Some 40 family members of church officers at the Seventh-day Adventist Church's West-Central Africa Division, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, were temporarily relocated to the neighboring country of Ghana this month, a precautionary move during political unrest, church officials said.
Several cities in Ivory Coast are experiencing unrest following a contested election. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has not relinquished power four months after losing to Alassane Ouattara. The United Nations has since recognized Ouattara's presidency.
Adventist Church leaders said some church members have relocated away from the Abobo neighborhood, a suburb of Abidjan and one of the areas of heaviest fighting.
About 470 people have died in the post-election violence in Ivory Coast and up to 1 million people have fled Abidjan, The Associated Press reported.
Church division officers and leaders are now in the United States for the denomination's Spring Meeting of the world church Executive Committee and departmental advisories.
Church officers' family members were moved over the past two weeks to a women's center at church-owned Valley View University in Accra. Fighting has again flared in recent weeks, which prompted the move, said division President Gilbert Wari.
"While we were away we did not want to leave our families at risk," Wari said.
Wari said he believes the situation will be resolved soon, citing the Wednesday resignation of the officer of Gbagbo's army. Forces backing Ouattara are moving toward Abidjan after having taken the political capital Yamoussoukro, about 140 miles away, AP reported.
"Hopefully in a few days this will be sorted out," Wari said. "We are praying for God to intervene."
Church officers have monitored the tense situation since November's national election. Two missionary families and several local families at the division were relocated for 17 days in January. Wari said division officers met on March 8 to discuss future operations, deciding against temporarily relocating the headquarters.
"The French high school and [U.S.] Embassy have reopened -- those are indicators that the situation is not terribly out of control," Wari said.
Banks have temporarily closed and the division has cut expenses to a minimum, Wari said. About 10 employees remain at the division headquarters, which is located about 330 yards from the presidential palace, he said.
There are nearly 12,000 Adventists in Ivory Coast.
The West-Central African Division is one of the denomination's 13 world divisions and serves 22 countries.