Every year about this time our staff starts fielding safety calls. Is the neighborhood safe? What are your procedures in the case of an emergency? How will you protect our youth from the dangers they will face? We take these concerns seriously, but I struggle with the one-sidedness of questions. I occasionally wonder about the underlying assumptions. Why are “urban” and “safety” so easily tied together?
I have a pastor friend who likes to flip questions. For the past number of years I have begun to wonder about safety from the backside. Bringing participants along with their wealth, privilege, prejudices, economic power, and misplaced stereotypes into urban neighborhoods is dangerous. Every group we host is a calculated risk.
A few years ago a friend, Anton Flores, suggested that groups and individuals who were willing to take seriously the danger they posed would do well take a page from environmental ethics known as “leave no trace.”
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare- proper missions planning and preparation helps members accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably while minimizing damage to natural and cultural resources
2. Travel in a Way that Empowers the Neighborhood- support local culture and businesses when you decide on where to eat and shop. Resist eating at chain restaurants and instead broaden your palate and support locally owned restaurants that offer local cuisine.
3. Look in a full-length mirror and remove any items that serve as status symbols
4. Take Home What You Find- when you return home, share with others what you discovered to be the strengths of the people you met. Perhaps more importantly than what you did in the name of Christ you should share how the poor reflected Christ to you
5. Maximize your Flight from Consumerism’s Impact- true discipleship is about making temporal things small and making eternal things large. Return home and review all the things you lived without and get rid of them! Grow in your generosity and find ways to support efforts to holistically empower the poor around the world.
6. Be respectful- quick judgments are damaging both to you and the community you are visiting
7. Above all, do no harm