Organized crime and corruption
President Ivan Duque
In Colombia, a largely Christian country, persecution is localized—and violent. Church leaders are threatened, harassed, extorted and even murdered as a result of the violence perpetrated by guerrillas and other criminal groups, especially in the country’s more remote areas. In most cases, this violence is the direct result of Christians denouncing corruption and violence, working for the defense of human and environmental rights, serving among youth, and pursuing peace and justice—all endangering the illegal activities of criminal gangs. Christians are seen as impediments to the forced recruitment of people, especially youth, to rebel groups and to the drug trade and organized crime that pay for these groups.
In indigenous communities, significant opposition exists toward Christian missionaries and indigenous converts, who can face imprisonment, physical abuse and the confiscation of property, among other forms of punishment.
In addition, there seems to be an increasing intolerance for Christians in the public sphere and an emphasis on secularism over and above a pluralistic society that values all voices, including Christians. Christians can be wrongly seen as bigots or discriminatory, and opposition to historical Christian beliefs has been violent at times.
“One day, I received a note from one of these [criminal] gangs saying that if I didn’t cooperate with their ‘cause,’ then I shouldn’t be in this town. They also said that all young people must be part of their groups.”
Colombia’s rank on the 2021 World Watch List rose by 11 spots over last year’s list. The most significant factors leading to the country’s steady rise up the list are the violence from rebel groups—including the return of a group within FARC to guerilla activities—along with the persecution faced by indigenous Christians who have departed a traditional religion. Additionally, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected groups who were already vulnerable to criminal gangs, particularly in areas of the country that are at least partially controlled by these violent groups.
Christians most at risk in Colombia are followers of Christ who live in regions where rebel groups and drug gangs—which in some contexts can be the same thing—exert control. Christians who live out the gospel threaten to disrupt the drug trade and the ability of the local criminals to maintain their authority. Therefore, these groups target church leaders, inflicting violence on them and their communities.
The other exceptionally vulnerable group is indigenous people who convert to Christianity. Often, these Christians live in semi-autonomous regions where local authorities exert significant power. Because following Jesus is viewed as a betrayal of culture and heritage, this means Christians can be expelled from their homes or be targeted for significant and overwhelming persecution.
Guerrilla groups in Colombia are known to recruit Christian Colombian children. For this reason, the Open Doors Children’s Center was established in Colombia as a place to protect children whose families have been threatened or displaced, and for those who are at risk of being recruited.
Open Doors also supports Christians in indigenous communities with training and with the setting up of Christian education for indigenous children.
Open Doors strengthens the persecuted church in Colombia by developing and delivering Bible materials, constructing Christian schools for indigenous Christians, providing education programs and bringing emergency aid to persecuted followers of Jesus.