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The "cold" approach

Issue: "Missionary hostages," Feb. 20, 1998

With more than 4,000 missionaries across the globe, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention could fill the role of big brother to New Tribes Mission, which has 3,300 missionaries.

Don Kamerdiener, vice president for administration, told WORLD his agency, like New Tribes, has a "longstanding" policy with its missionaries that no ransom will be paid in the event of a kidnapping. "To pay a ransom would expose remaining folks to the attacks of criminals. We think [the policy] protects our missionaries."

In its 56-year history, New Tribes has faced two hostage crises; one ended in the deaths of missionaries Tim Van Dyke and Steve Welsh; the case of missionaries Mark Rich, Dave Mankins, and Rick Tenenoff, now into their sixth year of captivity in Colombia, drags on. In its 150-year history, the Southern Baptist agency has never faced a hostage crisis or been asked to pay ransom. "You don't claim victory in this situation, though," Mr. Kamerdiener said.

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Most mission agencies have a no-ransom policy, although it is not always explicit. Mr. Kamerdiener admits that having the policy is much easier than carrying it out when crisis comes, although he is adamant that no-ransom, for IMB, is based on a "moral principle."

"I don't know that everyone who states that they have such a policy carries it out," he said. "A confusing fact might come when you change the reality by the vocabulary you use. I think there are some organizations who have a no-ransom policy but would consider paying some 'expenses.'"

Wycliffe and one of its branches, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), in fact, found itself in that predicament during Ray Rising's captivity. After he was released, agency officials conceded they provided the guerrillas holding Mr. Rising "medical supplies, sewing machines, and similar items as well as helped to cover the cost of food, clothing, medicine, and other supplies needed by Rising during his captivity."

A press release explained, "While SIL's policy on dealing with hostage situations states that SIL will not give in to ransom demands, it does not preclude involvement in a process of negotiation with captors to attempt to seek the safe release of a hostage." Those expenses were undertaken, the statement said, "as a gesture of goodwill to seek to facilitate Rising's release."

Another part of the briarpatch: Should funds raised for missions be used to carry out hostage negotiations?

"We expect to pay for services rendered but we've never had to face that question directly," said Mr. Kamerdiener. "We do think it's appropriate to use funds to prepare for the possibility of hostage-taking among our missionaries."

Proper training can at least mitigate morale problems. "If you were to survey our missionaries, you would find they are overwhelmingly supportive of our policies on hostage-taking and ransom. In the midst of a crisis, however, you would probably find more diverse opinions from them."

Mr. Kamerdiener says a hostage crisis takes on both a personal and an institutional dimension. To some extent, he advises, those should be kept separate. "This kind of occurrence absorbs an agency's energy, especially if it occurs several time zones away. That makes them responsible 24 hours a day, an exhaustive, draining experience. This may sound cold, but an administration cannot live with that kind of perpetual diversion of its chief energies."

Mr. Kamerdiener said if IMB were faced with a prolonged hostage situation, it would follow a course similar to New Tribes', shifting the burden to someone outside the organization, like Bob Klamser of Crisis Consulting International, who worked with Wycliffe and is now consulting with New Tribes. Mr. Klamser has also consulted with IMB. "You are concerned for the life of the individual who is held, but also for the life of the agency," said Mr. Kamerdiener.

His professional counsel is wedded to personal experience. Mr. Kamerdiener lived for seven years in Colombia, then in Argentina in the 1970s. There, kidnapping of executives from companies like Ford and Exxon was turned into simple extortion. Paying ransom, he said, did not protect anybody. After watching the wives of New Tribes missionaries Mark Rich, Dave Mankins, and Rick Tenenoff in an appearance on Larry King Live, Mr. Kamerdiener said, "I was enormously impressed with the quality of those ladies' faith. Not one of them was calling for the payment of ransom."

That, he said, is the bottom line. "We come into our mission with a calling from one who said, 'Take up your cross.' There is an understanding that the world is a dangerous place and a sense that you have to be prepared to suffer in order to follow the Lord."

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