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Missionaries with 'Good Intentions' Not Enough in High-Risk Zones

Corrections appended

WASHINGTON – Some missionaries are being attacked while distributing emergency relief items because of a lack of security training, informed a security consultant who works with World Vision.

During a presentation this past week for professionals working in conflict and disaster zones in dangerous regions, Joe Fifield – who specializes in anti-terrorism operations, mountain and jungle survival, and disasters – spoke about the complicated process involved in disaster response and how people with "good intentions" but without proper training are sometimes attacked while working in high-security risk areas.

"A lot of times in the mission communities don't have the structure, resources and funding; so quite often they are on their own," said Fifield during an interview after his presentation. "And again, even with the best intentions and a noble motivation they should look at the reality."

The former British Army Commando said one of the common discussion topics for faith-based NGOs (non-governmental organizations) is about what is God's responsibility for an aid worker's safety and what is their own.

"It is very interesting because everyone has their views and their commitments to faith," said Fifield, who describes himself as a non-practicing Christian. He said the situation can sometimes get "scary" when someone leaves everything to God and does not take any precaution or make efforts to maintain their safety.

As example he told about missionaries who were handing out Bibles while distributing aid in Sri Lanka during the aftermath of the tsunami.

Sri Lanka is a heavily Buddhist country with Buddhist extremists that have been reported of burning and throwing grenades at churches.

He said that because the missionaries did not receive proper security training – as far as Fifield knows, the missionaries were individuals and did not belong to any organization – they put themselves in serious danger by openly distributing Bibles. There was a backlash from the Buddhist community and the missionaries were attacked and their vehicle destroyed as a result.

"Ignorance of local laws and custom can get you into hot water," said Fifield, "and that is exactly what happened."

He noted that World Vision has local staff in over 100 countries that can inform aid workers about the dress code, culture, custom, and food in each country prior to distribution work.

Recently, there have been several incidents of deaths and abductions of American missionaries working in high-risk areas.

In February, a missionary working in Haiti was kidnapped at gunpoint and later released after the United Nations police became involved in the conflict.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Haiti and is orchestrated both by street gangs and corrupt police. In particular, foreign missionaries working with little security and in areas without a strong police presence are increasingly being targeted, noted The Associated Press.

Also in February, Carol Briggs, a missionary working in Kenya, had one of her eyes removed after being shot in the mouth by gangsters. The missionary, who was a medical volunteer helping HIV orphans, was traveling with a prominent African AIDS researcher who was killed during the event.

Earlier in January, a retired Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionary died in a carjacking incident that also took place in Kenya. The missionary, Lois Anderson, and her daughter were inside an American embassy vehicle when "thugs" ordered them to get out of the car and shot them.

The incident is considered a "random attack" and not one aimed at Americans. Lois and her husband had served for more than 40 years in Sudan and Kenya as missionaries and were visiting their daughter in Kenya when the incident took place.

Fifield said that World Vision had lost one person in Iraq before it pulled out aid from the country. He emphasized that missionaries and people with good intentions to help those suffering from a disaster should be aware of activities that would heighten their security risks and get training from experts on how to work in that region.

Corrections: Sunday, March 11, 2007:

An article on Sunday, March 11, 2007, about missionaries being killed while serving in disaster zones incorrectly reported an example given by Joe Fifield, security consultant with World Vision. The Christian Post confirmed with Rachel Wolff, the media relations manager for World Vision, that the missionaries mentioned by Fifield in his example were not killed after handing out Bibles as they were distributing aid in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the tsunami. Fifield had reported only that the missionaries were beaten up and their vehicle destroyed.

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