Don, Cynthia, and their three preschool and elementary children had been serving in Africa for three years. They had come to terms with the dangers related to malaria and cholera, but ebola had just been confirmed in a village only a few kilometers from the city where they served. The risks related to ebola are now much higher, and they now have to decide whether to move to a safer place or to stay and continue their ministry. Having three young children complicates their decision. Their agency told them they had the choice of staying or leaving.
Vern and Peggy were just finishing a summer of visiting family and fund raising in their passport country when conflict broke out in their host country, and the situation was approaching civil war. Their children were all in upper middle school or high school and attended boarding school in a stable country. Their host country had been quite safe with only a few travel alerts, but now there were travel warnings for much of the country, especially the city where they served. They felt needed so much there that they would like to return, but their children were afraid they would be killed. Their agency also left the decision up to them.
Most agencies have policies and/or recommendations for people serving with them. Sometimes those policies are firm and require missionaries to leave the country or not to go to places under specific dangers. However, those policies sometimes leave the final decision up to the people involved, and “to go or not to go” becomes the question.
Where is danger?
Danger and risk are found everywhere. Thousands of people die every year from antibiotic resistant diseases they catch in hospitals in their passport countries. People are murdered each year on the streets of the cities in their passport countries. One concerned parent in the USA called a cross-cultural worker in Asia during the second week in September 2001, offering to fly the whole family back to the USA. The family declined, pointing out that they were not the ones under attack by terrorists.
Danger from disease, violence, tsunamis, weather, earthquakes, accidents, and so forth are found literally everywhere. The question is whether or not to go to places where known high risk dangers exist. Millions of people choose to live where these are likely to occur, and as a result thousands die each year. Other people get caught in such situations through no fault of their own.
Of course, when only adults are involved and they have the freedom and means to leave, few ethical questions are raised. However, when children are involved or people are forced into these situations, new issues rise. Let us consider some of the questions that arise, what people did in Bible times, and how to make such decisions today.