Paula Lopez* still doesn’t know which illegal armed group promised death to her brother Pablo,* a pastor, if he didn’t flee Cordoba. Nor does she know why. But after Pablo fled, the church appointed Julian Rivera*, a lay leader from within the congregation, to replace him as pastor.
A week later on Sept. 22, Paula and Pablo’s mother found Julian Rivera’s body dumped on the doorstep of her home.
Narcotraffickers and at least six bands of violent groups are engaged in an ongoing bloody struggle to control the war-ravaged department of Cordoba, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Much of the population — including Paula and now her brother — has been forced from homes, lands and livelihoods because of the violence.
The region’s majority indigenous and African Colombians suffer the brunt of displacement, poverty, hunger, lack of access to schools and forced recruitment into one of the armed groups. The main targets of forcible recruitment are children, many of whom are 8, 9 and 10 years old, and sometimes younger. Amid hunger, illiteracy and lack of access to medical care, life is fraught with other brutal perils that directly affect everybody, including believers.
And while the gospel has made strong inroads amid the conflict, that same conflict impedes the growth of the church. Armed groups forbid churches from meeting at night, often imposing curfews. The lack of Bible training for pastors and lay leaders, combined with the danger inherent in publicly standing for Christ, has caused the church in this region to nearly collapse.
*Names changed for security reasons