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 ...

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