Missionaries escape war-torn area

August 11, 2008 9:20:36 PM PDT
The Russian military is pushing deeper into the country of Georgia, capturing towns and a military base as well. Georgia shares a border with Russia in the southwest.

The fighting started when Georgia's military tried to fight resistance in the South Osetia region, an area loyal to Russia. Reports also say the Russian military has captured the main east-west highway through the country, essentially cutting Georgia in half.

As the conflict started, 11 Houstonians were in Georgia on a church mission trip.

In the middle of a weeklong mission trip with seven college age students from Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands, Joel Anderson had to figure out a quick way home.

He and one other team member got out on Saturday. Nine others including his son were still there.

Huddled around radios at a Georgian conference center the group learned details of the conflict as it emerged. As the Houstonians plotted their way out and called home to calm nerves, they could see columns of Georgian artillery rolling towards the conflict in south Osetia out their windows.

"We realized all bets were off and something serious was going on," Anderson said.

Flights were getting cancelled. Miraculously one left Monday morning Georgia time delayed by an explosion near the airport but out of the region. They were due back to Houston Monday night.

The four remaining mission members took a convoy with hundreds of Americans reaching the border between Georgia and Armenia Monday afternoon. A message from one team member emailed from the border said "this beautiful place, these terrible circumstances and each of these people. God's plan unfolds in infinite surprise."

"We had no idea," Anderson said. "This was our first trip to our sister church in Tblisi in Georgia. We had no earthly idea anything like this would happen."

Anderson tells us he and the church are hopeful the conflict will die down soon. They are eager to return next year and concerned about one Georgian they work with who enlisted in the Georgian army as the Houston group was trying to leave.

The group was based near Tblisi, the capital of Georgia. The fighting was just 35 miles away. To put that in perspective, that's roughly the distance from downtown Houston to Rosenberg.

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