Two veteran U.S. missionaries were kidnaped January 3 in rural southwestern Colombia, allegedly by guerrillas operating in conjunction with drug lords. By press time, there was still no word of their safety or whereabouts.
At the time of their abduction, Gospel Missionary Union (GMU) workers Roy Libby, 47, and Richard Grover, 43, were attending a national church conference at a retreat center near the village of Llanito, about 90 minutes from Cali. The area is known for heavy leftist-guerrilla and drug-trafficking activity.
About ten heavily armed men arrived at the retreat center during a worship service attended by some 150 people. Dressed in military fatigues, the intruders questioned a number of the church leaders and asked for the missionaries by name.
Local believers, familiar with guerrilla and drug violence, stopped the preaching service and began to pray. The intruders shouted slogans and wrote wall graffiti against the extradition of alleged Colombian drug smugglers to the United States and imprisonment of convicted Colombian drug kingpin Carlos Lehder in a U.S. jail. One slogan—a frequent drug mafia threat—said, “For every Colombian extradited, one Gringo shot dead.” (Colombia’s Supreme Court annulled its extradition treaty with the U.S. last year.)
The intruders then stole two vehicles and took away Libby, Grover, and a Colombian church leader. There was no violence or resistance. Three single women, GMU missionaries also at the conference, were not bothered. The national pastor was released not far from the retreat center.
“No Ransom” Policy
Libby is GMU’s field director for Colombia and has served 25 years there. Grover has served there for 16 years.
Colombian leaders of the GMU-related church association, the Evangelical Missionary Union of Colombia, are working through different channels to find the missionaries’ whereabouts and seek their release, GMU, like many evangelical agencies, will not pay ransoms or otherwise yield to terrorist demands. Such a policy may seem tough or cruel, said GMU’s media director, Abe Reddekopp, “and yet to open the floodgates would cause much greater danger to all the missionaries.” This was the first kidnaping of GMU missionaries in the mission’s 80 years of work in Colombia.
Libby and his wife, Karla, live in the capital city, Bogotá. And Grover and his wife, Charleen, reside in Medellin. (The wives were not at Llanito when the abductions occurred.)
During a visit to Colombia last April, Reddekopp said he discussed with Libby and others some of the dangers inherent in working in Colombia. Their response, said Reddekopp, was “You can’t live in constant fear—you know the danger of these things. But life and your work go on. And you trust God and try not to be too nervous about it.”
Cali is located in the fertile Cauca Valley in southwestern Colombia. Leftist guerrilla groups particularly the FARC and the M-19—have operated there for a number of years. Many of the wealthy ranchers in the region have been killed or forced to move out.
There were reportedly at least 600 kidnapings in Colombia last year. Most were the work of guerrilla groups who exacted exorbitant ransoms from the victims’ families.
After a relative calm due to a partial truce declared by Colombian guerrillas, at least 12 persons were kidnaped during the first four days of 1989, the Associated Press reported.
By John Maust.
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