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Travel advisory

Travel | It may be a small world, after all, but it remains a dangerous one, so travelers should take precautions

Many WORLDmag.com Saturday Series reports have emphasized our souls, but this week’s is about protection of our bodies. Scott Stewart is vice president of analysis at Stratfor, a global intelligence company with headquarters in Austin, Texas. He is a former Diplomatic Security Service special agent and protective intelligence coordinator for Dell Inc. The practical security information applies to missionaries permanently living overseas as well as people living in the United States who rarely or never travel. —Marvin Olasky

Travel security: Being shrewd as a serpent

In this era of low-cost airfares, ecotourism, and adventure vacations, more people are exploring wild and remote corners of the world: Some are leisure travelers, but many are taking short-term mission trips. A generation ago, only a few intrepid souls dared to venture to mission fields far off the beaten path; earlier, it took missionaries weeks or even months just to get to their destinations.

So the world seems smaller today, but it remains as dangerous as it ever was. Christian travelers today may not have as much to fear from cannibalistic tribesmen and tropical diseases, but the threats posed by terrorists and sophisticated and heavily armed criminals are very real. The current global travel advisory by the U.S. Department of State serves as a reminder of this reality.

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While some of the dangers in the world exist near our own homes, these dangers are magnified while we are traveling—when we are strangers in a strange land, coping with a sense of otherness and not belonging, and visibly sticking out in a crowd. Furthermore, criminals tend to target traveling Americans because of a general belief that their pockets are filled with cash, or that they otherwise have access to large sums of money.

Thousands of Americans fall victim to criminals while they are traveling every year, but with a little education and preparation they could have taken steps to prevent an encounter with the criminals or at least mitigate the effects of an encounter. Because of my background and extensive experience as an overseas traveler, I have provided travel security briefings to missionary organizations, church groups, friends, family members, student groups, and short-term mission teams. I also lead an annual short-term mission group from my church, so I understand some of the ministry aspects as well.

Since the number of people I can brief in person is limited, I decided to put the content of my briefings into book form to reach a wider audience, and the result was Shrewd as Serpents and Innocent as Doves: A Practical Security Guide for Christian Travelers. I explainthat the situational awareness and threat recognition needed to avoid criminals are not super-secret skills that only highly trained experts can master. I also explain why listening to security advice and practicing practical security measures is not unbiblical and does not display a lack of faith in God’s protection. In fact, the Bible shows us that God can use such things to protect us.

I also help readers prepare for a trip. Many fine handbooks and travel guides talk about what you should bring with you on an overseas trip, but the crucial issue from a security standpoint is not so much what you should bring with you, but rather what you should not. Travelers often bring unnecessary items with them on trips that attract the attention of potential criminals and/or cause them considerable angst when the items are lost or stolen.

First thing to remember: Most Americans do not consider themselves wealthy, but those of us who can afford to travel overseas, whether on a mission trip or a vacation, have a standard of living that only the very rich in our destination country can attain. In practical terms, your watch, smartphone, laptop, and even your sunglasses may be worth more money than some of the people you will encounter during your trip make in an entire year. It is important to remember that when you are in a Third World country, items that you would not think twice about carrying in the United States might very easily draw the attention of criminals.

Also, a display of wealth will influence not only how criminals view us, but also how we are viewed by the people we are seeking to minister to—ostentatious displays of wealth can cause a rift that is very difficult to overcome. Therefore, the first rule to remember as you prepare for your trip is simply this: Try not to take anything with you that will draw undue attention to yourself.

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