Christian Mission Group Ordered to Leave Venezuela Over Allegations

Venezuela’s president announced Wednesday that a Christian tribal mission group headquartered in Florida must leave the country, claiming that the missionaries are in co-op with the CIA among other accusations.

In an unexpected declaration on Oct. 12, President Hugo Chavez ordered New Tribes Mission (NTM) – an international association of missionaries concentrated on indigenous, unreached tribal groups in the world – to leave Venezuela. Chavez accused NTM of "imperialist infiltration," exploiting the natives, living in luxury and not abiding to Venezuelan custom laws.

"The New Tribes are leaving Venezuela. This is an irreversible decision that I have made," Chavez declared according to the Associate Press (AP). "We don’t want the New Tribes here. Enough colonialism!"

New Tribes Mission, which has been working in Venezuela for the past 59 years of its total 63 years of existence, calls the announcement a "surprise" and "completely unexpected." Prior to the statement, New Tribe missionaries in Venezuela were working with the Macos, Piaroa, Yanomami and the Pume tribes among others as well as translating the Bible into tribal languages.

In response to Chavez’s announcement, NTM believes that there are misunderstandings between the two groups. Specifically, the mission group believes there are misunderstandings on the relationship between the U.S. government and NTM and NTM’s purpose in Venezuela.

"We are hoping that President Chavez will reconsider any actions of censor and allow us an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings and misinformation that exist regarding the work of New Tribes Mission in Venezuela," said a statement released by NTM.

"New Tribes Mission is not and has never been connected in any way with any government agencies," the NTM statement affirmed. "Our goal is to serve indigenous people."

"We would welcome an opportunity to address the President’s concerns and help him better understand our organization and the work of New Tribes Mission in Venezuela," explained NTM's statement.

In regards to Chavez’s accusations, NTM denies that it disregards custom laws and that its missionaries live in luxury.

In an interview with The Christian Post, New Tribes Spokesperson Nita Zelenak said, "We (NTM) have always submitted to whatever guidelines Venezuela had for us. We always register flights…"

Zelenak also responded to Chavez’s charge that NTM missionaries live in luxury while the tribal people live in poor Indian village by emphasizing that the missionaries live in "simple homes" in order to maintain their health and carry out their work. Zelenak explains that although the missionaries do not live in the same style homes as the tribal people, they live simply.

New Tribes Mission, which has planted tribal churches in more than 18 countries, is concerned about the tribal people they have served, in the case that they do leave.

"Our concern is for the indigenous people of Venezuela that our missionaries serve and how this would adversely affect them," expressed the NTM statement. "In addition to religious matters, our missionaries also work in areas of humanitarian assistance, community development, and literacy."

As of now, NTM is still currently communicating with its missionaries and staffs in Venezuela to discuss what actions should be taken.

"We have the highest regard and respect for the people, laws and country of Venezuela … [and] we deeply desire to be able to continue serving them," concluded the report released by NTM.

On Thursday Venezuela's vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, defended the decision to expel NTM from the country, saying that some of its members were part of the CIA.

NTM, in response, has strongly denied the charge reporting that it has about 160 personnel in Venezuela, including about 30 Venezuelans.