Alejandra* learned on December 8 that her name was on a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) hit list. For the past three months, she has been living on the run while sending her children to safety in another city and supporting herself with low-paying menial jobs.
Alejandra’s story unfolds in a community located in the former FARC demilitarized zone in south Meta. This territory, the size of Switzerland, was ceded to the rebel group in 1998 when the Colombian government was trying to coax them to the peace table. In 2002, the government experiment ended in failure and the army forcibly regained control of the area, but the FARC was firmly entrenched as the controlling power.
For decades, being a Christian in this heavily FARC-controlled area has been extremely dangerous. Knowing that area churches would never support their violent cause, the guerrillas targeted believers with kidnapping, extortion, and a reign of terror; they closed churches and banned all Christian gatherings. At great peril, Alejandra and her husband formed a clandestine Christian cell group of some 20 believers. Her husband conducted Bible studies, distributed food and medicine, and shared the gospel. In 2003, after accusing the cell group of using the “Christian fade” to inform the Colombian army about the insurgency, guerrillas shot and killed her husband and two of his relatives. Alejandra, who witnessed the murders, fled the area with her six children by hiding in the funeral car carrying her husband’s body.
Life became even more difficult for the widow who realized that she and her children would forever be in danger because she could identify the killers. To protect her family she requested that two of her children be sent to live at the Open Doors Children’s Home. She and remaining children settled into a new life in a new city. After living in fear, at last she believed they were relatively safe, albeit in less-than-optimum lodging-a small lot boasting an unfinished home with a makeshift, tarp-covered roof.
Then, in 2007, the Army captured several guerrillas suspected in the deaths of her husband and his relatives. The prosecutor’s office called her to testify before a lawyer whether these men were the murderers. “I could not lie,” Alejandra told Open Doors. “Yes, I told them. All those I was observing were the ones I knew had to do with the death of my husband.”
The murderers went to prison to await their final sentence, but the case dragged on. Colombian prisons are notoriously lax, and the incarcerated murderers have continued to direct their associates to commit crimes from behind prison walls.
Now the judge is ready to sentence each murderer to approximately 20 years in prison for their crimes. For the case to proceed to its final judgment, however, Alejandra must maintain her testimony to press charges; if she is no longer alive to do so, the killers will go free.
On December 8, two men offered a young man from Alejandra’s neighborhood 3 million Colombian pesos (US$ 1,765) to murder her. That amount would have paid for three semesters at the university. But Alejandra had long been kind to this young man who regarded her as a second mother. He told Alejandra of the plot and promised that he and his friends would protect her for the next week while she found safe hiding places for herself and her children.
Seeking justice for her slain husband and relatives has come with a high price. Even so, she doesn’t second-guess her decision to identify those who killed her loved ones. “I do not regret it, but I think if I had not done it, my life would be normal now,” Alejandra said.
Alejandra’s case is but one of many across Colombia. An Open Doors coordinator says that many more go unreported. “There is an undercurrent of tension and peril that affects the brethren of the church,” the coordinator said. “There will be more cases of which we are now unaware. People are afraid to talk about what they live.”
Father, as Alejandra lives in hiding, moving from place to place, we take heart that she is not hidden from You. Helpless in our own ability to protect her, we trust You to lovingly protect and sustain her, to be her constant presence, to wrap her in Your arms of comfort. Bring about justice for those who have inflicted fear, and even death on fellow Colombians who seek only to serve and worship You in peace. As Your church worships now in secret, we boldly pray for a revival to move across that land and subdue the power of the rebel groups. In the name of Jesus who has overcome the enemy, Amen.
*Pseudonym used to protect her identity