Baptist missionary in critical condition after being shot in Brazil

Des Moines, USA - An Iowa Baptist missionary was in critical condition at a Des Moines hospital Sunday after he was shot several times July 3 outside a Brazil church he founded.

John Leonard, 45, of Creston was unconscious at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where he was flown Saturday.

Leonard, an ordained Baptist minister, was clinging to life and may be paralyzed from the neck down, said the Rev. Pat Nemmers, pastor at Saylorville Baptist Church, which financially supported Leonard's mission.

Leonard slipped into unconsciousness after six days in a Brazilian hospital miles from the remote town in the coastal state Alagoas, where he was working. A bullet is still lodged in his arm and bullet fragments remain in his neck, Nemmers said.

Leonard was approached by two men on July 3 after completing a sermon. They asked to speak with him. Outside the church, they shot Leonard at close range, striking him in the face, arm and back, Nemmers said.

``This was clearly a hit that was put on him,'' Nemmers said.

William Smallman, vice president of Baptist Mid-Missions, an Ohio-based mission agency to which Leonard belonged, said ``it is exceedingly rare'' for such an attack on a missionary. The agency has 180 missionaries stationed in Brazil, which is generally tolerant of people spreading a Christian message.

Smallman said organized crime leaders may have arranged the shooting. He said Leonard was working to rehabilitate drug addicts and as a result of that, drug dealers may have believed that he had information that they didn't want him to know.

``It clearly was something that was targeted at John as a person,'' Smallman said.

Nemmers speculated that the attack may have been a backlash to Christianity from other religions.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, helped arrange Leonard's transportation Iowa Methodist, where a nursing supervisor said Leonard was in critical condition on Sunday.

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said she did not know whether a U.S. government agency was investigating the shooting.

Leonard has been a missionary for two decades in Brazil where he has started several churches.