The perception among Africans that some gunrunners are posing as missionaries seemed to be confirmed recently with the March 7 arrest of three members of the Indianapolis-based Harvest Fields Ministries in Zimbabwe. The men worked in the war-torn, mineral-rich, and heavily churched Shaba district of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shaba is a favored destination of mercenaries.

The three were caught with a cache of sophisticated weapons and had no paperwork verifying their missionary status.

John Lamonte Dixon, 39, Gary George Blanchard, 34, and Joseph Wendell Petty john, 35, all of Indianapolis, were arrested at Harare when a handgun triggered an airport metal detector. A subsequent search of their pickup truck turned up assault rifles, shotguns, a light machine gun, handguns, telescopic sights, knives, camouflage cream, two-way radios, and ammunition. They are being held without bail on charges of espionage, terrorism, and sabotage. The trio say they have been beaten and subjected to electrical shots in jail.

Harvest Fields Ministries leader Jonathan Wallace, based in his Indianapolis home, says the arrested men did nothing more than deliver Bibles, medicine, clothing, and seeds.

Wallace says members of his organization had pulled up stakes from Shaba's Lubumbashi because fighting had grown too fierce. "We preached, we drilled water wells, and did lots of other missionary work there," Wallace says. "We now have hundreds of Christians and preachers there."

No Zimbabwe churches have rallied to their aid. In fact, Andrew Watawunashe, president of the large and influential Evangelical Fellow ship of Zimbabwe, expressed "horror at the abuse of the term Christian work by people who have allegedly been involved in illegal arms ...

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