Now that we’ve considered the theological implications, let’s turn to some of the questions you raised, Brent.
First, let’s consider crisis preparation training as part of member care. Missionaries need to be prepared for what to expect. There are some excellent training programs that prepare for possible difficult conditions, including kidnapping, or missions can run their own internal programs. Liability is usually a function of negligence. If people are reasonably informed about risks and given reasonable training, then the mission won’t be negligent on training and preparation.
Having been informed about risks, the mission can consider having the missionary assume the risk. This is similar to what happens when you go skiing—or sky diving! The risks are laid out and acknowledged. In the missionary case, the risks might include disease, bodily injury, and terrorism, rather than rocks and broken bones. The person can acknowledge and consent to the risks, and release the organization from liability. The person can give authority to provide medical care as well.
We discussed how a missionary might explain his or her own vision and calling. While your actual legal waiver might not include that, I like the idea of having an accompanying document, which is the missionary’s own testimony and explanation of why he or she thinks that taking risks is worthwhile for the sake of sharing the gospel. Imagine what a powerful testimony that could be later, in the event that something happens to the missionary—a testament to what he or she believes.
In addition to what we’ve discussed, the mission should consider requiring or recommending a whole suite of documents: an estate plan, a medical power of attorney, a power of attorney in case of disability, guardianship of children, adequate insurance coverage.
Another possible document is a power of attorney for hostage negotiations. The document arises out of the question of who will do the negotiating if there is a hostage situation. Lately, the U.S. government has stated that it will work with the family of the hostage. But what if the family is not sympathetic to the mission vision of the hostage? What if the family is willing to sacrifice the work of the mission in the region to save the loved one? What if the government will not tell the mission anything, even though others may be at risk?
Some missions are addressing this by having missionaries sign a Power of Attorney assigning the mission as their designated agent for any hostage negotiations. This is a possible route that may be effective, but you have to consider issues like how to handle the potential role of a spouse, and whether the missionary needs legal counsel to give informed consent to something like this. Also, the mission should talk over with its missionaries the issue of whether it will pay ransom.
The mission needs to have a well-developed crisis management plan, with approaches for various emergencies spelled out so people understand them ahead of time. In situations where a crisis is triggered, the mission should implement the plan.
You also asked how the sending church should be involved. The sending church should understand the mission’s approach to various possible crisis situations. In addition, the commissioning ceremony of the sending church can acknowledge the vision and mission of the person being sent, including the understanding that it may involve suffering. The sending church can acknowledge being part of this commitment as part of the body of Christ, and can commit to being involved in member care if anything happens.
There are no easy answers, but if you prepare by training missionary candidates and have clear policies that everyone understands, you may at least avoid some needless suffering.