Danger {Book Club}

Danger {Book Club}

My generation of Americans are labeled as “the most risk averse generation since the Great Depression” (source). The source article is focusing on financial risk, but we are risk averse in every other sense as well. Pregnant with my first child, I combed websites for moms, looking for tips and advice. There was a mom insisting that everyone who loves their children must buy a certain product because it is the very safest option. Whoever chooses a different brand to save money does not love their child much. I assume she was trying to justify the price tag to herself. She was convinced that, with this product, her baby was guaranteed to be free from risk.

Between Stranger Danger and Baby Jessica, my generation learned in childhood that bad (but preventable) things happen to kids. If that weren’t enough, we were also school-age when incidences of school shootings began to fill the news. Now as parents, we believe our job is to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to our kids – and there are so many threats! We are Marlin in Disney’s Finding Nemo. Add to that the internet, the 24-hour news cycle, and a complete overload of information…

I am sure many of us in this cross-cultural community have had friends, relatives, and church members from our passport countries cancel their trip to visit us because of a single event in our host country that made international news. They constantly ask us, “Is it safe?!” But, as I like to point out to those who know me well, we didn’t cancel our trip to visit churches in the US after shootings took place in churches in more than one state.

In this week’s chapters of Stronger than Death, Annalena moved to Somalia. They weren’t allowed to have visitors, though, because it wasn’t safe. “If Somalia wasn’t safe enough for visitors, how was it safe enough for long-term staff?” Indeed. Miriam Martinelli said, “But at that time we weren’t afraid of everything… We didn’t have the internet or cell phones or news reports.” Even though people weren’t generally as alarmist as Millennials in the 21st century, they still did not allow long-term staff to receive visitors in Somalia. Then, civil war “broke out in earnest” on Dec 30, 1990.

There was so much insight in this section about the way the international community responds to conflict within a country, about western attitudes towards Africans, and about White Saviorism. Instead of quoting entire chapters here, I’ll trust that you are reading it with me!

Amid the conflict in Somalia, NGOs would travel around with armed guards, like warlords. Meanwhile, Annalena lived “as if the war didn’t exist.” I really admire that. “The default expectation is fear and self-protectionism.” But, Sister Marzia, an Italian nun in Somalia said, “I am one person. They are so many. So, we stay. Annalena was that way, too. We are not more important than them and we believe in heaven.” Can we just pause for a minute and consider that last sentence again?

Rachel quotes a piece from The Atlantic entitled “The White Savior Industrial Complex”: “In these scenarios, the desire of the foreigner to serve takes precedence over best practice and the foreigner is the one who gets to define that service.” Though Annalena was white, and though she saved lives, she doesn’t fit into this category because of her attitude and her posture. Her starting point was to do no harm and to consult those who were being helped.

Rachel asked, “When do outsiders step in, and how? And when do they stand idly by? To most, it seemed the options were military intervention or impotency. Annalena forged a third way.” She used the skills she had developed, and she loved people well. And Antoinette said, “I can say Annalena was love, and if love is faith, Annalena had a mountain.”

After all that, Annalena wrote, “I feel so inadequate.” It’s a hard truth to face, but we are inadequate. We see ourselves with the disciples asking Jesus to send 5,000 people home so that they can eat because we can’t feed so many! Jesus asks us, “What do you have?” Only five loaves of bread and two small fish. He asks us to give it to him, even though it is small and inadequate. It’s not enough. But he is. All we can do is faithfully offer what we have and trust him to do the rest.

Let’s talk in the comments. What is sticking with you from this section? What questions do you have?

By the way, on this topic, we read Facing Danger: A Guide Through Risk by Anna Hampton a couple of years ago. It is so helpful in working through cross-cultural risk assessment and management.

Next week, we will finish the book, reading chapter 14 through the epilogue.

What’s Coming Up:

Who’s ready for a little Jane Austen? In March, we will be reading Emma, and this delightfully charming matchmaker will hopefully amuse you with her imperfections. We will have a special interview (and a giveaway) here in Book Club on March 3rd, and then start discussing Emma on March 10th!

Photo by Mazhar Zandsalimi on Unsplash


  1. Michele February 19, 2020

    Again there’s so much to think about in these chapters, but I’ll start by saying I love your response about not canceling trips to US churches because there are shootings taking place in them! I remember in the days after 9/11 people in America asking me if I was okay in Indonesia… Umm, Sorry, but I think the scary stuff is happening on your side of the ocean, right? My first year in Indonesia was 1997 to 1998, and things blew up politically that year with pictures on CNN that made my family and friends in the US very nervous- huge riots with burning and looting and unspeakable violence. Nothing ever really happened in my city, but because most major cities on our island were hit, there was always tension and our team had to make a contingency plan. I lived with a Chinese Indonesian family and that was the ethnic group targeted, so I was asked to leave them a couple of times when there were threats of danger, and I found that really, really difficult for the same reason that Sister Marzia gave- Why should I leave just because I can? I wasn’t trying to be heroic, but I had really bonded with this family that had taken in this foreigner that couldn’t speak their language and taught me how to live there. I genuinely wanted to be there with them if anything happened. I know that probably sounds foolish to many, but it was real and I was really frustrated. It wasn’t as dramatic (especially since our city was spared from all the major violence) as this story at all, but the tensions and that quote by Sister Marzia brought back some of those memories. Here in Nepal I experienced two large earthquakes and all the hundreds of aftershocks almost five years ago. There is something about experiencing scary/dangerous things with your host culture that deepens the connection to the community, I think. I can’t imagine staying through things Annalena did or living like she did, but these much less intense (relatively) experiences, though difficult and not something anyone would choose, have actually become precious parts of my journey in loving cross-culturally that I wouldn’t trade.

    1. Rachel Kahindi February 19, 2020

      As I read this, what came to mind was Christians in Europe who hid Jews during the Holocaust. They were safe until they decided to help their neighbors who weren’t.

  2. Sarah Hilkemann February 19, 2020

    I definitely feel like I fall into the “risk averse” category! While I didn’t live through anything like what we have been reading about in this book, there were some interesting scenarios while living overseas. Nothing affected me that closely, but I know I let fear creep in and take over my heart a lot! I honestly don’t know if I could have stayed through all that Annalena did.

    While I think it is important to not let fear rule our hearts, I also thinking staying/not staying has to be a choice that we make for ourselves and our families or in conjunction with our team. If I choose to stay, and someone else chooses to leave and feels that is what they should do, I don’t think either of us have made the wrong choice. There aren’t easy answers. Other thoughts/opinions on that?

    I didn’t read Facing Danger when we read it in book club, so I should go back and check it out!

    1. Rachel Kahindi February 19, 2020

      I live behind an electric fence and have dogs roaming the compound overnight, and the worst I expect to encounter are petty thieves. I doubt I would have stayed through what Annalena did.

      Facing Danger discussed the decision making process at length. The ideal expressed, if memory serves, was to decide using wisdom, guidance from an organization level, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. And like you say, two people may choose differently, and that’s ok.

  3. Michele February 19, 2020

    Sarah, I absolutely agree that the choice to stay or leave is personal and valuable either way! A year after the situation I mentioned above, we knew of some potentially violent political campaign dates coming up. My teammates wanted to go to Australia. They pressured me to do the same. Fortunately, when our leader came from Singapore for meetings, he agreed when I asked if that couldn’t be an individual choice. I really didn’t want to leave, but I totally respected their decision and had no desire to force them to stay. It’s stressful enough to go through these things without anyone accusing another to be too fearful to stay or too foolhardy to go.

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