As Sofia* was visiting neighbors, she heard a bombardment of gunfire coming from her home in war-ravaged Arauca, Colombia. She ran home and saw that family members and others nearby had already entered the house where her parents were bleeding profusely. Her mother was barely breathing; her father said he couldn’t feel his hands. Jose Rodriguez and his wife Emilse Maria del Carmen, were both ordained as Assemblies of God pastors. He ministered in an indigenous community on the Arauca River bordering Venezuela and she led youth in a La Esmeralda congregation where her husband also preached. His body bore six gunshots; hers, eight. The couple had not received threats, but both Jose and Emilse had previous ties to a guerrilla insurgency. The illegal armed groups that have long ruled Arauca typically kill deserters. Jose, once in charge of recruitment and political ideology, had left the ELN (National Liberation Army) eight years earlier. Emilse ended her ELN affiliation five years before. Guerrillas who become Christians also face rebel “justice.” Sofia’s grandparents believe that simply being church leaders made them targets. As the pastors were rushed to the hospital, members of the church arrived to pray for the pastors’ lives to be spared. Sofia had never prayed harder. But an hour later came the horrible news: Both her parents were dead. To Sofia, the April 2009 murders of those she loved most felt like a divine betrayal. “My parents were trained to become pastors. They always helped me with my school work, gave me godly guidance and always treated me well,” she said. “Isn’t God supposed to listen to our prayers? Why didn’t He answer our prayers?” Such despair is all too common among the children of the persecuted church and those at risk of recruitment by illegal armed groups in Colombia. These children are vulnerable to an array of groups enticing them to take up arms – those espousing Communist ideology, extreme rightists opposing the extreme left and criminal gangs engaged in drug trafficking, child prostitution, extortion and warfare aimed to topple Colombia’s government. After their mother and father’s murders, Sofia and her brothers, Ambar Gricet, 2, and Juan Jose, 2 months, went to live with their paternal grandparents. Four months later, Sofia came to the Open Doors Children’s Center, a haven that provides protection, housing and education to children of persecuted Christian families in Colombia. “In my first days at the center, I felt a great emptiness in my heart and so much pain,” she said. “But here, I felt free.” The Lord has moved in Sofia’s life through the Children’s Center. While Sofia asked herself why God would allow her parents’ lives to end so tragically, she came to understand that despite the evil all around her, the Lord had a purpose for her life. “That purpose is that I could share with other people about God’s love amid the circumstances,” she said. “That experience taught me to have more trust in God. Now I understand that many things can happen to me and that He is always with me. He is my Father. I’m so happy to say that I believe in Him!” She has forgiven the two men who killed her parents. Today she’s a leader among the 24 girls living at the center. The center’s leadership has entrusted her as an assistant girls counselor, acting as a resident representative and cabin monitor. Through an Open Doors children’s training program in evangelism, Sofia has also shared the gospel in a community near the center. “I use my platform to tell others that for those who love God, all things work together for good,” Sofia said. “I try to make people understand that we do not have to turn away from God because of difficult circumstances.” Sofia recognizes that her time at the Children’s Center has been vitally important to attain such spiritual maturity. She’s aware that her testimony is an example for other children living in similar situations of pain, sorrow and grief. Since her parents’ murder, she’s learned to value people even more, she says. “I understand how important it is to show others that we love God,” she said. Sofia, now 15, will graduate in 2014. She says that above all else, she wants to serve the Lord and radiate God’s joy in her life. She aspires to be a professional who impacts those around her. During her years at the Children’s Center, she’s discovered her talent as an educator. She’s interested in becoming a teacher. While she cherishes her time at home on vacation with her grandparents and younger brothers, she’s come to regard her Children’s Center classmates as family as well. “I know that in this place, we are part of the same family,” she said. “I do not know where God gave me strength to overcome this, but today I know that He is my Father.” *Name changed to protect her identity. Support The Children’s Center In Colombia
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