Assemblies missionaries face guns in Belgium

The Assemblies of God is trying to find out why four American women were evicted from Belgium on Friday, accused of working without proper permits.

The four women, including an Evangel University graduate, were at an Assemblies of God mission in Brussels on Thursday when police came and took them to jail. They flew back to the United States on Friday.

“Everyone is here and safe,” said Terry Hoggard, whose daughter, Kristi, was one arrested. He and his wife, Ruthanne, accompanied all four women to the United States to ensure that they arrived safely.

Terry Hoggard, who arrived with his family at Springfield-Branson Regional Airport late Friday, said events happened so quickly it will take time to process them.“This is a world we don’t know,” he said.

Kristi Hoggard was too shaken to comment Friday night.

Anita van Gorp, principal at the International Christian Academy, said 10 police took away the women. “My children were very frightened. There were 10 men with guns,” she told The Associated Press.

“We are totally in the dark on why this happened,” spokeswoman Juleen Turnage said at Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield.

In an effort to get an explanation, area directors in Belgium will meet with government officials Monday and Tuesday, she said. Church officials will also interview the women.

Assemblies officials in Belgium are “in the process of ascertaining what precipitated this,” said Greg Mundis, Europe regional director for the Assemblies.“We will then, based on their understanding, respond.”

Kristi Hoggard is a recent Evangel graduate and Central Bible College alumnus. Her parents operate the International Media Ministries where the women were arrested.

Hoggard is a missionary associate, as are two of the other women, Bonnie Dyess of Garland, Texas, and Trista Logering of Cape Coral, Fla., Turnage said. Missionary associates are appointed for one or two years. and raise their own funds from supporters in the United States.

“They don’t take a dime out of the Belgium economy,” she said.

The fourth woman, Julia Ryser of Tulsa, Okla., was starting a tour of Europe. “She was not engaged in mission work,” Turnage said. Ryser had been in the country only five days and was visiting at the church.

Police arrested the women at the mission in Sint-Genesius-Rode, claiming they were working illegally on tourist visas. Another woman, Carol Jezek of Milwaukee, was given five days to leave Belgium, van Gorp said.

Turnage said none of the volunteer missionaries in Belgium have work permits, although all the women had valid visas.

The Assemblies of God has 75 missions people in Belgium and has had missionaries there since 1949, Turnage said. There is also a theological seminary and an international correspondence school.

“The government has always recognized the people under missions appointments are there at their own expense to do ministries. They have never required work permits.”

The change in requirement baffled Assemblies officials and others.

CBC missions director Harold Carpenter has done mission work around the world and in Belgium. “Belgium had not previously required work permits,” he said. “That’s what is so strange to me, because Belgium hadn’t required anything before.”

Other countries do require missions or service visas, he said. “It’s getting more and more common that you have to have a visa for specific type of work when you go into a country.”

Kurt Caddy, director of university ministries and missions at Southwest Baptist University, believes that will become more common.

“The world is kind of a changed place since 9-11. It’s impacted things we do,” he said.

The Bolivar college sends students on short mission trips. One group just returned from Egypt. Although there were some concerns, the group was treated well, Caddy said.

“They were loved and appreciated, because they were Americans. People apologized to them for the 9-11 thing,” he said.

Turnage said she is not aware of any connection between the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the arrests in Belgium.

Belgian authorities gave few details. The Interior Ministry, Brussels prosecutor’s office and federal police declined to comment. A U.S. Embassy official in Brussels said he was looking into the incident.