President of Venezuela Orders Christian Organisation to Leave

A U.S.-based mission group working in Venezuela has been ordered to leave by the President Hugo Chavez, after more than half a century's mission work in the country.

The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has shocked a U.S.-based Christian organisation, active in mission in the country for more than half a century, by ordering it to leave.

|TOP|New Tribes Mission, based in Florida, was told to leave in a nationally televised speech Wednesday, in which President Chavez accused New Tribes of “cultural imperialism”. The Venezuelan President said the order was “an irreversible decision that I have made”.

“We don’t want the New Tribes here. Enough colonialism,” he announced, as he handed over property titles to indigenous people who he said had been robbed of their ancient homeland.

Lousie Bickish of Sanford, Florida, who has spent more than 20 years doing missionary work in Venezuela with husband George, said: “The people were good to us. We were welcomed. We loved the place. We loved the people.”

The situation for missionaries in Venezuela has become increasingly uncertain in recent months, with Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson’s call for the assassination of Chavez in late August only adding to the tension, said New Tribes spokeswoman, Nita Zelenak, Thursday.

Ms. Zelenak, said, however, that New Tribes is not concerned at present about the safety of its 160 missionaries currently in Venezuela. “At this point, we don’t see it as a safety issue,” she said.

“We’d very much like to remain in the country,” she said. “It’s one of the very early (mission) fields that we started.”

|QUOTE|U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Janelle Hironimus, said the Department is “watching the situation closely”.

“We have been in contact with the missionary organisations in Venezuela and, to our knowledge, the Venezuelan government has not required any missionary organisations to leave.”

According to a statement on the New Tribes’ website, Chavez has as yet not given a deadline for expulsion of the missionaries, saying simply that “it would be done in an orderly manner."

The statement also expressed the hope that the matter could be resolved in order to allow the organisation to continue its mission work in the country: “We have the highest regard and respect for the people, laws and country of Venezuela.

"We hope that President Chavez will reconsider any actions of censor and allow us an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings and misinformation that exists regarding the work of New Tribes in Venezuela.”

New Tribes was founded in 1942 with the aim of bringing the Gospel to indigenous peoples. It currently works within 12 Venezuelan tribes and has made five translations of the Bible in the country.

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