New Tribes wants to expand its operation in McNeal, Arizona. Is it safe? (Updated April 7, 2010)
The April 14 County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting will consider the New Tribes airport application for expansion.
The New Tribes airfield in
McNeal, Arizona, has applied for a Special Use Permit to add a
6-bedroom "guest house that will be available to visiting friends and
families of" New Tribes, a gymnasium "for interior recreation for [New
Tribes] personnel and their families," and "6 new homes for staff
families in addition to the 25 homes already on the property."
Here's a link to the New Tribes letter describing what it wants:
This discussion opposes the permit, and states why.
I. New Tribes background
The New Tribes airfield here
(aka Tribal Air) is a subsidiary of a missionary organization
headquartered in Sanford, Florida. Around the world, there are
about 3300 New Tribes missionaries. Here's a link to the
and here's a link to a Wikipedia article about New Tribes
New Tribes says its mission is
to reach tribes -- New Tribes's own Bible Institute calls them "heathens"
-- who have not yet been exposed to Christianity. Actually, out in the field, New Tribes also combats specific other
varieties of Christianity. For instance, the webpage at
says "Papua New Guinea is now
94% Christian. Yet missionaries still arrive in droves.
Why? For the simple reason that they are now importing their
denominational bickering into the country.... [T]he New Tribes
Mission ... tells the confused Papua New Guinean that the papacy is the
Starting about 1981, New Tribes
used Bisbee Douglas International airport. In 1991, New Tribes
moved to McNeal. Here's its
New Tribes is located on a square mile whose west edge is just under 2000' from the intersection of Davis Road and US 191.
New Tribes came to McNeal
solely to teach pilots and mechanics for its worldwide
activities. To get a Special Use Permit in 1991, New Tribes
promised to benefit the McNeal community, but the airfield's main
effect may have been to make nearby property harder to sell, because of
the constant airplane and helicopter noise and flights -- as to which, New Tribes has a history of
violating the terms of its permit.
New Tribes in McNeal began with
25 homes. Over the years, New Tribes people have built about a
dozen homes just west of the airfield, and could keep on building in
that area, if the only goal were more housing. New Tribes is,
however, choosing to turn back inside its square mile and develop what
seems to be becoming a compound which will increase New Tribes
isolation from the community. New Tribes wants to
build a gym, and a 6-bedroom guest house, for New Tribes use only. That looks like a push to create a
private vacation center, or maybe even a boarding school.
I've been accused of having a
"vendetta" against New Tribes. There's no vendetta. What
there is, is resistance to New Tribes's failure to abide by the terms
of the permits the County has issued, and dislike of New Tribes's
conduct in what I hoped would be neighborly discussions. New
Tribes seems to assume that whatever it wants, is right, and that the
facts, the law, and everyone outside New Tribes must give way to
whatever New Tribes wants. It's not a vendetta to react in
self-defense when New Tribes acts that way.
Nor is this an attack on New
Tribes people. I've never met one that I didn't like
personally. But in their official capacity with New Tribes, they
do things that they would never do, if they were simply individuals
dealing with their neighbors. New Tribes, like any big
organization, has goals of its own. Its goals are discussed in
Section II below. Its actual practices may hurt people: its
own people, the people it targets, and its neighbors. This is
discussed in Section III.
II. New Tribes, in theory
New Tribes tells its own story at
"Of the world's 6,500 people groups, 2,500 are still unreached.
"New Tribes Mission helps local churches train, coordinate and send missionaries to these tribes.
missionary team learns the tribal language and understands the culture,
so the message of the Gospel can be presented in the language and the
manner the people will understand.
translate God's Word, teach people how to read and write their own
language, and teach through the Bible chronologically, laying a
foundation for the Gospel among people who have never met the God of
Here's a video showing New Tribes preaching:
In fact, a search of "New
Tribes" on Youtube.com leads to many videos posted by members of the
organization. This material is mentioned here so that the reader
may look at New Tribes on its own terms.
In the United States, New
Tribes missionary training takes place at New Tribes Bible Institute
("NTBI"), a 2-year school. You can enroll if you are 17 and have
finished high school, or been home-schooled to that level.
A catalog of NTBI courses is at
NTBI's courses do not merely
teach NTBI's own variety of Christianity, they also criticize
specific other varieties of religion generally considered to be "at home"
in America. From NTBI's catalog:
MORMONISM ... contrasting how Mormon beliefs differ from Scripture, and
teaching how to challenge Mormons to correctly consider the claims of
EV018 JEHOVAH WITNESSES ... how to effectively challenge their beliefs ....
CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTS ... Scientology, Christian Science, and
Seventh-Day Adventism.... the differences between Biblical Christianity
and these religions ....
NEW AGE MOVEMENT ... the history, roots, goals and teachings of the New
Age Movement, and teaches biblical responses for the believer to those
we meet who may be involved.
ANTHROPOLOGY/HARMARTIOLOGY ... the doctrine of man (Anthropology) and
sin (Harmartiology). Anthropology includes the creation and fall
of man, his material and immaterial parts (the body, soul, and spirit),
his state of innocence, fall and depravity. Harmartiology looks
at the definitions and origins of sin in the universe.
[Note: Obviously, at NTBI, "anthropology" has no relationship to
the normal meaning of the word; and as to "harmartiology," the Greek
word is "hamartiology" -- it starts with "ham," not "harm" -- and the
concept of hamartia -- not "harmartia" -- isn't really "sin," but
something like "deficient performance at a crucial time, with long-term
consequences." "Harmartiology" is the greatest show of
scholarship that NTBI puts on; misspelling the word, twice, should be
Of course a religious school
will teach its own beliefs, but NTBI also teaches how to combat
specific other varieties of religion. One course, EV070,
"Contemporary American Cults," is especially revealing. The
course is about Scientology, Christian Science, and Seventh-Day
Adventism. Scientology, invented by science fiction writer L. Ron
Hubbard, is about ten years younger than New Tribes, and whatever you
think of Scientology, it has far more members than New Tribes.
Christian Science is almost 150 years old and has between half a
million and a million members. Seventh-Day Adventism is a little
older than Christian Science, and has about 16 million members.
New Tribes reveals a self-centered view of the world when it calls
those groups cults.
New Tribes also looks down on mainstream American Christianity. The webpage at
states "the fundamentalist New
Tribes Mission maintains a strict 'separation policy' prohibiting any
of its missionaries from belonging to any church that is a member of
the" National Council of Churches. The National Council of
Churches has a webpage at
that says its members
"encompass a wide spectrum of American Christianity ... Protestant,
Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican, and African-American, historic peace
churches and ethnic-language immigrant churches. They include
more than 100,000 local congregations and 45 million persons in the
United States. Beyond these member communions, more than 50 faith
groups, from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal, participate in the
Council's work ...." New Tribes's strict separation from all of
those churches is an indicator that New Tribes, which freely throws the
word "cult" at religious groups that are much older and larger than New
Tribes, itself fosters a cult-like state of mind.
After NTBI, New Tribes has
another one or two years of training for missionaries and support
staff. As to the New Tribes operation in McNeal, it exists to
train pilots and mechanics for its flights in undeveloped areas of the world.
III. New Tribes, in practice
As noted near the beginning of
this article, New Tribes's practice differs from its theory.
Although practical divergence from theory is not necessarily harmful,
New Tribes may be committing actual harm in three ways, discussed
below: worldwide issues of child abuse and genocide, and the
local issue of how New Tribes in McNeal treats its neighbors.
A. New Tribes hurting its own: covering up child abuse?
There are many allegations of
New Tribes child abuse at boarding schools for "missionary kids"
("MK"s), and a long coverup. The allegations are being
investigated on two main tracks, and things may come to a head within a
month. At present, the allegations cannot be accepted as proven
beyond a reasonable doubt, but they do suggest that before New Tribes
in McNeal is allowed to go down the road to becoming a self-centered
compound, the allegations should be considered. It would be
irresponsible for the County to ignore such allegations, before letting
the local organization expand.
1. One investigatory track is from New Tribes "missionary kids," MKs, themselves. See
Almost all MKs remain devoted
Christians, but are distressed that New Tribes is protecting its
organization, but neglecting abused children.
LET'S BE CLEAR: The MKs
are not criticizing what New Tribes believes, only how New Tribes lets
down its beliefs. Almost all the MK criticisms are strongly
pro-Christian. Any suggestion otherwise would be a large red
If you browse around on fandaeagles.com, and go to
you will see, at the top right of that page:
"The Mik's story along with the communication between
NTM proves that leadership knew and did not act.... what we
find especially damaging is the abuse of leadership who
chose not to protect us at the time ... and who have still
not repented nor sought justice for us today, 20 years
At the top of
you will find these allegations about the institution:
"... Most of the anonymous commenters are not MK's, but
are former and current NTM missionaries who are righteously
and rightfully indignant about being lied to by leadership
about the type of environment they were placing their child
"... imagine this scenario if you will. You place your
very young child into a boarding school where the child care
provider (let's call him Uncle D) has no qualifications or
training to work with children. You are not informed that
he also has at least one current claim of sexual abuse
against him by a child....
"One child claims Uncle D was sexually inappropriate
with her.... but after Uncle D claims innocence and because
the school has a shortage of workers the case is dropped,
without talking to the child, or you, the child's parent, or
any of the children's parents.
"Now imagine one year later, another child ... claims
she was molested by this same man... She tells her father
who ... contacts the school. School officials believe her
dad is making the story up ....
"[Uncle D] admits he molested several of the girls at
the school, but as he is already leaving the school due to
personal issues the matter ... is dropped ... and in fact
when parents try to get information they are admonished by
the school officials to stop gossiping."
Further down that same page, there's a reaction to the example of "Uncle D:"
"Consider the guest book entry by a person who checks
this blog almost daily, hoping to see that New Tribes
Mission has taken a firm stand and are fully supportive of
'the least of these' - the children, now adults - who were
harmed in what an NTM leader himself has called 'those dark
days at the boarding school.'
"This person wants to post anonymously, concerned lest
their 'New Tribes affiliation could possibly backfire on'
"How? How could their New Tribes affiliation possibly
'backfire' on them for openly 'rooting for both New Tribes
to be who they can be [and] for the adult Mks'?...
"How could there be the slightest hint of suspicion
that NTM leaders would object to their missionaries'
publicly declaring themselves in favor of justice? Why does
this guest fear the consequences of saying they are against
child sexual abuse, that they are outraged at the conduct of
the leaders with respect to this situation and they want NTM
to take a firm stand?...
"A New Tribes Mission Executive Board member told the
bloggers: 'I can assure you that we have changed our
leadership style and the way we work with people.' Yet,
their missionaries react with this kind of fear and
intimidation? What kind of 'leadership style' is at work
here? By whom, and to what end? And, how?"
If you search fandaeagles.com for "quilliam," you will find
" Ever since I was a teenager I have felt a bit like
NTM is a law into itself. Anyone can join, hide behind God,
do whatever they like and nothing can be done about it!
They claimed they were Christians guided by God and, thus,
always did the right thing."
for more about an
organizational coverup. Also, there has been unsettling conduct,
apparently not handled well, at the New Tribes headquarters in
2. The other investigatory track is from an
organization called GRACE, "Godly Response To Abuse In the Christian
GRACE is a very serious
organization. It was begun by Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham's
grandson. The GRACE page mentioned above includes:
"... In the last 10 years, there have been an average
of 70 child abuse allegations against American churches
every week. And those who survive child abuse face a
lifetime of spiritual, emotional, and physical challenges.
"The financial costs of child abuse are staggering.
Child abuse costs this country more than $94 billion each
year. That translates to $258 million per day or $1,462
annually for every household in the United States. Within
the Christian community, law suits were a result of 21% of
the allegations made against Christian churches. Child
abuse has been both spiritually and financially devastating
to the Christian community."
GRACE is working to find a real solution for such problems.
The webpage at
gives an upbeat update on
GRACE's investigation of the allegations about New Tribes. A
September 7, 2009, posting includes:
"In a nutshell GRACE's position on what occurred at
Fanda and other schools around the world and in the church
is this: GRACE hates sin and coverups.... God does not
excuse injustices committed in the name of the 'greater
good'. In fact He abhors it. Doing good works is not an
excuse. The church (mission) is culpable spiritually and
criminally for covering up."
As of this writing, the latest update on that page, dated February 23, includes
"About 15 former MKs share[d] their stories in
individual interviews with the Grace team. Grace asked
intelligent questions and displayed appropriate outrage
about what happened at Fanda and the resulting NTM
coverup.... Grace will speak to many more MKs and Ms
(missionaries and former missionaries) in the next month and
they are shooting for final recommendations by end of
Sometime between April and June of 2010, the situation should be clarified.
B. New Tribes hurting the people it targets: Genocide?
For example, four tribes in South America:
-- the Zo'e; see
-- the Ayoreo; see
-- the Yuqu; see
-- and the Nukak; see
One reads of things like
"heathens" being hunted down using airplanes as spotters, though
sometimes people flee to new territories; reduced to handouts from
missionaries, and dependence on corporations who destroy the tribal way
of life; reduced in numbers by diseases brought in by
missionaries, who do not provide adequate treatment.
As to the Far East, New Guinea in particular, the page at
"New Tribes ... has stated that it is their intent to reach
and preach to every 'dark corner' of the planet. But the
people of West Papua have declared missionaries to be one of
the 4 biggest threats to free peoples -- one of the biggest
reasons being that they build airstrips in remote jungles
which are eventually used by businessmen, corporations and
military personnel. First comes Christianity, then comes
Opening up new airfields is, of
course, inseparable from New Tribes's mission. There is quite a
bit of sociological discussion on the net about problems caused by
C. New Tribes hurting its neighbors in McNeal
This of course is much less important, on a global scale, than the above two issues; but it is an important issue for McNeal.
New Tribes did not appear to
get its original permit to move to McNeal in a completely
straightforward manner, and did not completely follow the permit after
In 1991, New Tribes asked for a Special Use Permit to operate in McNeal. New Tribes said it
"... proposes to use this property as a Private Airport and Resident Housing for Tribal Air personnel....
"... we plan on doing all we can to be good neighbors ....
"We feel the
proposed use of this property will ... increase, not only the value of
this particular section of land, but also of the surrounding
and twin engine small aircraft ... will each fly about six (6) flights
per day Monday through Friday for a total of about 24 flights. No
other aircraft will use the field ....
"4. ... flights will be directed away from McNeal townsite, to the north, south and east ....
"5. ... twenty-five (25) housing units are proposed for staff and pilot trainees...."
On May 20, 1991, the Board Of
Supervisors approved the permit, modified to allow six (up from the
requested four) aircraft, with operations "to be conducted during
Visual Flight Rule (VFR) Conditions only" and "Flight patterns to
reflect patterns on approved plans, weather and traffic permitting".
The Board meeting was not
pretty. McNeal residents Tom and Florence Bohmfalk lived next to
the airfield long before New Tribes arrived (now there is a row of
houses, occupied by New Tribes people, between the Bohmfalks and the
airfield). The Bohmfalks wrote a description which was printed in
the September 1992 issue of the Pearce "Sunsiter," and included:
"... this 'hearing' was a travesty of justice....
representative for the petitioners made a statement .... The
representative had been in our home and given us a completely different
Larger planes are being flown in and out than they stated would be
used. We believe there will ultimately be a further erosion of
the tax base because this organization will seek to claim tax exempt
status as a religious entity....
people change their story to suit the moment and the audience....
they intend to do whatever they wish believing no one can stop them...."
As predicted, New Tribes did,
in the following years, try to "stretch" its permit. On March 2,
1993, a Planning Department employee noted noise complaints; New Tribes
said it would re-emphasize the proper flight patterns to its
pilots. In 1993, there was a complaint about New Tribes planes
flying over the McNeal school; New Tribes stopped that. In 1995,
New Tribes attempted to add a fire station next to the Bohmfalks'
property, but gave up after intense opposition. From 1999 to
2000, New Tribes kept a helicopter, though its permit allowed only
Things settled down then, but
in 2007 New Tribes began systematic violations of its permit, by flying
planes directly toward, over, and around McNeal, sometimes very low,
often ten or more times per hour, five or six hours at a time.
Flights, instead of avoiding McNeal by landing from the east and
turning east after takeoff, often landed from the west and turned west
after takeoff, putting flights on all sides of McNeal. Helicopter
flights began, and the airport housed more planes than permitted (with
at least one plane not from New Tribes) plus the nonpermitted
This writer, who lives in
McNeal, attempted a neighborly resolution with New Tribes. We met
on June 28, 2007. During the meeting, New Tribes argued that if
there was even the smallest amount of wind, New Tribes could fly any
patterns it wanted -- an assertion which would nullify the conditions
in the 1991 permit. New Tribes argued that it can do anything the
permit doesn't forbid. New Tribes did not dispute that it was
housing more planes than allowed, including a friendly rancher's
airplane. New Tribes claimed that a helicopter was the same as a
fixed-wing plane, as far as the permit was concerned. New Tribes
added that the copter, and its pilots, would be gone by Fall; but New
Tribes did not mention that they would be replaced by others. In
short, New Tribes took several insupportable positions.
My goal was to end the New
Tribes violations, so I bent over backwards to be conciliatory, but New
Tribes refused to continue the discussion in the following days, and
continued flights that were totally improper. New Tribes also met
with the Planning Department; New Tribes's letter to the Department
closed "Your help is greatly appreciated in accurately determining if
Mr. Jackson's concerns are valid." However, New Tribes's letter
only raised three of the concerns I had raised in the meeting.
The Department should have included me in the discussion, but did not,
and New Tribes got to present "my" case "its" way, without my
knowledge. Not very neighborly of New Tribes.
On October 25, 2007, after the
one-sided discussion, New Tribes submitted a formal request to modify
its permit to allow nine aircraft, including one helicopter. On
December 24, the Bohmfalks, who had also opposed the permit in 1991,
submitted a written statement including:
"... It has
been our experience that NTM feels it is bigger and more powerful than
mere individuals and can and will push for its goals similar to a bully
in a schoolyard. The  hearing ... was a total farce and a
waste of time....
"It is our
feeling that this present request for modification is only being done
to give NTM the appearance of legality....
"... NTM has
a history of forgetting its promises and flaunting its ability to do
whatever it pleases whenever the mood strikes. We have
experienced buzzing of our house on an average of once a week.
There always seems to be a hot dog student who gets a high from doing
something he/she shouldn't, and after the deed is done what can be
said? If we complain, a gopher appears at our door, hat in hand,
says we're sorry. This gets old.
"We have a
vehement opposition to the possibility of helicopters being allowed at
all.... We have had to tolerate the fixed wings for 16
years. Why do they need more? At the first hearing it was
stated that it was primarily a teaching facility; the planes were
the first hearing one of NTM's representatives told us [that] our
opposition ... didn't matter, it was a done deal and anyway the only
others who could complain were in the cemetery, and 'They aren't going
to say anything are they?' Everyone connected with this
organization has had that attitude from the outset. They will
read their audience and will say what that particular group wants to
On December 31, 2007, the
Planning Department submitted a report in favor of the
modification. The report said New Tribes was "proposing to
increase [the] number of permanently headquartered plans [from six
fixed-wing aircraft] to nine (two additional fixed-wing aircraft and
one helicopter)". The report did not dwell on the fact that New
Tribes had already been violating its permit by flying a helicopter,
nor did the report express any incredulity at New Tribes's argument
that a helicopter was allowed by a permit which specified fixed-wing
aircraft. Such considerations matter to Planning & Zoning
Commissioner Lee Basnar, who often states that he is against "rewarding
bad behavior" by changing permits to allow practices that have been
The report added that New
Tribes "has apparently been a good neighbor in the McNeal community for
almost 17 years, with no formal complaints or violations logged [sic]
with the Planning Department" -- despite the contents of the file in
the years after 1991, and the lodging of "informal" complaints.
The report added that New
Tribes was "not proposing an increase in the total number of monthly
flight hours, which are currently 50 to 60 per month, but rather,
dividing the existing hours among more aircraft." Actually, flights
typically begin at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays, and last 4 to 5 hours; that
amounts to about 90 to 100 hours per month. If the hours per day
were cut in half, down to 2 or 2.5 -- still over what New Tribes
promised in order to get its original permit -- then living near the
airport would be more tolerable.
The Planning & Zoning
Commission heard New Tribes's application on January 9, 2008. New
Tribes had 17 letters "for," and 6 letters against -- but no
Commissioner commented on the fact that most of the letters "for" were
from people associated with New Tribes compound. This writer
spoke against the application, noting, among other things, two recent
crashes of New Tribes helicopters in New Guinea, after their pilots
were apparently trained here; New Tribes did not respond, nor did any
Commissioner raise an eyebrow.
Early in the discussion at the
meeting, New Tribes stated that it wanted another copter; but later in
the discussion, New Tribes said it wanted no limit on the number of
copters. This change during the meeting makes it reasonable to
wonder if New Tribes will once again switch during the upcoming
meeting, and ask for something that it didn't ask for beforehand.
As to flying "well away from
the McNeal Townsite located to west and south of the site," New Tribes
stated that this requirement was interpreted differently by it and the
County, and that this condition was not possible to follow. As to
flying during "daylight hours only," New Tribes stated that night
flights had been sought for its original permit, and that New Tribes
had to land at night for practice. That assertion appeared to
completely contradict every document submitted by New Tribes in
1991. The Commission did not challenge New Tribes's statements.
The minutes of the meeting, posted at
show that limitations on the flight path, and daylight flights, were stricken, and two helicopters were allowed.
At least, however, New Tribes
was still not allowed to fly directly over McNeal. But after
getting the expanded permit, New Tribes proceeded to push its new
limits, just as it had pushed the limits of the original permit.
On January 16, 2008, I emailed
Department employee Mike Turisk: "This morning, generally around
8 to 9 am, a New Tribes plane was taking off right towards McNeal, due
west from the airport. I believe that violates a condition in the
expanded permit. If it does not, please explain to me why it
doesn't." Mr. Turisk emailed back: "In order for your
complaint to be considered as official, you must fill out a complaint
form". I wanted to avoid an official complaint, so I did not file
an official form.
On February 6, 2008, I emailed
New Tribes: "about 3 minutes ago, a helicopter flew [from the]
west [directly over McNeal] and landed at New Tribes. One of
yours; and in your opinion, is such a flight allowed by your expanded
permit?" New Tribes answered the next day that this was a
"gyro-copter owned by a pilot from Bisbee. This was NOT our
aircraft nor our pilot.... we will [try] and ask him to avoid flying
near McNeal." New Tribes did not address the issue of the pilot's
landing at this private airport, which is not permitted by the County.
On April 8, 2008, New Tribes
conducted normal operations -- but April 8 was a Saturday, when New
Tribes's permit does not allow flights. More weekend flights have
occurred since then.
On August 4, I sent a note to
New Tribes about another plane flying directly over McNeal. New
Tribes said that the pilot was not a New Tribes pilot, and they would
not name him.
Such flights have continued on
and off. McNeal residents don't log every violation, as they
would if this were a vendetta. McNeal residents are taking the
adult role, but, for an organization that officially says it wants
to be a good neighbor, New Tribes is, in practice, showing a lot of disrespect for its immediate
Safety issues persist. In
May 2009, a New Tribes training flight crashed near Bisbee. "The
National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s)
of this accident as follows: The flight instructor's inadequate
supervision of the flight and inadequate recovery from a bounced
New Tribes flying is not necessarily an asset to McNeal.
IV. Summing Up
An old story says that a
bishop, when asked, "Why so much evil and suffering in the world?",
answered "God does things in His public capacity which He deplores in
His private capacity." So with the good people at New
Tribes. In their public role, they do things which they would
never do in their private lives.
Whatever New Tribes is
permitted to do, New Tribes will, if it acts as it has in the past,
push beyond the permit. The only defense for the people of McNeal
is to restrict the permit, not expand it.
There's also the question,
Should New Tribes be permitted to take any more steps toward building a
compound? What does a 6-bedroom guest house, or a private
gymnasium, have to do with training pilots and mechanics? A
dormitory and gymnasium look, in fact, a lot like the first steps
toward a boarding school. Given New Tribes's record with boarding
schools, does the County want to rush to permit New Tribes to go down
that road, so soon before the investigation of the allegations will