Leobard “Chito” Aguilar was not always the man of God he is today. In his “past life,” as he likes to call it, he went from being the leader of a political party to a guerrilla and dangerous drug trafficker.
Now a Christian, he is the pastor of Centro Familiar Aposento Alto, a Protestant church in Ciudad Juarez, near the border between Mexico and the United States. This is a city constantly under pressure from organized crime.
Before Pastor “Chito”Aguilar Met Jesus
The story of how he first got involved with political subversion, armed struggles and later drug cartels, goes back nearly five decades.
On October 2, 1968, Mexico City was the scene of the infamous Tlatelolco massacre. Hundreds of students and civilians were killed by military and police troops sent to break off a peaceful demonstration.
In the days that followed the massacre, “Chito” Aguilar was approached by a group of students intending to join a movement to step up the opposition to the government.
“I was young, and for this reason, I liked the idea of belonging to these subversive socialist and communist movements,” he said in an interview broadcasted in 2012. “After I joined, one of the members of the group came to me and said that the mission was not just a political one, it was to be an armed movement, a guerrilla group.”
He was told he would receive military training and would learn how to rob banks, kidnap people and plant bombs on strategic government targets. “That’s how I became part of a terrorist organization and later the leader of one of its cells, controlling two states in Mexico: Chihuahua and Durango.”
His involvement in political subversion and the guerrilla movement led him to an even more dangerous path—becoming a drug trafficker. He was trapped in the world of organized crime for years until he was caught in possession of drugs and money and sent to jail.
During his imprisonment, his wife Lidia—a devout Catholic—prayed unceasingly for his release. The day he was freed, she took him to her church, and they both thanked God for answering her prayers.
“But as soon as we came back home, I said to Lidia that I didn’t want to have anything to do with God,” he explained. “I told her I needed to start building up again what I had lost, I had no money and my possessions had been taken away from me.”
His wife kept praying, and soon after, he converted to the Christian faith.
Persuading Pastors to Stay in Mexico
Pastor “Chito” Aguilar’s church, like many other churches located in areas heavily controlled by criminal gangs and drug cartels, has been under increased pressure by the organized crime he once belonged to.
In an interview with Open Doors, Pastor “Chito” Aguilar explained he has also been the target of criminal groups who have tried to extort money from his church, a total of 10,000 Mexican pesos a month ($500.00). Because he knows first-hand the organized crime’s modus operandi, he says he has never been intimidated by it, and he’s never had to pay extortion money to any criminal group.
He remembered the crisis the Christian church in Ciudad Juarez and other border cities and towns has endured throughout the years.
“You could see pastors leaving their congregations and fleeing to the United States because things had gotten very dangerous for them in Mexico. It was a very critical time for the church. Christian leaders lived in fear. The drug cartels had already killed a pastor and kidnapped several others.”
During that time, he decided to convene a meeting with 170 pastors who were still in the city but had already prepared everything to cross the border into the US.
“They all thought their lives were more important, but I kept telling them we couldn’t just leave our city and our congregations in the hands of criminals, that we needed to trust God was there to protect us.”
A group of 100 pastors, according to him, left the country as planned. The rest stayed to help the church grow.
“Things are better now for the church in Ciudad Juarez, but we have to keep an eye on what goes on. We seem to be experiencing an increase in violence again in the city, but so far the church has not been affected,” he said.
Please pray with us for pastors and believers living in Mexico’s most dangerous areas, where the gospel is not welcomed and seen as a threat to drug cartels and trafficking.
Learn more about Mexico on the World Watch List, which ranks the countries where Christians face the most persecution.