After graduating from the New Tribes Mission School in Bolivia, Mark took the N.T.M. training. After boot camp, he and Tania Wyma were married. Their first daughter, our first grandchild, was born in 1990.

They were commissioned as missionaries to Panama then and went to the village of Púcuru, to work with the Kuna Indians. Two other missionary families were there and this team had a small church established. Mark quickly learned the Kuna language. He and Tania had another daughter in 1992, in Panama. They were seeing God work in this village.

On Jan. 31, 1993, about 100 guerillas from the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas) in Colombia broke into the village and into each of the houses of the three missionaries. The three men, Mark, Dave, and Rick, were kidnapped and led off into the jungle.

The guerillas took all means of communication so the wives and small children had to wait till the next morning when the Kunas helped them out of the village and took them by boat to where they could communicate with the New Tribes Mission headquarters.

The wives were evacuated to the U.S. and the long wait began. The guerillas communcated with the mission and demanded a five million dollar ransom. Following the NTM policy, no ransom was paid, and it was a 9 year wait with every effort possible to see a solution, to no avail.

This was a very hard trial for us, the most difficult being not knowing what had happened for 9 years! We went frequently to the U.S. and were with Tania and our granddaughters, always fervently praying for Mark.

I, Noél, remember praying most that he would remain faithful to the Lord. I remembered every detail of his life, and sincerely thanked the Lord for Mark’s dedication to God and service for Him. God met us in many ways. Psalm 91:14-16 was especially precious to me during that time.

We had some encouraging reports, but in 1996 all communication was cut off. We later found out that it was then that Mark, Dave, and Rick had been shot. We later learned that they had won several of their guards to the Lord, and were indeed faithful to Christ to the end, even though their Bibles were confiscated and burned.

Their lives were not easy during their 3 years in captivity. Finally, the order came to kill them. They were made to dig their own graves, and they sang hymns while doing this.

The man who was ordered to kill them finally came to know the Lord as well, through the memory he had of these hostages sharing God’s salvation with him. He had been so very hardened all the time he was in the guerilla movement, but years later God worked in his heart. He asked forgiveness of the families.

We certainly do not understand God’s ways. But we do know that being faithful to Him and His calling and His Word is the best way to live. We praise the Lord that Mark is with Him. His family is well cared for and our precious granddaughters are both in college now, also desiring to serve the Lord with their lives.


Noél: Just wanted to share some notes on how I felt when this trial began. I will never forget the day I heard that Mark had been kidnapped. Bob was on a trip. It was Monday afternoon and I was consoling a believer whose brother had recently been electrocuted.

He had died and the church was helping the family with funeral expenses. All of a sudden I received the phone call from our daughter in law, Kim, on what had happened the evening before in the Kuna Indian village of Pucuro, in Panamá, where Mark and Tania were missionaries.

Kim told me over the phone how the 3 men had been kidnapped, and how the wives and children had been able with the Kuna’s help to get down the river to safety and were then evacuated out.

Anyway, on hearing this news, I told the sister in the office here briefly what had happened and she left, (we had shared the finances with her for their needs). I couldn’t call Bob. (This was now Feb. 1, 1993, we did not have cell phones, and where he was there was no communication.)

I remember I started shaking. I shook for hours, but did not actually cry.

I called two other missionary friends, one with Wycliffe Bible translators and the other with Christians in Action. These dear ladies came right over and sat with me till late that night.

I did not want to go far from the phone, in case we received a call on Mark and companions. I also later called Phil Riggenbach, who offered to go look for Bob, but it is good he didn’t as Bob hadn’t even gone to the place he thought he would.

He had changad his mind and gone in another direction. When the ladies finally went home, I tried to sleep, but it was not to be. Some time that night I stopped shaking, but still could not sleep.

The next morning more family called, and other friends, but it was a few days before Bob came home.

I remember when he came home, and started unpacking the car as usual. I had gone down to let him in the garage as usual, but before he got stuff out of the car, I said, “There is something I need to tell you, please come upstairs a minute.” I told him and then I could really cry.

We hugged and prayed, but had to go on with life. Of course the New Tribes Mission had called, Tania’s parents, and later, Tania, when she was safe in the New Tribes Headquarters in Florida.

Well, of course it was a long wait till we heard anything from Mark. Early April, near Easter, we did have news that they had been able to radio out that they were ok and really missing their families.

The guerillas had asked for five million dollars. We waited and prayed and waited and prayed. We visited Tania and our precious granddaughters in the U.S. often. We prayed and waited and prayed and waited and followed the instructions given by NTM.

I remembered during Mark’s last high school year there at Tambo when he was going with Tania. I remembered praying that Tania would be his wife if God willed it! I remember when I prayed with each of my sons each night that they would be God’s witnesses and faithful to Him all their lives.

I remembered reading with the children the story of Stephen and how he was faithful to death. We sang the song about Stephen and God receiving and rewarding him for this.

We sang Revelation 2:10 in Spanish, Jesus´s words: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life”. My constant prayer for Mark during these long years was mostly that he would indeed be faithful to the Lord till the end, and be God’s witness.

God answered that prayer. Of course I prayed and pleaded for his freedom. Of course I prayed he would be all right in that jungle, physically well and rejoicing, in spite of these circumstances. God answered those prayers in a different way than I had wanted, but God was faithful through all those years.

We did not hear too much. Communication was cut off. The hard part was not knowing what was happening, but we waited and prayed and prayed and waited. We all grew nearer to the Lord during that time, and we know God was glorified through it all.

We don´t understand why. We didn´t ask “why”. We just had to trust. It was the only way. It still is the only way.

From Tania, Mark's wife:

Dear family,

As this new week starts I am remembering that Thursday will mark the 20th year since the kidnapping. Who would have imagined all that has happened because of this life changing event. I am ever so aware that God is the one in control, He knows and He cares about each of us and what we are going through.

The pain and the fear that started that night and lasted for so many years is unbearable to think about at times, but most of the time I simply am overwhelmed by God's love and care for each of us during that time. I encountered serious grief, pain and doubt over the years, but I also saw God's faithfulness over and over.

The event is in the past, but the lessons I learned (and am still learning) are still a part of the every day for me. Choosing joy moment by moment, treasuring moments with family and friends, believing the best of people, being quick to apologize and forgive are some of the things that are at the forefront of my mind today. I love you all. I am thankful for each one of you.

Below is a letter from some long time friends of mine who are still working in Panama.

-Tania

Subject: Challinor Update - The Continuing Story

This month marks twenty years that guerrillas crossed from Colombia into Panama and entered the homes of three missionary families on Superbowl Sunday. While family and friends sat around television screens cheering on their favored teams, the missionary men were forced at gunpoint to tell their families goodbye and taken from the village deep into the jungle never to be seen on earth again by their loved ones.

We had just begun our missionary training when the shocking news was announced to the student body. We remember wondering why God would allow something so heartbreaking to happen. Those missionary families were dedicated to seeing the infant Kuna church grow and mature in the Lord. What would happen to the seeds of Biblical truth that had been planted? Would the immature church even survive?

The following years were extremely difficult for many people, especially the wives and children of the men. The Christian community prayed and asked God for a miraculous release of the captives as well as the protection of the Kuna people in the areas of guerrilla activity.

After missionaries had to leave another Kuna village for security reasons, news from that region became even more infrequent. Eventually (about eight years later), the Christian community learned that the three men had been killed. After years of praying, waiting and hoping, it was not the answer anybody wanted.

We arrived in Panama in 1996 and after Spanish study, moved into a Naso community (on the other end of the country from the Kuna village) for language and culture study. Nearly three years ago, God moved us out of Nasoland to the NTM Panama headquarters where we have been involved in a variety of responsibilities. The highlight, though, has been interacting with the believers from the different indigenous churches in Panama as they have come to the headquarters for different reasons.

On one such visit, our hearts were overwhelmed with the testimony of a Kuna believer. Over cups of coffee he shared his testimony. He is from the San Blas islands. After he heard about the kidnapping and subsequent death of the men, God challenged him to move to the village from where the missionaries were taken to begin preaching and teaching God's Word.

He told us that he didn't want their deaths to be in vain. Even though he was reaching out to own his people, he found that living in the jungle was a drastic change from living along the coast. He didn't own any land in the new location to plant a garden or build a house.

The culture was even different to a certain extent, and he was far from his extended family. God proved faithful and the seeds of God's Word that had been planted years before by NTM missionaries began to take root as they were watered by the Kuna missionary and his wife.

Today both the city and jungle Kuna churches continue to mature and spread God's Word in ways that far exceed anything that we could have imagined on the day the devastating news of kidnapped missionaries flashed around the world. God is Faithful! Only eternity will tell the rest of the story as we someday hear what God did through the lives of the missionary captives as they took God's Word to the deepest reaches of the Colombian jungle.

With thankful hearts for God's faithfulness,
Simon & Lavonne Challinor


This is an article about the three missionaries who were taken hostage in 1993: http://www.assistnews.net/strategic/s0111037.htm


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