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Missionaries travel the world to spread the word of God. But what happens when things go wrong? – ABC News

Missionaries travel the world to spread the word of God. But what happens when things go wrong?
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When three missionaries who had been kidnapped in broad daylight in Haiti and held hostage for almost two months were finally freed this week, it should have been a moment of relief and celebration. 
They joined two others who were released last month, but their safe return home has been somewhat overshadowed by the fact that 12 others who they'd been working and praying alongside in Haiti remain in captivity.
Their group of 16 US citizens and one Canadian, including five children as young as eight months old, were returning from a visit to an orphanage on October 17 when their bus was intercepted by the notorious 400 Mawozo gang, just outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
The kidnappers demanded $US1 million per hostage. Days later, gang leader Wilson Joseph appeared in social media videos threatening to kill the missionaries and warning authorities reluctant to negotiate.
"I will have you cry blood," Joseph said. 
Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) is the missionary organisation that sent them there.
Now it is focusing on those missionaries who are still being held hostage, pleading for the public's continued support and prayers.
The attack has shed light on the precarious situation in Haiti and also has reignited debate about whether missionaries do more harm than good in the developing world.
Local media have reported a widespread escalation of violence in the region, with carjacking and kidnapping an almost daily occurrence
The CAM missionaries were among 119 people abducted in Haiti in the first half of October, according to the local non-profit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH).
It brings the total this year to at least 782, including 53 foreign nationals.
Ongoing political instability after the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in July has led to a collapse in the rule of law and the spread of gang violence, while food and fuel shortages plague parts of the country still recovering from a major earthquake that occurred on August 14 of this year. 
The United States travel advisory has listed Haiti at level four: DO NOT TRAVEL since August, warning American citizens are regularly targeted by kidnappers. 
Despite the risk, CAM maintains the need for humanitarian assistance is too great to ignore. In a statement from October 26, it said:
"Occasionally we are asked why our workers were in Haiti. Why travel to dangerous places? Why not let these countries take care of their own issues? 
"We live in a very broken world … God desires a world where the hungry are fed, abandoned orphans are cared for, and where lonely refugees are provided for. 
"We go to places like Haiti because we have found Jesus and His teachings to be the answer for our own lives and we want others to enjoy the joy, peace and redemption we have experienced in the kingdom of God."
For the safety of its missionaries, CAM has revealed limited information about the circumstances surrounding their abduction or the exact nature of their work in Haiti and how they came to be there. 
However, the experiences of others in the industry can provide some insight into the preparation missionaries typically undertake before embarking on mission trips abroad, and the risks they encounter. 
The world of Christian mission is a broad and diverse church, comprising believers from all denominations — Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons alike. 
While there are many ideas about exactly what constitutes mission work, most missionaries travel the world to share the word of God, often to remote places with an intention to help those facing disadvantage or disaster.
Many faith-based aid organisations are driven by the Great Commission — outlined in several passages of the Gospel as a message from Jesus Christ to "go and make disciples of all nations". 
According to the International Bulletin of Mission Research, there are 430,000 missionaries on long-term placements abroad in 2021. More than half of those people come from the "Global North" — places like Europe, the US and Canada.
This doesn't account for the number of Christians who travel on short-term mission trips each year. They are largely young people taking their first glimpse into the world of missionary work. 
Christian Aid Ministries works with Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist Christians, and states its main purpose is "to glorify God and help enlarge His kingdom".
Simon Smart, executive director of the Centre for Public Christianity, says this evangelistic impulse is central to the Christian faith, and has been throughout history.
"At its heart, Christianity is a missionary faith, motivated by the idea that the Christian gospel is good news for everyone and all people from every nation and culture should be invited to take a look at it, perhaps to accept it," he told the ABC.
"At their best, I'd say missionaries have done amazing work for the people they've tried to reach. 
"They've done incredible things to improve the lives of the people that they've come to live amongst, and really love."
But he says that good work has at times been tarnished by missionaries who have landed in dangerous situations or caused harm to the communities they work in.
"It's undeniable that there have been missionary movements that have done damage to people that they've encountered, where they've not respected local customs, language or culture, been insensitive to and perhaps not [understood] the context," he says.
John Allen Chau was on the ultimate Christian mission: first contact with a lost people. It was doomed from the beginning.
Critics of the missionary movement have argued its use throughout history as a tool of colonisation by predominantly Western and European settlers is evidence the concept is fundamentally steeped in white saviourism.
Others have questioned the safety considerations made in high-profile cases such as that of John Allen Chau, a Missouri-based preacher who was killed in 2018 while trying to approach a remote tribe on North Sentinel Island.
Chau organised his own boat and breached laws established by the Indian government to restrict visits to the island.
Before his death, Chau wrote in his diary about how a child had shot an arrow at him. He survived without injury because the arrow hit a Bible he was clutching to his chest. 
Though he saw himself as a true missionary, Chau went without the backing of an established organisation, and was described by many within the mission field as a radical, lone operator smearing the reputation of missionaries elsewhere. 
Not all mission is physically dangerous. But in some cases, the outcome can be worlds away from the intention. 
Writer, scholar and self-described "exvangelical" Chrissy Stroop is among those critical of Christian mission work. 
After growing up in evangelical Christian churches of various denominations across Indiana and Colorado in the US, Stroop took part in a number of short-term mission trips from the age of 19. 
In her essay for the 2019 book Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, which she co-edited with Lauren O'Neal,  Stroop wrote of Chau: 
"My own immediate thought was that, had I been able to stick with evangelical Christianity, I could have ended up like him."
Stroop's first overseas mission was to Russia, a trip overseen by long-term missionaries on the ground who she says had limited Russian language skills and links with the community.
Her group was instructed to use selected Protestant Bible passages to teach English to Russian Orthodox Christian students at a summer camp in a rural area outside Vladimir, about 200 kilometres east of Moscow.
"It seemed to me like a bait-and-switch … I was like, 'This is not how you teach people English,'” she says.
By the time she returned the following year, Stroop had taken language lessons of her own accord and endeavoured to learn more about the culture.
"These long-term missionaries [didn't] really seem to know Russian very well and still seemed kind of patronising toward Russian culture.
"That kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Those kinds of attitudes of cultural superiority, ignorance, and …  lack of preparation."
The experience would eventually lead her to pursue her academic interest in Russian religious studies, but she says it also played a significant role in her loss of faith. 
"I prayed that God would use it to revive my struggling faith. But I just kept getting more and more disillusioned with missionaries and missionary activities, because they did not seem to be very competent."
This immersion in language and culture that Stroop found was lacking in her trip is something that Australian former missionary Derek Brotherson found fundamental in his years teaching Bible studies abroad. 
He spent 10 years as a Christian missionary in South-East Asia, and now runs the Sydney Missionary and Bible College (SMBC), preparing young Christians for ministry and long-term mission work. 
Before he left Australia to work overseas, Brotherson studied for three years at SMBC, learning general principles of cross-cultural mission. 
The agency which arranged his placement overseas provided further training more specific to his location, including navigating the local health system, putting together an earthquake action plan and emergency pack, and security briefings. 
He then spent a year learning the language and culture at the local training centre before he was allowed to start Bible teaching. 
"If we want to have a positive impact, it takes a lot of good local knowledge and acquisition of language and culture," he says.
"We're not trying to share our culture. We're trying to bring a message … of the Bible."
Brotherson says SMBC courses "equip you well enough to know that you shouldn't just go by yourself without expertise", and that they recommend students who do wish to serve overseas link up with an established agency for further training and support. 
Do you know more about this story? Contact sweeney.lucy@abc.net.au
Some form of pastoral care or emotional support is critical for missionaries working in difficult environments, according to registered psychologist Sarah Piper.
Piper, who also has a background in humanitarian aid, now works with Australian organisation Missions Interlink to support missionaries in the field and those returning home.
She says no matter where people travel, or whether their work leads them to extreme situations like kidnapping or assault, there's always a risk of trauma.
Mission work can be isolating, and by its very nature exposes people to culture shock.
Her clients are mostly dealing with depression and anxiety that comes from a traumatic incident — either an event on the field that is traumatising in and of itself, or something that triggers childhood trauma.
She says the key to minimising damage to those in the community and aid workers is the training and preparation that missionaries receive before they leave. 
"Whether you're working in a faith-based organisation or whether you're just purely humanitarian, you can become quite a soft target, just as a representative from the West," Piper says. 
"They're supposed to get a certain degree of security training — so, what to do if you're taken hostage, what to do if you're going through a checkpoint that's looking a little bit dodgy. 
"That is supposed to prepare people for not having such a traumatic time. It's almost like they go to security training and there's an element of trauma that they are put through in that training."
In her view, most mission organisations give people "as much training as they possibly can — but that doesn't always prepare you for everything". 
Simon Smart agrees that preparation and support for missionaries can vary widely. 
"The very serious mission organisations will train people for years in language and cultural studies and so on, to prepare them to go to these places. And sometimes there's almost none [no training] at all," he says. 
"Sometimes there's huge consideration given for the safety of the people involved, I'd say that's mostly. And then other times it can be a little bit cavalier … naive and unnecessarily risky.
"There's a sense of what they're doing is of eternal significance. So that risk is considered a reasonable one to make in the service of God and other people."
Another young Australian former missionary who spoke with the ABC says this concept is perhaps the hardest for the secular world to understand. Smart concurs. 
"If you haven't kind of bought into that vision, then it probably does look like a very strange thing," he says. 
Missionaries from southern Australia are travelling to remote Indigenous communities to install televangelist satellite and cable services.
Stroop says in her experience, many young evangelical Christians are drawn to mission work partly because of the way their faith views martyrdom.
"For some people who grew up in evangelical subculture, I think there's this real romanticisation of the missionary to the point that you're willing to be a martyr," she told the ABC. 
"You're taught to admire certain missionaries who broke the rules to spread the word of God, like people who smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain [or were] killed by these unreached people.
"Trying to convert them was seen as … the height of a Christian thing that you could do.
"So there's a certain status dynamic there, but also this idea that you could die, it could be risky. And I think that that … gives their ego a boost somehow.
"That's what I believe that it really comes down to, in many cases, a sense of purpose and moral superiority."
For Brotherson, superiority has no place in mission. He says as long as groups engage in a culturally respectful way, the risks can be worthwhile. 
"If you feel like you've found something wonderful, which reveals the meaning of life and access to eternal life, that's a risk worth taking to share," he says.
"I'm glad that people took risks to share that with me, both the actual person who shared it with me in life, but the people through the centuries who've made sacrifices, so that could be passed on in that chain."
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