Although serving in a nation overseas can come with a host of positive experiences—sharing Christ, being exposed to a new culture, building a cohesive team—missions work can come at a price too. As people enter new environments to care for others, they sometimes forget to care for themselves. This brings up a vital question, especially for the Christian world: who is caring for the caretakers?
In 2016, Scott and Josie Gwin travelled with The Fellowship at Bend to Burkina Faso in West Africa. They spent six weeks there, and during this time they connected with an organization called Concilium. When the Gwins first connected with them, Concilium’s main focus was security training for humanitarian aid, missions, and ministry organizations—all NGOs (non-goverment organizations). “They had seen a tremendous need for people to get care who had had previous traumatic experiences,” explains Josie.
Since they had the physical security training covered, Concilium wanted to add critical incident debriefings and training covering psychological, emotional, and spiritual health through all stages of missions work: before, during, and after stints abroad, and especially after traumatic experiences. The Gwins both spent years as firefighters (with Josie logging six and Scott 12), and began serving as chaplains 10 years ago in both their fire department, and later with the local police chaplaincy in Central Oregon.
“Concilium’s vision is to train people for the advance of the gospel, giving them the tools they need to stay in the field as long as possible. That goes right along with what we wanted to do as chaplains,” says Scott.
They started in March and perform trainings with about 60 different non-profit organizations as large as Samaritan’s Purse, and as small as independent nonprofit missions organizations. “Since we became licensed chaplains we have seen incredible value in that understanding of psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual health being completely intertwined,” says Josie. It was a perfect fit.
Up to this point, much of the Gwin’s work with Concilium has constituted short-term presentations or trainings. But in September, they will set out for Concilium’s first international compound in Entebbe, Uganda in East Africa. They will be with two other families (11 people total, with the youngest member just a year old), and are taking their two youngest daughters, who are 16 and seven, with them. The Gwins will be onsite for nine months, returning in time for their oldest daughter’s wedding in July.
Concilium chose Entebbe as their central launching point for a number of reasons. “Several of the organizations that we work for are hiring national staff, and some of their national staff cannot get visas to get training in the United States,” explains Scott. “Uganda is fairly stable for an African country, so it provides us a spot to do training, and it’s easier to get visas into Uganda.” Josie adds that for some organizations sending personnel into places like the Middle East, trips to Uganda looks much less suspicious than trips to the United States. Anyone sending personnel into “closed access” countries must be cautious.
“The compound will also be used as an evacuation point for critical incidents if they happen in the Middle East and Africa. Organizations can send their personnel to get formal debriefings and care,” says Scott. Additionally, the Concilium compound’s proximity to Uganda’s airport means they can help evacuate people during hostage situations, so that family members and fellow workers cannot be used as leverage against a hostage. On the humanitarian side of things, Northern Uganda is home to the world’s largest refugee camp. “Our location close to the airport is a good launching point for supplies to come in and out,” says Josie.
The Gwins will help with all of this work, and use their ministry and chaplaincy experience to help with “critical incident debriefings.” But what exactly constitutes a “critical incident”? According to the Gwins, it could be anything from a carjacking to a hostage situation to somebody getting mugged at gunpoint. “It can fall into a variety of categories depending on the situation,” says Josie, “and depending on the individual’s cumulative stress level.” This means that although getting mugged might sound less dramatic than a hostage situation, it could trigger the same “critical incident” if it comes after excessive long-term stress. That’s what the Gwins will be there to help with.
Their top advice for anyone considering missions work is preparation. “It’s such a key component,” says Josie. “A lot of people go in—we hear this a lot in our trainings—fairly naively. ‘Oh, God’s going to give me what I need,’ they say. But God has given you wisdom and discernment and the ability to prepare.”
“So, that is ‘what you need,’” says Scott.
Their trainings cover everything from understanding why we need to prepare and use wisdom to avoid evil along the road (a kind of “theology of risk” and security in ministry, as Josie says), all the way to navigating passport control, avoiding pickpockets, and what to do if you’re carjacked. “Those preparatory pieces can happen anywhere in the world, including right here in the United States,” says Josie.
In fact, one woman was carjacked in the parking lot of the hotel where Josie and Scott were conducting a training for Samaritan’s Purse here in America. “She walked in and went, ‘Where’s my car?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know—that wasn’t us.’ We do intense role-plays, but not that intense,” says Josie. But it does go to show that training in situational awareness is useful no matter where you are, and especially if you’re traveling somewhere unfamiliar. Other important safety points the Gwins highlight are knowing the area you’re visiting, forming relationships with locals who really understand the culture, and, of course, prayer.
Their top advice for anyone considering missions work is preparation.
As they prepare for their own life abroad, the Gwins have some prayer requests of their own. “We do raise our own support, so that is a big one,” says Scott. “Also, community and team dynamics. We’ve lived in a compound situation before, but the other two families have not.”
“Yes, team unity is a big one,” says Josie. “Pray that we also make the connections we need in the country to know how best to be a resource.” The Gwins also have their eyes on some practical items for the compound, specifically a cordless Dewalt power tool set. “Scott is a skilled builder. But the voltage in East Africa is different than the US, so having a cordless set of tools will allow us to charge with an adapter,” explains Josie. “Then he can build things both in our compound, out in the humanitarian aid camps, and for various ministries and organizations.”
If you’d like to give to their ministry, text “concilium” to 77977 to receive a secure link. To designate money for the Gwins, use their family code, “411.”
To receive updates, text your e-mail address to 303-552-8056 or join their private Facebook group called “On the Front Lines.” The Facebook page will receive more frequent updates, but their email newsletter will provide in-depth insights that could otherwise compromise security on social media.
If you know any of the Gwin’s children, they also mentioned that consistent contact would be helpful, since it can be especially easy for younger members of the team to feel disconnected from home.