“Martyred widow Alicia Castilla”.
Four months ago guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) sent demands that Alicia Castilla, widow of a murdered evangelist, abandon her home. Last week, the militants carried out their violent threats. Reeling from the loss of both parents, the three children orphaned by the guerrillas’ actions now face the same death threats if they do not leave.
On Monday, January 7th 2013, as the family’s pastor finished an evening devotional in Alicia’s home, gunmen entered and opened fire on her with pistols, killing her instantly in front of her three children and her father. An Open Doors worker told World Watch Monitor that the guerrillas told Castilla’s son, 18-year-old Hern, that the rest of the family had three days to leave the region, or they would return, and one by one, kill other family members.
Alicia’s husband, lay evangelist Nelson Ramos, became a believer two years before his death, and often shared the gospel in Saravena, a border town near Colombia’s frontier with Venezuela. “When Nelson preached, people were attracted to the gospel,” an Open Doors worker said. “He was always talking about Christ.” A few months after his conversion, the ELN issued its first expulsion order against him and his family.
Hern Ramos, the couple’s son, told the Open Doors worker that beyond denouncing his father for preaching, the guerrillas never fully explained their determination to drive out the family. After delivering their 2010 threats, ELN guerrillas entered the family’s home early in January 2011 and shot the elder Ramos as his wife, Castilla, and their two small daughters, Rosmy and Jackeline, watched.
In the months following Ramos’ death, Castilla feared that her son would carry out his threats to avenge his father’s death. Her fears were assuaged after Hern attended a camp where children, who have lost one or both parents, were ministered to. During a camp session Hern renounced his earlier vow to join the Colombian military to gain training in weaponry and avenge his father’s murder. Instead, he was baptized and became deeply involved in church activities.
Castilla, in her mid 40s, joined an Open Doors group that supports widowed victims of persecution. While she was away at the workshop, guerrillas visited Castilla’s house with a third warning to leave. Castilla was willing to move, but her elderly father was not. “She was always bearing witness about forgiveness and living in peace,” the Open Doors worker said. “She was a woman who was very committed to God, but from the start she was very worried about the threats.”
Founded in 1964, the ELN is one of several illegal armed groups fighting for control of the rich petroleum resources in this area along Colombia’s eastern-central border with Venezuela. The violent groups use the Arauca department as a narco-trafficking route. The guerrillas forcibly recruit children into their ranks, and persecute those who oppose them, namely the church. A culture of death governs the region amid an atmosphere of fear and revenge.
“The ELN believe that Christians are brainwashed with the Bible, and that they will never support their revolution,” the Open Doors worker said. “The militants are also suspicious that Christians are spies and informants for the government, and complain that they give funds to their churches and refuse to support rebel activities. They also notice that when Christians fast and pray, the guerrillas’ violent plans against them are oddly stopped!”
Father, we lift before You Hern Ramos, petitioning Your Spirit’s Hand to be upon him, and that his heart and decisions won’t change because of the recent tragedy. We call on You to transform this chain of bloodshed and hate into blessing. We pray for Hern’s protection, and for his younger sisters, Rosmy and Jackeline, as well. We think especially of these two young girls, just 9 and 6, and pray for them, confident that You are now both mother and father to them as they grow up without their earthly parents. And, we pray that Your church there will grow and flourish in the midst of this severe persecution, making the light of Your gospel blossom into a glorious sunrise in this region of Colombia. In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, Amen.