If anti-Americanism was running high in Latin America, disdain for missionaries had soared. Missionaries, one leader said, were Yankee imperialists, "an affront to the indigenous communities and to our national sovereignty." Rumors flew that Bible translators living among remote people groups were mining national resources and spying for the CIA, all under the guise of doing good things for the nation's tribal peoples.
Finally came an ultimatum: The evangelical mission that sends linguists to work among indigenous peoples must leave the country.
But in this case, the leader wasn't Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who last week claimed New Tribes Mission (NTM) had committed such abuses and announced his intent to expel them.
The year was 1981. In neighboring Colombia, the Marxist M-19 rebel group cited these among other "reasons" and demanded the exit from Colombia of a Bible translation group unrelated to NTM, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).
In contrast to the current situation in Venezuela, the M-19 kidnapped SIL translator Chet Bitterman. Six weeks later, Bitterman's body was found draped in one of the guerrilla group's banners in a bus in a parking lot south of Bogota.
On October 12, Chavez spoke at an indigenous gathering marking Columbus Day, which Chavez has renamed "Day of Indigenous Resistance." At the gathering, he demanded that NTM missionaries leave the country, citing a roster of reasons, many of which were similar or identical to the M-19's demands of SIL 24 years ago. The country has also made it difficult for other mission agencies to gain access to the country. In response, the Mormon church has moved its Venezuela missionaries elsewhere.
Both SIL and NTM are evangelical frontier mission groups ...1
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