Missionaries Kidnapped—How It Happened
Adapted from The Alliance Weekly, June 27, 1962
The three kidnapped missionaries were never recovered. Today, the Tin Lanh Church in Vietnam is the largest national church in the Alliance World Fellowship, with more than 1 million inclusive members . . .
Yesterday, June 1, I flew by military plane to Banmethuot, where I learned all the details available regarding the abduction of Dr. Ardel Vietti, Rev. Archie Mitchell and Dan Gerber [of the Mennonite Central Committee] on May 30 at the leprosarium [located about nine miles from Banmethuot]. . . .
On Friday night, May 25, the Vietcong forces [Communists] cut the road between Banmethuot and the leprosarium by felling 23 trees and burning three bridges. This was discovered the next morning. The 23 trees were all felled within a distance of approximately three and a half kilometers from the leprosarium. They had also planted bamboo spikes along the sides of the road and had put up signs in Raday and Vietnamese stating that no one was to use the road on penalty of retaliation.
Since there had never been any indication of any ill feeling against the leprosarium, and since the same personnel had lived there for a long period of time, it was thought that there was nothing to fear. Also, on Sunday afternoon, the Vietcong struck at a Muong refugee village some 12 kilometers beyond the leprosarium, and it was assumed that this was their reason for having cut the road.
On Wednesday evenings the leprosarium staff has a prayer meeting together. As they were making preparations to meet at Dr. Vietti’s house, a group of approximately 12 armed men arrived just at dusk (about 7:45 p.m.). They had divided into three bands; one of these bands met Dan Gerber and immediately tied him up. Another band went directly to the Mitchell residence and ordered Archie Mitchell out. They tied him up and led him away to join Dan Gerber. Mrs. Mitchell [Betty] and the three older children (ages 13 [Rebecca], 10 [Loretta] and 8 [Glenn]) all witnessed this. Geraldine, the youngest of the Mitchell children (age 4), was already asleep in bed, and the Vietcong agents would not permit Mrs. Mitchell to return to the house to get her. Others of the guerrillas had already gone to Dr. Vietti’s house, where they found her in bed also. . . . She was ordered to get up and dress and was led unbound to join the two men, who were being kept outside the . . . compound.
The remainder of the Vietcong group ordered the Mitchell family and the nurses to gather in front of the nurses’ residence. They asked for the car keys, and [p]art of the group then went to get the car while the others remained to lecture the nurses, Mrs. Mitchell and the children. . . . They said that they understood the nurses and Mrs. Mitchell simply took orders; therefore, they were taking the leaders of the leprosarium. They did say that the doctor would not be harmed.
While this lecture continued (it lasted a long while), the other group who had gone to get the car drove it over to Dr. Vietti’s house. They completely ransacked [it], taking whatever they saw of value, and especially taking all available cloth, such as sheets and towels, linens of all kinds. After having taken everything they wanted from the doctor’s house, they drove over to the Mitchells’ home, where they did a thorough job of ransacking, taking most of the children’s clothing, all articles of value that they could find and again sheets, towels, dishcloths— everything of this nature.
Finally, about 9:30 p.m., Mrs. Mitchell was told that she could return to her house. She found Geraldine quietly waiting for her.
A few minutes [later], two of the group came back and stated they wanted medicines. They were taken to both hospital units—nonleprous and leprous—where they collected a small quantity of medicines. They were especially interested in penicillin and sulpha drugs. Fortunately, they did not get very much of the large supply of medicines that were on hand . . . They also asked for surgical instruments that could be used for amputations and for extracting bullets from wounds. Finally, just after 10 o’clock, they left.
All this time none of the native staff and patients were disturbed by the Vietcong group. In fact, it was not until the next morning that the staff and patients knew three of the missionaries had been taken hostage. They were completely dumbfounded and showed great grief.
In the morning Mrs. Mitchell and the four nurses made preparations to move as much of their things as they could in the three remaining vehicles. . . . They had considerable difficulty in trying to drive around the three bridges that were still out, and it was not until approximately 11:30 a.m. on May 31 that our missionaries in Banmethuot knew what had happened.
Mrs. Mitchell found great comfort in a rather unusual happening. When she returned to her house, . . . she found everything in disorder. Her Bible had been left on top of the bookcase in the living room. Evidently some of the Vietcong had leafed through it. The words at the top left hand corner of the opened Bible were a part of Zechariah 9:12, which reads: “Ye prisoners of hope, even to-day do I declare that I will render double unto thee.” As she glanced over the page Mrs. Mitchell saw many other wonderful promises and accepted them as the Lord’s message to her. . . .
In spite of all the efforts that are being made by the Vietnamese government, the Americans and others, thus far no contact has been made with the group who abducted the three missionaries. There was no violence in the attack, and no shot was fired. We are trusting earnestly that the Lord will protect these three and return them to us at an early date.
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