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Missouri couple escape armed gunmen after hijacking on Honduras mission trip

“They were going to shoot us.” Kathleen Reiboldt was certain of it. The mother of three and grandmother of seven faced a group of armed robbers Saturday on a remote mountain in Honduras. A group claiming to be a gang held Reiboldt, her husband, Bill, and interpreter Adrian Medina at gunpoint as they stole suitcases of clothing, Bible studies and medicine from the church members. One put a silencer on his gun. The couple told the robbers that “you don’t want to do this,” Reiboldt said. They had come to Honduras to help people and share Christ. Then, for reasons she can attribute only to God, the men put their guns in their belts and turned around. “The Lord took care of us,” she told The Christian Chronicle Tuesday from her home in Neosho, Mo. “I think he held their trigger fingers.”
The Reiboldts were two of 43 church members on an annual mission trip to Honduras coordinated by the Hillcrest church in Neosho, where Bill Reiboldt is an elder. The team planned to visit several villages, conduct Bible studies and distribute medicine. It was Bill’s eighth trip to the Central American nation and Kathleen’s seventh.
Because of problems with their flight from Houston to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, 24 pieces of the group’s luggage didn’t arrive with the short-term missionaries on Friday. They traveled on to their destination, Danli, about two hours away.
After assisting with a teacher workshop and men’s seminar in the town of El Zarzal, the Reiboldts and Medina, a church member from Muskogee, Okla., returned to Tegucigalpa Saturday afternoon to reclaim 16 pieces of luggage that arrived on the 4:30 p.m. flight from Houston. They loaded the luggage on a four-door Toyota Helix truck and headed back to Danli.
Driving on a mountainous road at about 5:30 p.m., another Toyota truck swerved in front of the Helix, forcing Bill to slam on the brakes. Two other trucks approached from the rear and the side, and “within seconds they were at our windows with guns,” Kathleen said.
Two men jumped in the Helix and drove the vehicle back toward Tegucigalpa. The robbers said they were police and continually told the church members, in English, “It’s OK, relax,” Kathleen said. She wasn’t able to tell how many men were involved, but it was at least five.
The hijackers told the church members “that they only wanted our money and the truck,” Bill said. “We repeatedly told them they could have these things if only they would let us out … The driver didn’t stop.”
During the harrowing ride into the mountains, the hijackers narrowly avoided collisions multiple times. “Lots and lots of prayers were going up out of that truck during those 30 to 45 minutes,” Kathleen said.
The two 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. We prayed Adrian had gotten away.”
Then the three robbers, each with a handgun, began threatening the couple, demanding their jewelry and 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. The silencer was on,” she said. But suddenly 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 the town of Moroceli, about an hour away. The couple went to the police station and attempted to contact Pedro Celestino, minister for the Church of Christ in the town, but he and his family had not yet returned from the workshop in El Zarzal.
A police officer took the couple to a motel, where they were given a room. Eventually they were joined by a couple from Michigan working with the Peace Corps in Moroceli, who called the mission team in Danli. They learned that Medina had found his way back and was organizing search parties for the couple. The team sent a van to Moroceli to pick them up.
At about 1 a.m. Sunday the group had what Kathleen described as a “teary, cheerful reunion” in Danli.
“We met, unfortunately, some very bad people” on the trip, Kathleen said, “but we also met some wonderful people.”
The Reiboldts returned home Monday afternoon, but the rest of the mission team stayed in Honduras to continue the mission. The couple didn’t want to leave, but feared their presence would distract the other campaigners.
“We were afraid that many could only think of what had happened when they looked at us,” Bill said. “We felt for the campaign to be of any effect, we had to remove ourselves and let the others concentrate on their work.”
Though she’s unsure if she’ll ever return to Honduras, “we want all mission work to continue,’ Kathleen said. “That’s the only way the gospel is going to be heard.”
And, she added, “anyone who doubts the power of prayer — I need to talk to them.”
July 18, 2006

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