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COLOMBIA: Paramilitary Groups Close at Least 60 Churches

COLOMBIA: Paramilitary Groups Close at Least 60 Churches

In the last few weeks, field workers in Colombia have been inundated with reports of paramilitary groups closing churches throughout northern Colombia in the states of Antioquia, Bolívar, Chocó and Córdova. They began compiling a list, which has grown to 60 churches.

Many of these churches and the homes of pastors were tagged with the initials of the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitary group, which is Colombia’s largest drug-trafficking organisation. Many of the congregations also received official letters from the AGC threatening them and directing them to close. Other pastors were kept from holding church services or from visiting the homes of parishioners.

According to a field worker in Colombia, “It appears that the graffiti marks on churches or pastoral homes is about the AGC marking their territory. There are several armed groups fighting for control in the region, including FARC dissidents and a Mexican drug cartel.”

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Pray for the believers living under intense stress in this region. May they know the strengthening presence of God.
  • Ask God for wisdom for pastors and church leaders as they make plans and decisions. Pray for their protection.
  • Pray there will be opportunities for Christians to continue to meet. Pray they will encourage one another and intercede for the members of paramilitary groups.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

Taking Jesus into the Jungle

Taking Jesus into the Jungle

Surrendering all to God, a Colombian family boldly shares the Gospel in a guerrilla-controlled red zone known for drug trafficking and violence.

David and Gloria Martinez moved deep into Colombia’s Chocó Department in 2005 to share the Gospel, distribute Bibles and plant churches. The couple studied the local language and learned to live off the land, building relationships among the region’s large Afro-Colombian population and with numerous indigenous people. They even grew accustomed to living in close proximity to right-wing paramilitary groups and armed rebel groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Slowly, over the next two years, they began to train church leaders and establish churches in the area. As a result, many came to faith in Christ.

“That is when it got difficult,” Gloria said. “The devil was mad. The spiritual attacks started. The witchcraft and the different armed groups started to come in.”

Suddenly, the couple, who had a nine-month-old daughter at the time, found themselves imploring God for protection.

Becoming Targets
David and Gloria met while attending a missionary school in the Department of Meta, in central Colombia. After learning about indigenous people groups who hadn’t yet heard of Jesus, David felt compelled to take the Gospel to the jungle. Gloria, his girlfriend at the time, had already visited Chocó on a short-term mission trip.

The two married on 18 July 2004 and decided to move to the west coast, one of the poorest regions in Colombia and a hub of violence and drug trafficking. With little to sustain themselves, they raised the necessary funds, and the missionary school provided 180 Bibles to get them started. “It was something difficult at the time, but God showed us the way in,” David said, smiling.

Chocó Department’s thick rainforest, large rivers and lack of developed roads make it largely inaccessible, even to Colombian security forces. As a result, it has become a popular refuelling spot for boats transporting cocaine to Central America and Mexico.

The relatively few Christians in the Department have experienced persecution in the past. In 2002’s Bojayá massacre, the FARC bombed a church, killing more than 70 people, injuring hundreds and displacing roughly 6,000. About a year after David and Gloria moved to Chocó, a prominent guerrilla commander elsewhere in Colombia declared all pastors in the country’s red zones objects of war.

At about that same time, David and Gloria caught the attention of locals who helped haul cocaine to boats along the coast. “People would say, ‘Hey, these foreigners are seeing what we’re doing’,” David recalled. “We had to decide if we were going to leave or stay. Our decision was to stay because we were preaching the Gospel.”

Then, one day a rebel leader accompanied by about 60 guerrilla soldiers came to the couple’s house and told David he had to support them. “They knew everything about me,” he said. “They mentioned all my wife’s family members, all of my family members. They knew the offering I was receiving every three months. They knew the exact amount we were receiving.”

One of the rebels told David that they would triple his salary and allow him to continue his pastoral work if he would join them, as other pastors already had. “If they are collaborating, they are no longer pastors,” David replied. “I won’t work with you. You kill people. The only person who should have power over life is God.”

The rebel leader didn’t appreciate David’s boldness. “You are lucky it’s me and not some other guerrillas, as they would have shot you in the head already,” he said. “We are going to talk tomorrow.”

Holding their daughter, Samantha, Gloria began to pray for the protection of her husband and daughter. “A lot of the guerrillas are famous for taking kids,” she said. “I feared for both of them.”

Loving the Enemy
The next day, the rebel leader and 60 guerrillas returned to David and Gloria’s house at 6pm, but this time the leader had a changed attitude. He told David that his mother was a Christian. Surprised and relieved, David relaxed as the two began to discuss the Bible.

“When we started to speak about God, I started to become his friend,” David said. “I became good friends with this man. I told him to listen to God. He said, ‘I will only come to Christ when I am injured in the war.’”

David urged the man to place his faith in Jesus as Saviour before he died in conflict, but the man resisted. Still, before the rebel leader left, he accepted 60 Bibles from David to share with the other fighters.

Fifteen days later, the rebel leader was killed in an attack by a paramilitary group. David hopes he read the Bible and came to faith in Christ before the attack. “He liked the Gospel,” David recalled. “When he received the Bible, he made an expression like he was remembering his childhood. He was very joyful. He said, ‘Thank you, pastor; thank you, pastor.’ I believe that it was good for him to have the Bible.”

After developing a relationship with the man’s replacement in the guerrilla group, David continued to supply them with Bibles. He and Gloria distributed 400 Bibles over the next several months as guerrilla fighters rotated in and out of the group.

When the new leader’s superior learned of the books, however, he had them burned. The commander told David that he had read a few pages of one of the Bibles, though. “Then those Bibles burned have not been a waste,” David told the man. “Because of one or two texts, God is speaking to you.”

The rebel groups controlled every aspect of David and Gloria’s lives. To buy food and other goods, they had to walk through both FARC and paramilitary territories. “Every time we passed the paramilitary, they thought we were collaborators with the guerrillas,” he said. “They threatened us. They told the indigenous people they were going to kill us.”

When community members relayed the threats to David and Gloria, they decided to transfer to a safer part of the province. But despite their difficulties, they left in awe of what God had done in that place. In five years, they had raised up four indigenous pastors and planted churches in two communities. And in those two communities, 70 people had come to faith in Christ. With the local pastors in place, David and Gloria were confident the believers would be well cared for after they left.

Becoming Invisible
After moving to another part of Chocó in 2010, David, Gloria and their children continued to experience persecution from all sides as the government, paramilitaries, rebel groups and organised crime syndicates vied for control of territory. “There were moments we had to run out of the community,” Gloria said. “There were months when we were actually in another community because the drug situation was really bad. Of course … there was a lot of fighting, so we would leave the area while it was happening, too.”

During the first few years, however, most of the persecution came from a local religious group. “For four years, more or less, they wouldn’t rent us a good house,” David said. “We always had houses that were falling apart. I would fix them, and then they would kick us out once I fixed it.”

Then, a group of indigenous village leaders prohibited David and his family from entering their community. The village even sued them, claiming David’s family was damaging their cultural identity by introducing and spreading Christianity.

“We have been able to demonstrate with those who are believers today that we are not here to damage the cultural identity,” David said. “We always try to teach in their language. We talk to the kids in their languages.”

To keep the peace, David and his family moved out of the indigenous community and into an Afro-Colombian community. Descended from those brought to the Americas during the slave trade, the Afro-Colombians live much as their African ancestors did. Some of them even continue to practise African folk religions.

Among this community, David and Gloria lead a mixed congregation from indigenous and Afro-Colombian backgrounds. And they continue to minister to 20 indigenous believers in the community they left.

In 2019, David and his family visited 25 of the 28 indigenous communities in the area, often receiving threats as they passed through guerrilla and paramilitary territories. Although the Colombian government and the FARC signed a peace agreement that was ratified by the nation’s congress in November 2016, David and Gloria said the peace deal has not brought peace, especially in Chocó. In fact, they said, the guerrillas are only regrouping and rearming under the failed peace deal.

“Right now we are a military objective for the armed groups because we are not from the area,” Gloria said. “We are always praying to become invisible. The indigenous people who are Christians experience a lot more persecution from their community, and in many cases from the armed groups as well.”

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COLOMBIA: Evangelist and Former Rebel in Hiding

COLOMBIA: Evangelist and Former Rebel in Hiding

A frontline evangelist and former rebel is in hiding after learning that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are looking for her.

Sara Gómez joined the FARC as a teenager but later left the group and became a Christian. For the past decade, she has passionately shared the Gospel wherever she goes. Because of her active witness, she has been displaced several times.

Recently, during lockdown due to COVID-19, FARC members took advantage of the light military presence to target former comrades who had become Christians.

When Sara learned that FARC members were going house to house in her town killing those who had left the group, she quickly fled the area. She and her family are sleeping in a church until it is safe to return. She told a VOM worker that she is thankful because “she has not been hungry or without shelter.”

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Please pray for the protection of Sara and her family as well as others who may be targets.
  • Thank the Lord for Sara’s evangelism efforts. Pray that God will continue to use her mightily for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom in Colombia.
  • Pray for members of the FARC, that many of them will have an opportunity to hear the Word of God and be transformed by His grace.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

COLOMBIA: Pastor Killed, Leaving the Church ‘Terrified’

COLOMBIA: Pastor Killed, Leaving the Church ‘Terrified’

Pastor Leider Molina, 24, had just finished preaching in his church in Caucasia, Antioquia state in north-west Colombia, on Friday 9 February. As he stepped outside, he was hit by five bullets.

Molina was known as a passionate preacher and an active youth leader working for his church and city, 670km north of the capital Bogotá, according to one local source.

The Caucasia region has suffered an escalation in violence for the last 4 months, according to the source. Armed groups fight for control of drug trafficking routes and the ownership of illicit crops.

“Communist guerrillas, paramilitary groups, criminal gangs and drug cartels all see the church as an enemy to be eradicated because, thanks to the preaching and courageous action of leaders and pastors, many young people have renounced armed conflict and illegal activities,” the source said.

Last September two other pastors in the region were killed. Pastor Galarza, a social and religious leader, was shot dead in front of his family. Pastor Elfren Martínez Pérez, 55, was murdered outside his home after he refused to help members of a neo-paramilitary group with transport.

The church in the area is terrified, according to the source. “Some Christians have fled with their families, while others have decided to stay awaiting government intervention. Church leaders, however, continue their work despite the death threats,” said the source.

Despite the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the country’s largest armed group, the FARC, killings have not stopped.

Source: World Watch Monitor

  • Pray the Lord will comfort, strengthen and provide for the loved ones of Pastor Molina, Pastor Galarza and Pastor Martínez.
  • Pray for pastors, evangelists, church members and other innocent civilians in the area; that the Lord would extend His protective arm towards them. Pray for continued effective Gospel ministry.
  • Ask the Lord to provide wisdom and strength to those in authority and members of the military as they seek to protect locals and bring an end to the violence.

Post a prayer in the comments below.

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate

Alex Leads Attacker to the Lord and Continues to Fight for Justice

Alex Leads Attacker to the Lord and Continues to Fight for Justice

In 2008, Alex was on his way to work at a banana plantation in Colombia when armed guerrillas boarded the bus he was on and drove it to a remote location before forcing everyone off the bus and making them kneel before shooting each one of them.

Surprisingly, despite being shot in the face and leg, Alex survived the attack and was the only passenger found alive. He recalls finding strength during the attack and wishing he could have told his attackers about God — even in the moments after he had been shot.

After his recovery, Alex joined a prison ministry where he ran into a prisoner named Ismael, and realised this was the very man who had shot him years before. Alex eventually led Ismael to the Lord.

Alex now continues to serve in prison ministry. Recently, he decided to go to law school, and he intends to spend his career helping those who are falsely imprisoned.

Despite good health, Alex’s eyesight has deteriorated as he lost an eye during the attack. Thankfully, the law school he chose can make accommodations for him such as offering oral exams instead of written ones.

As a result of the peace process in Colombia, many former guerrillas, including Ismael, were pardoned and released from prison.
Ismael needed a place to live so Alex asked him to move into his place. The former guerrilla and his victim are now roommates.

We originally told Alex’s story in 2008; this is the most recent update. You can view the story of Alex online at www.youtu.be/2lLjTZGReKU

If you would like to financially support the work of Voice of the Martyrs, please go to: vom.com.au/donate