Couple’s narrow escape heightens missions concerns
The Reiboldts were among the thousands of church members who travel to Central America each year to conduct Bible studies, build churches and treat the sick.
What happened to the couple was “my worst nightmare,” said Marie Agee, director of recruiting and logistics for Health Talents International. Agee accompanies teams of medical mission workers to Guatemala and said that the ministry takes precautions to keep volunteers from traveling alone.
The Reiboldts weren’t on a Health Talents trip. But whenever a mission team reports a robbery or similar incident, coordinators get a lot of questions from those planning to go on future trips, said Rick Harper, Health Talents’ executive director. And it’s not uncommon for a few to back out.
“The Reiboldts’ experience reminds all of us to prayerfully consider our decision to join a mission team and not take the decision lightly,” Harper said. “It also serves to reinforce the responsibility of mission organizations and team leaders to take necessary precautions.”
‘THE GUNS WERE POINTED AT US’
The Reiboldts were part of a 43-member team on an annual mission trip coordinated by the Hillcrest church in Neosho, where Bill Reiboldt is an elder. It was Bill’s eighth trip to Honduras.
Because of problems with their flight from Houston to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, 24 pieces of the group’s luggage didn’t arrive. The group traveled on to their destination, Danli, about two hours away.
The next day the Reiboldts and Medina, a church member from Muskogee, Okla., returned to Tegucigalpa and reclaimed 16 pieces of luggage that arrived on a later flight. They loaded the luggage and headed back.
Driving on a mountainous road at about 5:30 p.m., a truck swerved in front of the missionaries, forcing Bill to slam on the brakes. Two other trucks approached, and “within seconds they were at our windows with guns,” Kathleen said.
Two men jumped in the missionaries’ truck and drove back toward Tegucigalpa. They told the church members “that they only wanted our money and the truck,” Bill said.
The robbers stopped on a dirt road on a heavily forested mountainside. A third pulled up in a blue Toyota truck. They told the church members to give them their money. They did. Then they told Medina to walk into the woods.
“One of the men near us raised his gun to shoot Adrian in the back,” Bill said, “but I yelled, ‘Run!’ and Adrian ran, quickly disappearing down the side of the steep mountain. The man never got off a shot.”
Then the three robbers, each with a handgun, began threatening the couple, demanding their valuables. Kathleen Reiboldt said that she and her husband remained calm and used what Spanish they knew to try to talk the men out of killing them.
“The guns were pointed at us,” she said. But then the men “turned and walked off.”
The couple took the opportunity to flee down the mountain, eventually finding a main road. Bill flagged down a passing bus, which took them to Moroceli, about an hour away.
Eventually they made contact with the team in Danli and learned that Medina had found his way back. The team sent a van to pick them up, leading to what Kathleen described as a “teary, cheerful reunion.”
“We met, unfortunately, some very bad people,” Kathleen said, “but we also met some wonderful people.”
ADVICE TO MISSIONARIES
Missions directors say that trips to Central American have changed countless lives for the better. Short-term workers and those they serve are transformed.
When crime and violence keep people from having those experiences, “Satan and the thieves have a victory,” said David Goolsby, director of agricultural relief for Healing Hands International and a missionary for 40 years.
Veteran workers offered the following advice for missionaries in underdeveloped environments — domestic or foreign:
Beware the sunset: Thieves and other criminals tend to be late sleepers. The best time to transport a load of supplies is daybreak or early morning. It’s better to stop at a pre-arranged, safe location and wait for morning than to travel at night.
“Generally, honest, hard-working folks are out early in the city and country,” Goolsby said. “Sunrises are not the threats that sundowns represent.”
Look ‘salty’: Christians are supposed to be “the meek that inherit the earth” by being “the salt of the earth,” Goolsby said. “I believe missionaries need to look more ‘salty’ than ‘meek.’” Avoid any clothing or jewelry that might attract attention. It’s OK to be “a little unshaven, soiled and peasant servant-looking,” Goolsby said.
Stay in groups: “If we catch any of our group members by themselves — especially outside our compound — they go home at their expense,” said Dudley Chancey, a professor at Oklahoma Christian University who has led groups to Honduras for 10 years.
Travel with locals: Church members who grew up in the country missionaries visit have a greater understanding of where to go and what to say in emergencies, Goolsby said. The mode of transportation also is important, Harper said: “We use a ‘chicken bus’ instead of renting something that screams ‘we are tourists.’”
When Jesus prepared to send out his disciples, he warned them that they would be treated roughly. In Matthew 10, he advised them to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
“That is still the best advice to missionaries,” Goolsby said.
MORE CAUTIOUS, BUT DETERMINED
The Reiboldts’ sister-in-law, Kay, likened the robbers in Honduras to the alleged terrorists arrested in London recently.
“Unfortunately, they are a part of this world, controlled by Satan,” said Kay Reiboldt, whose husband, Max, serves on the board of Health Talents.
“We obviously will be more cautious in that we will have to abide by new rules and regulations,” she said, “but it will not change the fact that, as Christians, we will continue to go and do what the Lord puts before us.”
Though she’s unsure if she’ll ever return to Honduras, “we want all mission work to continue,” Kathleen Reiboldt said. “That’s the only way the gospel is going to be heard.”
She added, “Anyone who doubts the power of prayer — I need to talk to them.”
Sept. 1, 2006
(Photo caption: Kathleen and Bill Reiboldt with a group of Hondurans during a previous mission trip.)