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Diminished returns

Families of hostages practice lowering their expectations

In the flush of summer Nancy Mankins, Patti Tenenoff, and Tania Rich hoped to see their husbands soon. "There are certain indications that things are in motion. We just pray that this might be the beginning of seeing our men come out of the jungle," said an upbeat New Tribes spokesman, Mel Wyma, in June of the agency's three kidnapped missionaries.

Those hopes have diminished in the diminished days of winter. Nearly four years since the abduction in Colombia, there is little new information about where Marxist rebels are holding the missionaries and what their futures hold. When Dave Mankins, Rick Tenenoff, and Mark Rich were taken hostage by guerrillas in January 1993, their wives became hostages, too, captive to both hope and despair.

Lowered expectations means trying to be content with delivery of a letter or two. The International Red Cross has agreed to deliver new letters to the men from their families, and an impromptu meeting with Elizabeth Dole, president of the American Red Cross, prompted enough encouragement to elicit a press release from New Tribes Mission.

Soliciting the help of the Red Cross has been educational, to say the least. Although the Red Cross reportedly has contacts with the guerrillas holding the missionaries, it has been reluctant to press for their release. Over a year ago the wives sent letters to be delivered by the Red Cross and later learned they had been lost. The arrival of a new director for the Red Cross chapter in Colombia, however, was a breakthrough. The director told the wives to write their husbands again and promised to deliver their correspondence.

Close on the heels of this development came more unforeseen help. Mrs. Dole, on leave from her presidency of the American Red Cross to campaign for her husband's unsuccessful bid for the presidency of the United States, agreed after meeting with the women in October to inquire with International Red Cross associates, thereby raising the level of interest in the missionaries' case. The wives were meeting in Florida with a member of the NTM crisis team assigned to secure their husbands' release when they discovered Mrs. Dole would be speaking nearby at a prayer breakfast. A hastily arranged meeting with Mrs. Dole brought this new, if not concrete, reason for hope.

But even the tone of the NTM public announcement grows weary with the waiting. A recent press release noted that "the waiting gets harder, not easier." As the four-year anniversary of their husbands' disappearance nears, NTM reports, the families' faith "is strong on some days and weak on others. They need us to uphold them in prayer as they battle depression, frustration, anger, and doubt."

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.