In Mexico, Pastor Braces for Death But God Does the Miraculous
In Mexico (#39 on the World Watch List), persecution against church leaders and their churches is on the rise. The ongoing struggle against organized crime affects all Mexicans, but especially the most vulnerable groups in rural areas, including minority Christian denominations. Christians such as church leaders who actively engage in transforming society constitute a threat to drug cartels and other criminal groups. In Juarez, just across from El Paso, Texas, church leaders have become targets of ringleaders.
“You don’t know who you’re messing with…”
A church pastor (name withheld) from the Mexican border city of Juarez thought they might be the last words he would hear, staring point blank into a gun barrel.
The hitman had entered the home of the church leader intent on carrying out his assignment. As the pastor knelt on the floor, he heard the man pull the trigger.
Miraculously, the gun failed to fire.
Confused, the hitman knocked the pastor unconscious and stole his wallet, then left the home.
Church Leaders Targets of Persecution
The story sounds like a scene from a movie. But for this pastor and others like him in Mexico, persecution of them, their families and their churches is tragically real.
The attack came just days after the murder of fellow local pastor Eduardo Garcia. He was chased and shot by unidentified assailants believed to be members of the drugs trade. His car eventually swerved into a bus stop, and then another car, before stopping.
During a particularly gruesome period of violence in 2009, the Garcias lost their 24-year old son, Abraham, who was murdered also by suspected drug ringleaders.
“The pain we feel is really strong,” he told World Watch Monitor last year. “We wouldn’t wish it on anyone… We had decided to try to rescue the city, but I never imagined we would become a part of the statistics.”
Both church leaders were likely targeted because of their church’s restorative work with the community, which drug cartels see as a hindrance to their trafficking efforts.
“All I can say is that with the work we do as a church we have affected the activities of those groups involved in drug trafficking and also the organized crime,” says the pastor who survived his attack. “We are not sure what comes next.”
In recent years, the number of violent deaths in Mexico has gone up dramatically. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, in 2017 there were over 30,000 homicides in Mexico, the highest figure on record since statistics were first collected in 1997.
In cities like Ciudad Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua–one of the most violent places in the country–80 percent of the murders relate to the drugs industry.
In June alone, there were 177 murders in Juarez, according to municipal authorities–six a day.
A Threat to Drug Cartels
While the violence affects everyone, actively practicing Christians are particularly vulnerable, says Open Doors’ Latin American Analyst Dennis Petri. Given that as much as 90 percent of Mexico’s population would identify as Christian, Petri told World Watch Monitor that it’s important not to look so much at a person’s identity as a Christian, but more at the behavior resulting from their Christian convictions.
“Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work–for example, setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organizing youth work–that’s a direct threat to the activities and interests of organized crime because it takes the youth away from them. It’s a direct threat to their market.”
Petri mentioned one church leader who was killed for setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic and then refusing to close it despite threats. He also cited the example of a church leader who set up a football team for vulnerable boys, some of whom were working as informants for cartels. When one boy told the cartels he no longer wished to be an informant, he was killed.
Perception of Affluence
A more obvious example of why active Christians are easy targets of Mexican drug cartels comes from the perception that churches and their leaders have a lot of money, so congregations offer a ready source of cash. Cartels can simply enter, lock the doors and tell the congregation to empty their pockets.
Chito Aguilar, 62, a former drug trafficker who now leads a church, told World Watch Monitor: “They say, ‘Well, if in a church there are 50 or 100 people bringing their offerings, that’s more and easier money than what they’ll get robbing a convenience store.’ Eight people walk into a church, and one or two will remain at the doors while the others start collecting watches, rings, wallets … everything.”
Praying With Church Leaders in Mexico
- Pray for Christian leaders who are being targeted. Pray for courage, that they would remain in the fight for souls through much-needed community and youth work. Ask God to protect them and their families and strengthen them in the face of growing adversity.
- Pray with the families of these pastors, especially the Garcias who have suffered so much. And pray for Christians who are often denied access to basic social services and resources. Some of these believers suffer incarceration and displacement.
- Pray for God’s provision and grace. Pray for the government in Chiapas, Hidalgo, and Oaxaca specifically.
- Mexico is one of the most violent countries in the world. Pray for physical protection for persecuted believers in Mexico.
- Pray for the hearts of those involved in drug cartels who kidnap, terrorize and even kill Christians who stand in the way of their illegal work. Pray that they would come to know Jesus and that they would encourage positive change in Mexico.
*representative photo used