Guerrillas are now targeting North American missionaries in Colombia's smaller cities and rural areas, according to the United States Embassy in Bogotá.
An advisory has placed expatriate Christian workers on heightened alert, even in the largest cities. But missionaries who have not already fled during years of violence and kidnaping say they plan to stay.
"I think we're going to wait it out," says a missionary with the Omaha, Nebraska-based Christ for the City International (CFCI). He and his wife have lived more than three years in Medellín, a city once linked to the drug trade and infamous for its violence. "Our plans are to stay until the Lord makes it clear that we're not supposed to be here."
The CFCI missionary bowed out of a commitment to speak at a church in a working-class neighborhood in Medellín because that church's pastor and CFCI's Colombia director both warned him not to go. "It's the first time I've ever canceled a preaching engagement because of the heightened concern about the way things are," he says.
Andrew McMillan of the Cali-based Mission South America is pastor of Medellín's second-largest church.
McMillan says "very, very few" American missionaries remain in Medellín, a city of 3 million, after a rash of bombings in the early 1990s. The number of American missionaries serving for at least four years in Colombia dropped from 551 in 1997 to 430 in 2000. That represents a decline of 22 percent. Most of those still in rural areas belong to smaller missions groups.
Should direct threats or violence occur, McMillan says he has no escape plans beyond simply boarding a plane with his family. Ken MacHarg, a spokesman for Miami-based Latin America Mission, says workers are evaluating their safety. "I've not seen any missionaries who have said, 'I'm leaving,' because of the situation."
Chip Anderson, president of CFCI, says that the final decision lies with ministry directors in each country "in consultation with the missionary."
Anderson says the situation in Colombia is "going to get worse."
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Previous Christianity Today articles on Colombia include:
Missionaries May Be Target Of FARC Guerrillas U.S. embassy in Colombia issues warning to missionaries and churches. (March 8, 2002)
Risking Life for Peace Caught between rebels, paramilitaries, and crop-dusters, peacemaking Christians put their lives on the line in violent Colombia. (September 7, 2001)
Hostage Pastor Released Unharmed In Colombia Wife pledges to stay in Colombia because the kidnappers cannot stop the Lord's work. (August 20, 2001)
Fate of Kidnapped Colombian Pastor Still Unknown FARC suspected, but so far there has been no word from Gomez's abductors. (March 13, 2001)
Colombian Guerilla Offers No Clues to Missionaries' Fate FBI says that Medina has no information on kidnapped New Tribes missionaries. (Feb. 23, 2001)
Another Prominent Pastor Kidnapped in Colombia Family believes kidnapping is God's will so that Gomez's can witness to his abductors. (Feb. 23, 2001)
Break in Missionary Kidnapping Case Captured Colombian guerilla may hold key to U.S. missionaries' fate. (Dec. 4, 2000)
Colombian Pastor Released After Paying Ransom Ransom arrangement a tough decision for churches and missions. (Sept. 9, 2000)
Plan for Peace in Colombia Is a Plan 'For Death,' Say Church Activists Will U.S. military assistance in destroying coca fields only increase violence? (Aug. 15, 2000)
Death in the Night Colombia's pastors endure extortion, kidnappings, and threats as they plant churches and help the poor in a war zone. (June 6, 2000)
Colombia's Bleeding Church Despite the murders of 120 church leaders, Christians are fighting for peace in one of the world's most violent nations. (May 18, 1998)
Fate of Kidnapped Missionaries Still Unresolved Colombia remains thought to end questions are not human after all. (Mar. 29, 2000)
Twenty-five Pastors Killed This Year (Oct. 4, 1999)
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