Missionaries know they could become hostages, but many are willing to take the risk.

In 1956, five American missionaries were speared to death in the jungles of Ecuador as they sought to spread the gospel among primitive Auca Indians. The story of their courage, a story publicized internationally, has been an inspiration to many believers.

Thirty years later, the world is still a dangerous place for Christians. One reason for this statistic is rampant terrorism. For Americans working in some areas of the world, the possibility of being kidnaped or killed is a daily fact of life.

The story of Presbyterian missionary Benjamin Weir ended happily last year when he was released by his kidnapers after 16 months in captivity (CT, Nov. 8, 1985, p. 52). However, Lawrence Martin Jenco of Catholic Relief Services is still a hostage in Lebanon where he has been held by the Islamic Jihad for more than a year.

Because American missionaries are possible targets for terrorist acts, almost all North American mission agencies have adopted policies aimed at discouraging the seizure of missionary hostages. Most agencies will not even negotiate with terrorists, let alone yield to their demands.

Such a policy withstood the supreme test in 1981. The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), the overseas counterpart of Wycliffe Bible Translators, refused to leave the South American country of Colombia in return for the life of linguist Chester Bitterman III. In March of that year, Bitterman was found dead in an abandoned bus in Bogota 47 days after his abduction by the urban guerrilla group M-19. He had been shot through the heart (CT, April 10, 1981, p. 70).

SIL had adopted its policy of not submitting to terrorist demands six years earlier. It was first tested in February 1976 when British linguist Eunice Diments was kidnaped for ransom in the Philippines. No ransom was paid, and Diments was released after three weeks as a hostage. “I think most people realize that when you start paying ransom you only expose other people to the same hazards,” said John Bendor-Samuel, executive vice-president of SIL and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

“I don’t know of any [evangelical mission agencies] that do not have that [no-ransom] policy,” said Jack Frizen, executive director of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, an umbrella organization of mission agencies. Some mission groups, including the Florida-based New Tribes Mission, adopted no-ransom policies as a result of the Bitterman incident.

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Last year, three New Tribes missionaries were held for about a month by the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC). The guerrillas demanded $120,000 for one of the missionaries, but New Tribes dropped a note stating that it would pay nothing. The three were eventually released unharmed.

In another instance in 1983, $ 100,000 was among the ransom demands of the South Sudanese Liberation Front, which was holding four missionaries, three of whom were affiliated with the Africa Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Southern Sudan (ACROSS). Nothing was paid, and Sudanese government commandos freed the missionaries two weeks after they were seized.

Africa Inland Mission (AIM), a founding member of ACROSS, also has a policy against paying ransom for kidnaped missionaries. “All of our people know that and have signed papers stating that [they know],” said Dave Hornberger, director of U.S. Ministries.

Peter Stam, U.S. director for AIM, said giving in to ransom demands is tantamount to paying a bribe. “Once they establish a bribe,” he said, “you’ll never get anywhere without a bribe.”

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is one organization without a no-ransom rule. CRS representative Beth Griffin said the agency had never faced a hostage situation until the capture of Jenco, the director of CRS’s relief program in Lebanon. Griffin said CRS handles crises as they come. She added, “Having a policy would presume that the people doing this are acting rationally. These people aren’t always rational.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) also has no strict policy against paying ransom. In fact, an emergency procedure policy permits missionaries to use church funds to pay ransom. However, Bill Rice, missions spokesman for the church, said it is unlikely that a missionary would spend church monies for ransom without consulting the church’s mission board. Rice said, “In one sense, all the resources of our church are available [to pay ransom], and in another sense we haven’t authorized a dime.”



Mother and Child Reunited

This photo appeared in Picture Week magazine and in as many as 700 newspapers across the United States. It shows an 18-month-old baby, his head aandaged and his arms outstretched, crying for “mami” mommy).

Disaster relief workers believed the baby, Alexis Acuna, had lost his parents in the volcanic eruption that killed 25,000 people last fall in Colombia. After the photo was published, the Associated Press received numerous calls from people who wanted to adopt the toddler.

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However, six weeks after the injured baby was found, he was reunited with his teenage, widowed mother.

Maria Leyla Velandia had been hospitalized in Bogota with a leg injury caused by the mudslide that destroyed the town of Armero.

The Associated Press plans to nominate the photo of Alexis, taken by Joanna Pinneo of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, for a Pulitzer Prize.


Dangerous Fantasies

England’s Evangelical Alliance has issued a warning against books, comics, and games for children that glorify sex and violence. In a pamphlet titled “Danger, Children at Play,” the organization says a “large minority” of such pastimes dwell on torture, violence, and the macabre. The Evangelical Alliance cited several examples, including one story about a girl who arranges for a ghost to mutilate her baby brother, and another about a brother and sister who have an implied incestuous relationship.

Quoting from a scenario for a children’s fantasy game, the pamphlet states: “… [A] Succubus will appear to be the most desirable woman [the player] has ever seen … and probably the most willing, since she will offer and provide any type of sexual favor he desires.… Each act of love will cost the player in Life Points.”

The Evangelical Alliance said such games and books pose “obvious dangers to the physical and emotional safety of children.” The organization called on manufacturers to voluntarily withdraw their products. If voluntary action is not taken, the organization suggests government control.

One publisher of children’s stories called the Evangelical Alliance pamphlet a “drastic overreaction.”


Interest in Sex Education

The newspaper China Daily reports that sex education and the wider study of sexual matters are finding new acceptance in the People’s Republic of China.

A recent lecture series in Shanghai covered basic theories of sex, sexual psychology, morals, and ways to spread knowledge about sex. More than 100 social workers, teachers, and social science researchers attended the lecture series. The participants agreed sex has become “an important subject of social concern” in the nation of one billion people.

Some observers say the sudden interest in sex education is related to a growing divorce rate and a rise in sex crimes. The China News Service reported that while the national crime rate has been dropping, the sex crime rate has increased. Offenders are mostly “youths and adolescents,” the news service said.

An increase in divorces is also of concern to Chinese officials. A survey conducted in one district in Shanghai indicated that one-fourth of the divorces were due to “disharmonious sexual life.”

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Time magazine reported last month that attitudes regarding sex appear to be changing in China. In a 1982 poll, 80 percent of the Chinese citizens surveyed said premarital sex was immoral. Late last year, however, new polls put that figure between 60 percent and 65 percent.


‘We Are the World’

World Vision has received cash grants totaling $400,000 as a result of fund-raising efforts launched by American rock musicians.

The USA for Africa Foundation has generated more than $50 million for famine-relief efforts in Africa. The money has been raised through various musical and video projects, including the sale of a recording titled “We Are the World.”

World Vision received two cash grants from the USA for Africa Foundation. The first, totaling $150,000, will be used to purchase and ship nearly 250 metric tons of rice seed to 10,000 farmers in the north African nation of Chad. The seed is expected to provide for the long-term food needs of more than 50,000 people.

A second grant of $250,000 will be used to lease 10 trucks to deliver emergency food supplies to some 300,000 Chadian famine victims. The trucks will deliver more than 7,500 metric tons of grain by the middle of this year.


Mass Baptism

Plans were being made earlier this year for as many as 1,500 new Christians to be baptized in a mass ceremony east of Bombay, India.

The Maharati-speaking area where the mass baptism was planned is a pioneer mission field for the Evangelical Church of India. Mission executive Wesley Duewel, of OMS International, said he was unaware of any evangelism teams working in the Maharati-speaking area. He said the conversions could have resulted from growing evangelization efforts in Bombay.

Evangelical leaders in India were praying the mass baptism would not arouse opposition from hostile groups. “Strong nationalistic Hindu groups have hindered us in the past,” Duewel said. “There have been bands of youth that have physically abused our people [Indian Christians].”

Preparing For Trouble

Beyond trying to protect missionaries by adhering to a no-ransom policy, some mission organizations prepare their missionaries for possible trouble in the field. In 1983, SIL developed a three-day Contingency Preparation Seminar taught year-round in the 50 countries where SIL operates.

The seminar teaches missionaries how to handle hostage situations, including how to react to captors. Bendor-Samuel said missionaries are urged to talk to their captors, to assure them that a missionary presence in their country has nothing to do with financial or political gain.

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Similarly, SIM International officials discuss crisis management techniques with missionaries at field conferences. These include suggestions that missionaries, if taken hostage, stand up for themselves instead of being submissive. John Cumbers, assistant to the general director, said this approach is more likely to help hostages gain the respect of their captors.

Missionaries are also encouraged to build relationships with their captors and suggest ideas for solving the captors’ problems. “The early relationship builds the foundation,” Cumbers said. “There’s no advantage in being belligerent.… Time is in favor of the hostage.”

The dangers of the mission field have not seemed to dampen enthusiasm of missionaries and candidates. Chet Bitterman’s wife, Brenda, has remarried and continues to work with SIL. She and her husband, Ken Jackson, conduct orientation sessions for new translators in Papua New Guinea, where they live with their three children, including Bitterman’s two daughters.

The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board reports that five new missionaries will go to strife-torn Lebanon this year. This is the highest number of new Southern Baptist missionaries to enter that country in a decade.

IFMA’s Frizen said the number of young people wanting to serve in the hazardous Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East is growing. “The emphasis on unreached people and frontiers has challenged our young people to live in a … difficult culture,” he said.

Ken Lloyd, candidate secretary at SIM International, said the mission field has always had its hazards and that the threat of becoming a hostage is simply another danger. “Maybe before it would be malaria, typhoid, diseases, and such,” he said. “I think [terrorism] makes people think a little more seriously about their maturity and commitment.”


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