In the last 10 years, a number of pastors in Colombia have been ordered by guerrilla rebels to close down their churches and, in some cases, leave the area. However, this year, several pastors in the most dangerous regions of Colombia have chosen to defy these long-standing orders and reopen. In doing so, they are facing life-threatening risks to themselves and their congregations because of their courage to begin meeting again on Sundays and throughout the week for worship, Bible study and prayer.
In both the Guaviare and Cauca provinces, the deadly FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) extremists hold sway as the longest-operating rightwing guerrilla group in Latin America. Classified as virtual war areas, these regions thrive on the planting and production of illicit drugs used to fund the illegal armed groups. FARC-EP violence continues to deliberately target churches and their leaders for standing against the guerrillas’ armed rebellion against the Colombian government and civil peace.
The World Missionary Movement (WMM) church in Nuevo Tolima, San Jose Del Guaviare, was closed last December when FARC-EP rebels threatened Pastor Hermes Mondragon* and forced his displacement from the town. For a couple of months, the congregation of believers still met together in homes and studied discipleship materials they received during an Open Doors’ “Standing Strong Through the Storm” seminar. But on February 15 of this year, the newly appointed Pastor Jose Luis Hernandez* decided to ignore the rebel commander’s previous orders and reopen the church for weekly Bible services. The Nuevo Tolima believers know they are in danger of retaliation for resuming their Sunday services and that their new pastor may come under direct threat of his life. After the church reopened, guerrillas attempted to blow up bombs set against the church. “But as a result of prayers and fasting and faith in our mighty God, He protected them all until the last moment,” an Open Doors worker said.
In neighboring Caqueta province, a WMM church in Cristalina la Losada town was forcibly closed seven years ago by the FARC-EP. Nevertheless, the congregation continued to meet secretly in believers’ homes and other places. When WMM Pastor Andrew Pinto* was threatened three years later, the rebels sent him a message, demanding, “You must leave the region with your family.” The local congregation interceded for him and his family, facing the commanders who finally agreed to allow them to stay. But the church was forbidden to meet for worship. Then six months ago, Pastor Pinto secured permission from the main FARC-EP commander to reopen the church under certain restrictions. The church is not allowed to invite speakers from other towns to preach and teach in their services, and the pastor was ordered not to submit any reports on his pastoral ministry.
In yet another incident, the WMM church in Caqueta province’s San Juan de Lozada city was closed down on March 28, 2009 by the guerrillas who banned all meetings and activities. They also demanded that the believers submit themselves to rebel orders or leave the area to save their lives. Meetings were also forbidden in private homes or public places. Nevertheless, Pastor Samuel Castro* has managed to lead some secret meetings over the past two years, despite the risk of retaliation against him, his family and the church believers. At the beginning of this year, the FARC-EP commander summoned Pastor Samuel to meet with him, trying to intimidate him with the fact that he knew about the church’s secret meetings. With some fear, but strengthened by the prayers of his brothers and sisters in Christ, the pastor began to share the gospel with the commander. “All of a sudden, the commander started to open his heart and listen to me!” the pastor said. “He paid attention, and he started to think about Jesus in a different way.” Although the commander did not make a decision for Christ, at the end of the conversation he agreed to give Pastor Samuel permission to reopen the church. By faith, Pastor Samuel is continuing on, declaring: “God goes before me.”
*Pseudonyms are used to protect the pastors’ identities.
Father of all mercy, You know the danger these Colombian believers face and You know their faith and courage. Cover them with Your hands of protection as they worship You and give them opportunities, as Pastor Samuel had, to share the gospel with these guerilla rebels. Draw many of the rebels to faith in Christ and grant the Christians favor with area commanders that they might worship and speak freely. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
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