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Missionaries confront anti-U.S. sentiment


Standing in line at the seventh ATM in less than three hours – and still without funds – Andrew Kelly felt someone grab his arm.

A Ukrainian man began yelling at him “because I was an American and I was only here to take all of Ukraine’s money.”

Kelly, a missionary in the eastern European country, explained that the money was for the children at a transitional living center he and other church members operate. Ukraine’s political crisis had drained the country’s bank machines.
Such incidents do little to deter missionaries from their work, but they demonstrate what several described to the Chronicle as an atmosphere of increasing hostility toward the United States.

Dick Ady, president of World English Institute, a ministry that teaches English using the Bible, said that one of his longtime friends in Albania became very upset when discussing the foreign policy of George W. Bush. “Her hostile feelings were so strong that they damaged our relationship as friends,” Ady said.

But those feelings aren’t universal, according to Royce Sartain, longtime missionary to Europe. During a recent visit to Finland, Estonia and Greece “there was discussion about the Iraq situation and our presidential election but no one was hostile or anti-American,” he said Dec. 9.

“On the contrary, I visited at length with folks from Albania, Bulgaria, Philippines, Russia, and all were positive,” Sartain said. “One man from Korea even went out of his way to assure us that in spite of the news releases that the vast majority of his countrymen had good feelings and respect for the USA …”

Across the ocean, in South America, thousands of anti-Bush protestors demonstrated during the late-November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Chile, which Bush attended. Missionaries in several South American countries said that harsh feelings toward the United States have intensified in recent months.

Jay Abels and his wife were missionaries in Argentina in 1982, when Argentine forces occupied the British-held Falkland Islands. The resulting dispute left more than 700 Argentines dead, and many more bitter toward the United Kingdom and its ally, the United States.

“Through that period, we heard things about Reagan that would peel paint off the wall, but we never once heard or felt any attacks directed against us personally,” Abels said. But another missionary, a Vietnam veteran, saw his church’s membership nearly vanish.

“It took almost 10 years for the country to forget and rebuild relationships and cultural respect,” Abels said. “This current period does not appear to have as direct an impact, but I see no benefits for the church in Latin America.”

Striving to become “the church that God wants us to be, not what North Americans want us to be” has kept negative feelings toward the United States from becoming problematic, said Harry R. Hamilton, a missionary in Santiago, Chile.

“The Chilean church members are probably in a bit of an awkward situation right now,” Hamilton said. “Most are supportive of the USA, but not when they have to make a choice between Chile and the USA. I personally do not place them in that situation. I encourage them to be patriotic about their country.”

“Any difficulties between the USA and Chile that might exist right now will eventually blow over,” he said. “People will get back to their lives.”

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