BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (BP)–Students are safe and missionary families relieved following the emergency evacuation of a missionary school in Bouake, Ivory Coast.
One missionary parent said the experience has reinforced God’s call for them to West Africa.
Students and staff had been pinned inside the International Christian Academy for a week while soldiers and rebels fought in the town. The academy, located in Bouake, became endangered when rebel troops captured the city, as well as Korhogo and the main city of Abidjan. Soldiers loyal to the government were able to dislodge the rebels from Abidjan.
The academy housed 160 students from the United States, Canada and the Netherlands, including 15 children of Southern Baptist missionaries.
Jeff and Renee Hale, missionaries in Burkina Faso, stayed in constant contact with their son, Stephen, 15, who is a student at the academy.
“We had daily phone contact with Stephen until the day of the evacuation,” Renee Hale said. “He sounded tired, but he never sounded fearful.”
God’s peace carried them through the ordeal, Hale said.
“Of course, we have been apprehensive about the situation,” she said. “Nevertheless, we are experiencing an incredible peace from God and confidence in his control of the situation.”
As fearful as the experience could have been, Hale said it has reinforced for her and her family their purpose for being in West Africa.
“We stay because we have no doubt that God has called us to our present work among the Gur peoples of West Africa. We are here because they are here, [and] the calling remains the same,” Hale said.
The only time she felt concern was when she and her husband lost contact with Stephen following the evacuation, she said.
“Even though I knew that he was with the French troops, it bothered me to not know where he was last night. This is the first time I have not known where my child is.”
Hale said International Christian Academy was well prepared to handle the situation. The students packed evacuation backpacks to prepare for possible emergency situations. The school also conducted drills to prepare students to run for cover in a moment’s notice and to train teachers to lock down the school.
But there is still concern as to what the youngsters experienced and saw during the weeklong siege.
“[Stephen] expressed that he felt safe even though he could hear, and at times see, the gunfire near the campus and farther into town,” Hale said. But she does not know what the children saw as they were evacuated. One news service reported scores of people killed after heavy fighting in Bouake on Sept. 24.
“We don’t know what the children experienced when they left the school,” she said. “We don’t know what they’ve seen. I wonder if they saw something that shocked them.”
Hale asks Southern Baptists to continue praying for her family, as well as for all those who were evacuated from the academy.
“Pray that whatever [the students] experienced, they will be able to verbalize it, process it and move through it,” Hale said.
She also requested prayer for some missionary families assigned to the Ivory Coast who were in Burkina Faso when the fighting began. The families have not been able to return to their homes and do not know how the political violence will disrupt their work with local believers.
“Pray for us as we minister to these families and try to facilitate their ministries in the Ivory Coast,” she said.