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Rising to the challenge

Wycliffe missionary outlasts two years' guerrilla captivity

Doris Rising's husband was an hour late getting home, so she called friends and they went out to search for him. His motorcycle was near the back entrance to the Lomalinda study center in Colombia, but the Wycliffe missionary had disappeared. There was no word for two months, until a message was received from his captors and a letter, apparently written by him, stating that he was being treated well.

Ray Rising's reappearance two years later was equally mysterious and noticed only by a few. He was released, walked all night, caught a ride to a small town with a friend, and was airlifted out. On June 17 the life-long missionary returned to his native Minnesota with little fanfare: no yellow ribbons, no public celebrations, and scarcely a mention on the wire-service monitors alluding to his regained freedom.

His sponsor of over three decades, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), issued just two spartan press releases to say the 53-year-old Mr. Rising was in good health and spirits and that he was freed without ransom or Rambo-esque rescue operations, as were rumored to have been in the works. His wife Doris told the public only that 1 Peter 5:10 ("And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast") "had helped him greatly" during 26 months as a hostage.

Friend and colleague Ken Behrens noted that Mr. Rising went gray during his captivity, lost 20 pounds, and will need new glasses and a new tooth. But he concurred with others who testified that "he sounded just like himself" and feels well.

For now, booksellers and curiosity-seekers will have to await the rest of the story while Mr. Rising recuperates with friends and family (his wife, two grown sons, and a 90-year-old mother who is blind). So too will other mission agencies possessed with both the zeal to evangelize South America's most crime-ridden country and the desire to protect their people while doing it.

Mr. Rising had worked in Colombia nearly continuously since joining SIL-an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators-in 1965. An electronics technician who assisted teams of linguists, his work expanded beyond the study and translation center at Lomalinda to include assisting the nearby community of Puerto Lleras with health care, literacy training, and drilling water wells. He disappeared March 31, 1994, after failing to return to his Lomalinda home from a trip to Puerto Lleras. His captors were believed to be members of the insurgent guerrilla organization FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia).

Concern heightened for Mr. Rising's safety in June 1995 when two other American hostages, New Tribes Mission workers Steve Welsh and Timothy Van Dyke, died during a skirmish between guerrillas and government troops. The two missionaries had also been held hostage by guerrillas from a different FARC faction for more than 16 months before their deaths. Three more New Tribes missionaries, kidnapped March 31, 1993, remain in captivity in Colombia. They are Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, and Rick Tenenoff.

Although Mrs. Rising returned to the United States, radio interviews with her were broadcast in Colombia, and fliers were locally distributed with appeals for her husband's freedom. Mrs. Rising traveled to Puerto Lleras last March with her son Rollin to thank local citizens for their support and to press again for information that could lead to finding her husband.

Negotiations for Mr. Rising, underway since shortly after his kidnapping, had been almost continuous during the last six months. Ransom was initially demanded after Mr. Rising was kidnapped, but no ransom was paid to secure his release, SIL reported.

According to Guyton James, another SIL missionary then working at Lomalinda, a crisis committee of Wycliffe missionaries together with outside professionals was formed to advise workers at the study center about safety precautions and to supervise negotiations for Mr. Rising's release.

Prior to the kidnapping, Mr. James said, "We were all very security-minded" at the study center. He said the Lomalinda center was "a soft target" for guerrillas in spite of precautions, with just over 100 adults working there in linguistics and support staff and about 60 children.

The center was closed by February, primarily for security reasons and because the kidnapping "took everybody's attention off the work," Mr. James said. Most support staff returned to the United States, but according to SIL spokesman Stuart Shepherd, those directly involved in the work of translation dispersed into cities where they could continue most effectively.

The State Department regularly labels Colombia "one of the most dangerous countries in the world," with a murder rate that is eight times higher than the United States'. A government crackdown on drug cartels has deteriorated in the face of cartel-guerrilla alliances and, more recently, charges implicating President Ernesto Samper in high-level corruption involving drug trafficking and money laundering.

Bogota's relations with Washington have also deteriorated. Although Mr. Samper was absolved by Colombia's Congress of any wrongdoing earlier this month, the U.S. government has threatened to impose trade sanctions against Colombia, saying it has not done enough to fight drug trafficking. Washington raised its tone of criticism in March when the State Department removed the Colombian government from a list of countries considered to be fully cooperating in the war on drugs.

Late last month, U.S.-Colombia relations took a further dive when U.S. ambassador Myles Frechette accused the head of state security of spying on American embassy officials. Chief Marco Tulio Gutierrez responded by calling the ambassador "a wolf dressed up as a shepherd" and hinted that he may be asked to leave the country.

For the returning Mr. Rising, a home and car await him, arranged by friend Ken Behrens, who expected the Risings in Minnesota just before he was taken hostage.

"He was supposed to come home in May or June, but was taken March 31," said Mr. Behrens. "I have a pair of boots that I've been keeping for him for two years. I told him I suppose I would have to take those out and shine them now."

Mindy Belz

Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine's first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and now senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afganistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C. Follow her on Twitter @mcbelz.