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Dozens of missionaries fled Cote d'Ivoire (the former Ivory Coast) in October, highlighting a crisis that may change the church's status in the West African nation.

Hundreds of disgruntled soldiers launched a military uprising in three major cities on September 19, seeking to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo. Fighting quickly spread to half the country of 15 million, with battle lines drawn roughly between the predominantly Muslim population in the north and the Christian and animist south.

"If the rebel forces should gain control of the government, then it's likely that Islam could become more favored and Christianity open to greater opposition," said Larry Sellers, a Church of God missionary who evacuated from Yamoussoukro on October 24. "But I don't see that immediately in the future."

The most violent attacks have occurred in centrally located Bouake, Cote d'Ivoire's second most populous city. Fighting has killed hundreds and driven out a third of Bouake's 600,000 residents.

Some 160 students from the International Christian Academy, a school for missionary children in Bouake, were evacuated in September and the school closed. Another missionary school in Yamoussoukro also shut down.

In mid-October, the U.S. Embassy began encouraging expatriates to leave. Subsequently, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, New Tribes Mission, and the Freewill Baptist Church evacuated missionaries. Other agencies pared their staffs. Many missionary families went to neighboring African countries, but some returned to the United States or Europe.

The warring sides are observing a temporary cease-fire and conducting negotiations in Togo. But the Associated Press reported that Muslim soldiers had begun to ...

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In the Magazine

January 2003

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