxious to see churches planted. When those churches are planted, and I get to be a participant, not a direct like the missionaries are, but if I can help achieve their goal of planting churches, that is my satisfaction that Christ is going to be praised. That’s my main goal. 


The morning service is well attended: the sermon is about faith. One of the hymns is a poignant reminder of God’s protection. Everyone makes it in and out without incident. But they were ready, thanks to J.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler reporting from the Mexican border.

(Photo/Paul Butler)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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