NTM Evacuates All Missionaries Out of Ivory Coast

After Florida-based New Tribes Mission (NTM) made the difficult decision last week to evacuate NTM missionaries and their families from the war-torn Ivory Coast, the mission agency made arrangements with the U.S. and French embassies to evacuate all of its missionaries by this week. Beginning last Friday, NTM missionaries were evacuated in waves until the final missionary flew out this morning.

As more than 5,000 foreigners and 10,000 African citizens began to evacuate after a cease-fire was violated and anti-foreigner violence erupted in the Ivory Coast, NTM’s Ivory Coast mission leaders made the same decision in concert with several European nations including France, England, Spain, Belgium, and Italy—who have been evacuating their citizens because of ongoing violence.

The decision to evacuate, however, was based not only on the violence, according to NTM, but on the fact that the ongoing division of the country between rebel and government forces—held in place by a now-tenuous cease-fire—made it all but impossible for missionaries to continue their work in tribal villages in Ivory Coast. Most of the people groups among whom NTM missionaries ministered are in the rebel-held north.

“There's been a continued deterioration of civil order in Abidjan and also other parts of Ivory Coast,” New Tribes Missions' Nita Zelenak told Mission Network News last week. “It has reached a point where the safety of foreigners is uncertain and so, our missionaries are no longer able to carry out their ministries. So, New Tribes has decided that it's best that we evacuate the country."

And so, on Friday, forty-three NTM missionaries and their children flew out of Yamoussoukro—where the bulk of the mission's personnel are in Ivory Coast. Two others were able to leave a tribal village and get on a flight out Saturday. One of the last three was able to leave the capital city of Abidjan on Monday evening, and the other two flew out this morning.

This marks the second time NTM has evacuated its personnel from the country.

The first, which took place in September 2002 when an uprising began in the northern city of Bouaké and quickly spread throughout the north, led New Tribes Mission’s leaders to move all NTM missionaries in the country to the capital, and then out of the country.

According to NTM, over the last several months, the missionary agency had been carefully and slowly re-establishing operations in Ivory Coast because the ceasefire was holding well and political steps were being made toward resolving the division of the country.

On their return, missionaries found tribal believers struggling but still meeting and in some cases reaching out to others.

“Most of the tribal churches are still in their infancy and would appear to be in need of missionaries’ help,” NTM reported. “But we rest in the assurance that God is in control and has a hope and a future for each believer in Ivory Coast.”

Meanwhile, France concluded one of the largest evacuations in post-independence Africa on Monday and the U.N. Security Council imposed an immediate arms embargo against Ivory Coast, stepping up pressure to end the violence that spurred the exodus.

NTM has asked for the continued prayers of the Christian community for peace and stability for the people of Ivory Coast; for tribal believers not only to hold fast to their faith, but also be able to share the Good News with others; and for wisdom, guidance and comfort for NTM’s missionaries who have served in Ivory Coast.