New Tribes Mission

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New Tribes Mission
New Tribes Mission logo.png
Founded 1942
Founder Paul Fleming
Type Evangelical Missions Agency
Area served
$64 million in 2007[1]

New Tribes Mission (NTM) is an international, theologically evangelical Christian mission organization based in Sanford, Florida, United States. NTM has approximately 3,300 missionaries in more than 20 nations.

The organization sends missionaries from local churches around the world to Latin America, West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Arctic. Countries include Brazil, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Greenland, Guinea, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Thailand and formerly Venezuela.[3] New Tribes Mission is also a member of the Forum of Bible Agencies International.

Focus and beliefs[edit]

The mission's focus is on groups where no translation of the Bible exists.[4] When such a group is identified, NTM first attempts to make contact and establish a relationship. Then, missionaries are sent to learn the language and the culture of the native people, while further developing relationships and providing humanitarian aid.[citation needed] The missionaries translate biblical literature into the indigenous language, as well as teach natives how to read and write in their own language. The professed goal, however, is to establish fully functioning churches that operate independently of missionaries,[citation needed] which "in turn reach out to their own people and to neighboring tribes."[5]

The core belief of the New Tribes Mission is "Sola Scriptura," accompanied by a historical-grammatical hermeneutic in interpreting the scriptures. This emphasis on "word by word inspiration" leads to literal belief "in the fall of man resulting in his complete and universal separation from God and his need of salvation." Those who die unsaved go to "unending punishment" (hence the mandate to evangelize those without access to the gospel). Additionally, NTM is a dispensational organization, subscribing to the "imminent...pretribulation and pre-millennial return" of Jesus Christ to earth.[6]



NTM was founded by Paul Fleming, from Los Angeles, in 1942.[7] In the 1930s Fleming had worked as a missionary in the British colony ofMalaya. Initially, NTM was based in a former nightclub in Chicago.

In 1943 NTM started publishing its magazine Brown Gold. In 1944/45, NTM moved headquarters to Chico, California. Shortly thereafter it established a "boot camp" (missionary training facility) at Fouts Springs, California.[8]

Early activity expansion and associated personnel deaths[edit]

The organization sent out its first group in November 1942 to Bolivia. Of the 10 adults and six children, six were killed the following year.[clarification needed (Was it six or five people killed? Are there conflicting refs?)] According to Time Magazine, five NTM missionaries were killed by aboriginal Bolivians in 1943.[9]

In June 1950 the first plane bought by NTM crashed in Venezuela, killing all 15 people on board. The second plane bought by NTM crashed in November the same year at Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park USA while on its way to bring missionaries abroad, killing all 21 aboard, including spouses, several children a, d founder Paul Fleming.[9]

In July 1953 14 NTM members serving as volunteer firefighters died in what became known as the Rattlesnake Fire about 25 miles north of Fouts Springs, California in the Mendocino National Forest.[10]

Nunak de-isolation followed by tribal deaths and instability[edit]

In what is now the Río Puré National Park in Colombia, NTM missionaries interacted[when?] with the previously uncontacted Nukak people. Gift-giving and interaction led the people to seek contact with other settlements nearby. Eventually, this contact resulted in instability and disease. The remainder of the tribe is now living on handouts (citation? From whom?) in San José del Guaviare.[11]

Personnel deaths by guerrillas in Colombia and the Philippines[edit]

In the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, a number of New Tribes Mission personnel have been killed by guerrillas in different parts of the world.

  • In 1993 members of the FARC guerrilla movement abducted three New Tribes Mission missionaries from a village in Panama and brought them to Colombia where they were killed in 1996.[12]
  • In 1994 two other missionaries were killed after being taken at gunpoint from an NTM school in Colombia.[13]
  • In May 2001 Abu Sayyaf rebels in the Philippines kidnapped a NTM pilot, Martin Burnham, and his wife, Gracia, as they celebrated a wedding anniversary. In June 2002, during a rescue attempt by government troops, Martin Burnham was killed and Gracia Burnham received non-fatal gunshot wounds to the leg.[14]

Training program[edit]

New Tribes Mission requires all candidates to complete a training program.[15] The training program can take up to four years to complete. In the US, this training culminates in an unaccredited bachelor's degree.[16] Major Bible colleges such as Moody Bible Institute and Columbia International University recognize credits and degrees from NTM.[17]

The first phase of the training consists of basic Bible education.[18] This phase lasts two years. In the US, this training takes place at one of two different Bible schools, one in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and the other in Jackson, Michigan. These schools are collectively called the New Tribes Bible Institute. This portion of the training program is often waived for candidates possessing previous Bible training from accredited Bible colleges.

The second phase of the program involves extensive study in cross-cultural communication, church planting (clarification needed), and linguistic analysis.[19] It also lasts two years as candidates study advanced linguistic techniques, learning how to alphabetize unwritten languages and translate the Bible. Formerly called "Boot Camp," this phase also emphasizes basic living skills necessary for survival in undeveloped areas of the world (e.g. constructing and cooking from clay stoves, building jungle shelters, etc.). In the US, this takes place at the NTM Missionary Training Center in Camdenton, Missouri.[20]

A NTM Canadian training center exists in Durham, Ontario.[21] Similar training programs exist in other countries, including Brazil,[22] Germany,[23] Mexico[24] and England.[25][26]

Evangelistic approach[edit]

New Tribes Mission's strategy for "church planting" starts with language acquisition.[27] NTM believes that individuals should have access to the Bible and its teachings in their native languages and refuses to teach in English or local trade languages. Several unwritten languages on the verge of extinction have been given new leases on life (possible ideological language) because of missionary efforts to reduce them to writing and to teach their speakers in literacy.[citation needed]

After becoming proficient in the local languages, NTM missionaries initiate in-depth Bible studies with interested parties. Rather than distributing tracts or showing the "Jesus" film (popular methods among many organizations), NTM focuses on teaching through the Scriptures chronologically. Missionaries begin with the Genesis account of creation and follow the storyline of the Bible through to the story of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the New Testament.[28] This approach is necessary because most of the cultures in which they work have no exposure to any biblical teaching whatsoever, and therefore require solid grounding on the foundational principles of the Old Testament before they can be introduced to the New Testament Gospel.[29]

This chronological curriculum consists of 50 lessons and is called "Building on Firm Foundations." It was written by Trevor McIlwain and Nancy Everson and originally published in 1985.[30]


New Tribes Mission is listed by Ministry Watch on the Shining Lights 'Top 30' Exemplary Ministries., in response to requests for a list of Christian ministries that are among the best to which donors can give with confidence, has released a "Top 30" list of ministries as the latest Shining Light profile. New Tribes Mission is one of those Top 30 Shining Lights.[31]

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Survival International and other critics have accused New Tribes Mission of using criminal tactics in their zeal to convert indigenous populations, including armed manhunts, kidnappings, selling them into forced labour, imprisonment in Mission camps, and even genocide.[32]


Paul Gifford, Professor of Religion at the University of London, accuses NTM of engaging in industrial espionage[33] and representing US foreign policy interests in countries where they are active. Because of the mission's alleged methods in Latin America, NTM has been investigated, and subsequently cleared, of any wrongdoing by the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Committee in Britain.[34] However, a letter of protest signed by Bishop Trevor Huddleston, Lord Avebury, Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group; Rabbi Richard Rosen; and Survival International President Robin Hanbury-Tenison, called on the Mission to halt its controversial activities and respect tribal religion and culture.[35] According to Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, there are those missionaries who do an enormous amount of work to help indigenous peoples and defend their rights, and the worst who do great harm; the same can be said about anthropologists, conservationists or anyone else (citation needed). He says that he is not anti-missionary and that he himself and his organization have worked together with countless missionaries. He recalls how a senior member of a very large mission organisation personally told him that their critiques published in the 1970s had stimulated change for the better within his organisation.[36]

Manhunts in Paraguay[edit]

Critics contend that the New Tribes Mission and other evangelist groups "hunt down primitive Indians and destroy their culture in the name of converting them to Christianity".[37] The director of the mission, Fred Sammons, responded to these allegations with the claim that "The Indians live in fear, in fear of evil spirits and in fear of violent death because it's in their culture to kill. But when they come with us, they accept a new way of life...We never force our religion on anyone." [37] Mr. Sammons also wrote ''There are people who like to say that the Ayoreos are happy living in the jungle...Yet if you ask anyone who has had a taste of civilization if he wants to go back and live like he used to, the answer is always a very positive 'No'. ''[37]

Political controversy in Venezuela[edit]

In October 2005, the BBC reported that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had announced his intention to expel New Tribes Mission from Venezuela. He accused New Tribes Mission of imperialism, of collaborating with the US CIA, of violating Venezuela's national sovereignty, and of violating the country's laws by making unauthorized flights into and out of the country. He also attacked the group for building lavish camps in which to live next to poverty-stricken villages.[38][39]

Responding to the allegations, NTM said, "Any kind of air travel we do, we always do within the guidelines of what the government allows. We always file reports." With respect to "luxury" living, they "live in homes that make it possible for them to continue the work that they do. The homes that they live in are very simple."[40]

On November 3, 2005, hundreds of Venezuelan indigenous people marched in Puerto Ayacucho protesting against the expulsion of NTM by the Venezuelan government. Although the Venezuelan constitution recognized their collective ownership of ancestral lands in 1999, "poverty remains acute among many Indian communities and many protesters said the missionaries were the only people who have tangibly improved their lives."[41]

Sexual abuse allegations[edit]

A 2010 report by G.R.A.C.E.(Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), an organization dedicated to helping Christian organizations deal with abuse, documented reports of sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse at the Fanda boarding school operated by NTM for the children of NTM workers in the country of Senegal during the 1980s and 1990s.[42]

  • A part-time instructor with New Tribes Mission was charged in 2006 with molesting two boys.[43]
  • A youth pastor faced charges of possessing child pornography in 2008.[43]
  • A woman sued New Tribes in 2011, alleging that she had been raped by a worker associated with the group.[43]
  • A missionary was arrested at Orlando International Airport on June 4, 2013. Warren Scott Kennell admitted to molesting four children in Brazil, authorities told WESH-TV, and two images of child pornography were found on his computer.[43] In July 2014, he was sentenced to 58 years in prison for the sexual abuse of several Katukina girls, and for the possession of more than 940 images of child pornography on his hard drive.[44]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]


  1. ^ MinistryWatch Summary Report
  2. ^ Ministry Watch – History of NTM
  3. ^ Christian missions reach new tribes with the Gospel: where we serve
  4. ^ Christian missions reach new tribes with the Gospel: purpose
  5. ^ Christian missions reach new tribes with the Gospel: vision
  6. ^ Ntm Uk: About - Doctrinal Statement
  7. ^ Christian missions reach new tribes with the Gospel: heritage
  8. ^ Brown Gold.
  9. ^ a b "Religion: Death in Grindstone Canyon". Time. July 20, 1953. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  10. ^ Mendocino National Forest - Rattlesnake Fire Interpretive Site
  11. ^ Hammer, Joshua (March 2013). "The Lost Tribes of the Amazon". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  12. ^ NTM Missionaries killed by FARC
  13. ^ NTM News Report on hostages
  14. ^ "Rescued Hostage: Keep Praying For Us". CBS News. May 29, 2002. 
  15. ^ NTM - planting tribal churches : Train - SUPPORT TRACK
  16. ^ NTM - planting tribal churches : Ntbi - FAQ
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ NTM - planting tribal churches : Train - DISCOVER BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS
  19. ^ NTM - planting tribal churches : Train - MISSIONARY TRAINING CENTER
  20. ^ NTM - planting tribal churches : Train - CAMPUS PHOTOS
  21. ^ New Tribes Mission of Canada
  22. ^ NTM - planting tribal churches : Brazil - MINISTRY INFORMATION
  23. ^ NTM DE: Ausbildung
  24. ^ Explore where NTM missionaries are serving around the world: mexico
  25. ^
  26. ^ Ntm Uk: Train - Cross-Cultural Communications
  27. ^ Christian missions reach new tribes with the Gospel: core values
  28. ^ Trevor McIlwain. Building on Firm Foundations. Vol. 1. Sanford: New Tribes Mission, 1987. 8.
  29. ^ The Whole Word for the Whole World | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
  30. ^
  31. ^ MinistryWatch Full Profile
  32. ^ Lewis pp. 127 and 177
  33. ^ Gifford p. 202
  34. ^ Gifford, p. 114
  35. ^ Lewis 1988, p. 221
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b c Riding, Alan (1987-04-01). "Asuncion Journal; In Paraguay's Jungle, No Letup In Battle for Souls". The New York Times (New York: NYTC). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 June 2012. 
  38. ^ "Chavez moves against US preachers". BBC News. October 12, 2005. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  39. ^ "Venezuela orders missionaries out". BBC News. November 16, 2005. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  40. ^ Venezuela to Expel New Tribes Mission | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
  41. ^ Venezuelans protest Chavez missionary threat - Americas -
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b c d New Tribes missionary accused of molesting children. WESH-TV News, Orlando-Daytona Beach, 6/4/2013.
  44. ^