LILONGWE, Malawi (BP)–Carjackers abducted Southern Baptist missionary Sam Upton Nov. 28 in Lilongwe, Malawi. He was safely released several hours later, after fellow missionary Tom Patterson jump-started a worldwide prayer network.
Upton and Patterson were returning home about 9:30 p.m. from a meeting in the city. Pulling into the driveway of Patterson’s home, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by four armed men. The men pointed AK47s and Uzis in the two men’s faces and demanded they turn over the vehicle.
The men pushed Patterson out, forced Upton into the floorboard of the back seat and took off in the truck and their getaway car. As Upton lay scrunched on the floor, Patterson ran into the house to call the police and gear up an international prayer chain.
“I started praying face down in the floorboard …” Upton wrote in an e-mail to faithful prayer warriors after he reached safety hours later. “I prayed as a guy sat on me with his knee in my back.”
The armed robbers drove in circles for what seemed like hours and then finally stopped, pulling Upton out of the vehicle. The missionary made out the lights of nearby Lilongwe but was so disoriented he did not know where he was.
The men forced Upton into the trunk of a car they were driving.
“It was probably about that time that many of you got the message and started praying,” Upton wrote. “And I do so appreciate that, for they put me in the trunk of a getaway car. In there was a gallon of petrol (gas), which sloshed out. The fumes were tremendous, but I had the assurance of God’s presence.
“I did not panic. But I really did not like lying in petrol with my hosts smoking and driving erratically.”
Finally after about 45 minutes of driving around, they let Upton out in a remote part of the Lilongwe business district. The missionary walked to a hotel to call home.
“Finding out how quickly [supporters] got the news out is humbling,” Upton wrote. “We serve a mighty God who is pleased by the prayers of His people. Thank you all.”
An International Mission Board leader in southern Africa praised God for keeping Upton and Patterson safe but urged Southern Baptists to continue praying for the safety of their missionaries worldwide.
“We praise the Lord that Tom and Sam were not hurt,” said associate regional leader Mark Hatfield. “This case is very similar to what happened two months ago to Lindy Howard [an IMB missionary in Zambia].
“No one in our region lives outside the threat of this happening. We desperately need your continued prayers.”
Prayer support is critical to the success in the missionary enterprise, said Gordon Fort, regional leader for IMB work in southern Africa.
“As we continue to move toward completing the task of taking the gospel to the last frontiers of lostness, we will face increasing opposition and violence,” Fort said. “Our most valuable asset on the front lines of mission work are our personnel.
“This is the fourth armed hi-jacking and abduction in our region in the past two years. We are deeply thankful to God that none have resulted in serious injury to our mission personnel.
“This is a call for urgent and renewed prayer support from all fellow-believers. Our missionaries’ only hope of success and protection are the undergirding prayers of intercessors and prayer warriors who will stay before God’s throne in a sustained effort until the task of the Great Commission is completed.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sam Upton is a Missouri native. He and his wife, Marlyn, an Ilinois native, were appointed as missionaries to Malawi by the International Mission Board in 1971. Tom and Ann Patterson, both Kentucky natives, were appointed as missionaries to Malawi by the International Mission Board in 1999.
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