Case study: Should a ransom be paid to release a kidnapped missionary?

Original written by Paul Hiebert. Presented here with some editing by Howard Culbertson

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"We have to decide now," said Gerald, chairman of the mission board's executive committee. "It is Wednesday, and it will take two days to get money to the kidnappers in the Philippines. The deadline they gave us was Sunday."

"I vote against paying the ransom," said James. "If we give in now, it will encourage terrorists everywhere to kidnap missionaries for ransom. Besides, we can't agree to their demand that we take our missionaries out of Mindanao and abandon our new converts. That would sentence those new believers to persecution, possibly even death."

"I know," said Sarah, "but what about Mark? They're going to kill him, just as they did Pastor Manuel last week. They mean business! And what about Rachel and the children? What about all the relatives and the members of the Hansons' church? They will never forgive us if Mark is killed. I can't blame them. I know how I would feel if someone let a person I loved die. We must negotiate with the kidnappers on the ransom. If necessary, we can move the missionaries out of the countryside into Davao City. They would be safe in the city, and the young Christians in the villages could still meet with them regularly."

Gerald realized he held the deciding vote. The committee had discussed the various possibilities many times over the past three weeks since the kidnapping took place. Now they had to make a decision.

The crisis had begun when the executive committee of the Mindanao Muslim Mission got word that Mark Hanson, one of their missionaries, and Pastor Manuel had been kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad, a radical Muslim movement. When the kidnapping occurred, Mrs. Hanson was in Manila with her two young children. The kidnappers demanded a large sum of money and a promise from the mission that all their missionaries would leave the area. They gave the mission two weeks to respond.

The year before, the missions' governing board had adopted a policy of no negotiation with terrorists. So, the executive committee rejected the ransom demand and ultimatum. At the end of the two weeks, the Muslim kidnappers had killed Pastor Manuel and had set a new deadline for Mark Hanson's death two weeks from that point.

Immediately after the kidnapping, the mission reminded the Hansons' relatives and their home church of its policy about paying ransom to kidnappers. Although agreeing that paying the ransom might encourage future terrorism, the church and the family encouraged the mission board to negotiate with the kidnappers for Mark's release. Special prayer sessions were organized for both Mark and Pastor Manuel.

After Pastor Manuel was executed, things changed. Some family members began urging the mission to pay the ransom secretly. When the executive committee reaffirmed the board policy, those family members, with the help of the pastor of Mark's home church, began to raise the money. They began trying to contact the terrorists on their own, and they also called upon the United States government to urge the Philippine government to seek Mark's release. Some of the church members, unhappy with the executive committee's position, said they would withdraw their financial support if the mission did not negotiate to save Mark's life. They also contacted people in other churches, who also phoned the mission office to express their concern for Mark Hanson's life.

The U.S. State Department contacted the mission organization, urging it not to pay the ransom. It offered to assist the mission board by working with the Philippine government. The mission board, wishing to avoid close identification with the United States government, asked the State Department to wait.

When the news media heard of the kidnapping, reports began to appear seeming to brand all Muslims as fanatics and terrorists, and calling on the government of the United States to offer commandos to the Philippine regime to recapture missionary Hanson. Despite the mission board's pleas that the press keep silent so as not to antagonize the kidnappers and other Muslims, inflammatory articles continued to appear in the local media.

The executive committee kept in contact with the kidnappers through its field director in the Philippines and tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The kidnappers remained adamant in their demands: the mission would have to pay the money and leave the area. If they refused, there would be other reprisals. No missionary would be safe.

Gerald contacted the chairman of the mission board, who pointed out that they did not have the time necessary to get the entire board together. Besides, most other board members knew little about the situation. He said that the executive committee was authorized to act in times of emergency.

As Gerald looked at the other two members of the executive committee, he thought of Mrs. Hanson and her children. He thought about the mission and its commitment to evangelize the Muslims of the island of Mindanao. If a nation expected its citizens to be willing to die for their country, shouldn't the church expect Christians to give their lives for the cause of Christ? But did this situation call for such a sacrifice? Gerald breathed a prayer before he spoke. Then he said . . .

This case study appeared in its original form in Case Studies in Missions, edited by Paul and Frances Hiebert, Baker Book House. Edited and used with permission. This case study may be reproduced only upon payment of a 35¢ fee per copy to Baker Book House, P.O. Box 6787, Grand Rapids, MI 49516 USA

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Some background

The abduction of Christian missionaries by religious extremists (in this case, Muslims) underscores the complexities of religious coexistence and the challenges faced by those who seek to spread the Good News of the Gospel in politically unstable areas. While such violent acts inflict harm upon those who are kidnapped, they also create distrust and deepen divisions between religious communities. In the aftermath of such abductions, effort must be made to foster understanding, dialogue, and mutual respect. Underlying grievances need to be openly addressed and working towards a peaceful coexistence must be embraced by both sides.

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