In a remote jungle region of south-central Colombia, leftist guerrillas of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, battle against weaker forces challenging its dominance: paramilitaries, the national military, and the anti-narcotics police.
Guaviare department is coveted by every warring party, not for its petroleum and mineral riches, but for its value in cocaine production: fertile coca fields, labs that process raw coca into cocaine, and strategic positioning in a narcotrafficking corridor.
With few navigable highways and scant presence of legitimate government authority, daily life is a constant nightmare of murder, kidnapping, extortion and forced recruitment of children into the ranks of illegal armed forces. Guaviare has neither healthcare nor conventional employment. Some 70 percent of Guaviare’s population farms coca, in large part because of the immense pressure exerted by illegal armed groups that control the cocaine industry. In some communities grams of cocaine are used as currency to purchase food, medicine and household goods.
Yet amid the chaotic violence, the gospel continues to advance. In Guaviare and across Colombia, some FARC fighters and supporters are laying down their weapons and ideologies to embrace the Gospel.
Five years ago the life of Claudia*, a FARC informant, was in ruins. An alcoholic, she had abandoned her family and spent her days wandering from bar to bar while her husband and children tended to the family farm. Then she heard the message of hope in Christ from a visiting missionary who led her to faith in Christ. The life-giving power of the gospel completely transformed Claudia.
Today, as a woman known for hospitality and compassion, Claudia extends love and comfort to all who seek her, in spite of the poverty in which she, her husband and four of their children live. The shack her family calls home is located on land that the rebels consider strategic. Because of this frequent contact, Claudia is often able to deliver Bibles to her former comrades in the jungles of Guaviare and share with them the Good News of peace through Christ.
Among those whose lives have been powerfully impacted by Claudia’s witness is Simon*, a guerrilla commander with whom she shared not only the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness, but also a precious copy of the Bible.
As Simon read God’s Word, his actions began to change and his life began to bear fruit. On one occasion, when a rebel betrayed him, Simon immediately issued an order to execute him. But after the Lord spoke to Simon’s spirit, he rescinded the death order and directed his men to instead feed and clothe the traitor. Later, Simon’s superiors ordered him to execute a fellow guerrilla who had killed another fighter. Simon refused. Typically such a refusal brings death. Instead, Simon’s commander demoted him from leadership.
When Claudia learned that the army was tracking Simon down to kill him, he told her not to worry, because he was reading the Bible. After a battle between guerrillas and the army, Simon’s death was announced on the radio. Days later, he contacted Claudia, assuring her of his well-being; “I’m fine! Every day more men try to kill me, but I keep reading the Bible and I trust in your prayers.”
Open Doors has supported Claudia through prayer, family visits and, most recently, a sewing machine that will empower her to create a home business. Now she is sewing mosquito nets to protect guerrillas from malaria. Asked why, she said, “They have no one to love them and teach them the gospel.” When guerrillas come to her house, she takes the opportunity to share the Word and Christ’s love with them.
Though Claudia’s concern for the well-being of everyone has moved the guerrillas to leave her family alone thus far, she remains fearful for her 15 year old youngest daughter Liliana*.
In Colombia some 18,000 children have been recruited by various illegal armed groups during the decades of conflict. A report published in August 2012 by prominent Colombian journalist Natalia Springer revealed that 44 percent of members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), and 42 percent of the FARC are children and adolescents. Guerrillas use a wide variety of strategies to seduce young people to join. Some schoolteachers use their classrooms to indoctrinate their students, persuading boys to attend meetings where they are told about class struggle and other communist concepts.
The guerrillas are now seeking to entice Liliana into their ranks. So Claudia wants to send Liliana to Open Doors Children’s Center, a haven of refuge where her daughter could receive a quality, Christ-centered education in safety. Removing Liliana from Guaviare, however, will be dangerous. As Claudia waits for the right moment to help her daughter escape, she lives each day trusting God.
*Names changed for security reasons
Father, thank You for the life you have breathed into this woman and the guerrilla soldiers who have responded to the love of Christ. Strengthen her and grant opportunity to continue sharing the gospel with guerrillas in Guaviare. Protect her daughter and provide a way for her to live in safety at the Children’s Centre where she might grow in the love of God and service to Christ. Strengthen and guide the hearts of the guerrillas who are now believers that the light of Christ might shine through them. And we pray for the work of Open Doors as they encourage and build up the persecuted church there through seminars and various projects. We pray for You to release Colombia from bondage to the cocaine trade that the nation might be a beacon of hope in Christ. In the name of Jesus, our only true hope in this world, Amen.