Written in February 2014
Today I had to fill in a form asking for ‘proof of life’ questions. Not having seen the Russell Crowe movie of the same name, it was left to google to unceremoniously inform me that these are questions that my organisation will ask my kidnappers during negotiations to work out whether I am alive or dead.
In reality, my impending move to Beirut is not really all that dangerous – incidents are rare and I think for most people life is pretty normal. But even thinking about answering that question as a formality rang alarm bells in my mind. Is it really a sensible choice to move to a city where bombs explode regularly, and a country whose porous borders offer only superficial protection from the Syrian conflict which rages all around it?
Most of the time, our impulse is to make sure that we do whatever we can to stay safe, and usually that’s not a bad idea! I’m really glad that I decided to buy a motorbike helmet before I moved to Kampala – while travelling around the city is always pretty risky, it feels good to know that my head is at least slightly protected!
The travel advice maps on the FCO website also help to feed into our desire to draw lines around what is safe and what is unsafe. It’s reassuring to think that you could stay in the green area forever and never let your feet cross over into yellow, and certainly not red, and then danger cannot touch you.
But the reality is that people move, things change, and the lines of ‘safety’ in our lives are not fixed, however much we would like them to be.
I constantly have to challenge my assumption that I have a right to live a life which is safe and comfortable. While it’s comforting to think that we could spend a whole lifetime avoiding risk, that’s just not what life’s like, and it’s certainly not what God tells us life will be like if we decide to live it with him.
In fact, I think that the real danger is found in trying too hard to stay safe – in missing out on living the life you’re called to and being the person you’re called to be, because it involves risk and uncertainty and things you can’t know and control. As I move to Lebanon for the next six months I don’t know for sure that I can do what’s being asked of me or whether things will go according to plan, but I know that the danger of not even trying is, for me, much more frightening.
In the midst of all the uncertainty, one thing I am confident about is the fact that children should be safe. When I read the Bible, the message that children are a priority to God and that he wants them to be valued and kept safe flows through the pages and should spill out into the way we live our lives.
I don’t know whether I’m going to be safe in Lebanon or not. But I hope that at least some of what I do will help some children there – children who don’t have the luxury of choosing not to be in the yellow or red areas, children who are still across the border in Syria, children who have known a lack of safety beyond what I can imagine – to be really safe and to be able to live the lives they are meant to live.
So I’ll be leaving my helmet behind and trusting that simply doing your best to be who you are in the place you’re called to, is really the safest place to be.