The voices of Christians in Latin America are strong, and in many places Christians worship and proclaim the gospel freely. In some parts of Latin America, however, angry voices from indigenous councils, criminal gangs, and guerrilla groups try in vain to silence the Christians living among them. Who are these courageous believers who refuse to allow their voices to be silenced?
Manuel* felt called to pastor a church in a small village in the middle of Colombia. Passionate in his desire to share Jesus, he moved to the remote village with his wife and two small children. Within a month of his arrival, local guerrillas forced him to close down the church building. The congregation continued to meet in the jungle and soon the small group of believers began to grow. Despite threats and harassment, Manuel continued to preach the gospel. He continued to fearlessly share Jesus until two guerrillas came to his house and shot Manuel in front of his wife and children. They gave this message to the church: “We killed this dog here and everyone who stands up to preach the gospel will receive the same treatment.”
Voice of Indigenous Councils
In Colombia and Mexico, indigenous communities have the freedom to live according to their own customs and rules, but community members that come to faith in Jesus Christ and no longer participate in traditional pagan rites and feasts are seen as traitors to their own culture by tribal leaders. Basic rights such as access to water, electricity, and medical care are often denied these Christians, and they are sometimes forcibly exiled from the community.
Yonny*, a 32-year-old Colombian, is one such indigenous Christian. He felt called to fight for Christian education to enable local Christian children to go to school. When he raised his voice to advocate for these rights, the indigenous leaders arrested him and sent him to jail. When he was finally released after serving a two-year prison sentence, he stated, “Now that I have been imprisoned I know how important it is to have someone who speaks up for the rights of Christians. I want to become a lawyer and help my brothers and sisters.”
Voice of Gangs and Drug Trafficking
Criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking are a significant and growing voice against the church. In countries like Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and El Salvador, these criminal gangs have terrorized the church. Stepping out and sharing your faith bears severe risks for these believers. The combination of increasing violence and impunity for these criminal gangs makes life for everyone difficult, especially for those who speak out.
A local criminal gang in El Salvador killed Marina’s* husband. “My husband was a pastor. For him it was natural to speak up about the rights of the poor and the defenseless. His message became a threat to the local mafia. They killed him for that reason.” His voice, however, has not been silenced and his legacy of faith lives on.
Guerrillas and Paramilitary Groups
Christians are seen as a threat to the ideologies of guerrilla and paramilitary groups because of their faith. Under the former president Alvaro Uribe, the influence of these groups decreased in Columbia, but many Christians who live in areas controlled by guerrillas and paramilitary groups still face death threats, extortion, and displacement. Guerrilla groups often join forces with indigenous authorities to oppose Christians with a more powerful voice. Dennis P. Petri, Persecution Analyst for Open Doors, notes that the power of the Holy Spirit is a recognized force against pagan practices. “Praying Christians are seen as a threat because these groups know well that there is a power that is stronger than they are.”
Sebastian* used to be part of the Ejército de Liberacíon Nacional (ELN, the National Liberation Army). For years he fought against the Colombian government in a cause that he believed would bring peace. Extortion, kidnapping and murder became familiar and normal to him—until Jesus began working in his heart. “I was with my men on my way to see a Christian who was preaching the gospel. I was going to kill him, but the moment I met him he looked me in the eyes and said ‘Young man, the Lord Jesus Christ has a calling for you. You’ll become a preacher.’” Sebastian’s life changed from that moment on, and he became a preacher, just as the man told him. His old companions are now persecuting him for leaving the ELN and becoming a Christian.
Persecuted Christians throughout Latin America, even amidst these threats and murders, are refusing to be silenced. Being silent about God, His love and justice is not an option for them. They know that the peace and justice God wants to give is the only thing that can really heal their lands. They know the possible consequences of speaking out, but they also know the nearness of God in difficult moments. Marina, Yonny and Sebastian are living proof of His faithfulness in the midst of trials.
The persecuted Church is trying valiantly to stand strong, but is often weakened by brutal attacks. Though there are moments they feel down, alone and afraid, the God they serve is enabling them to be strong and courageous. For Manuel, death was not strong enough to silence his voice. His wife and children remain committed to Christ and proclaim that his death became a seed for the church. Today, the church in the area where Manuel preached is growing thanks to a new pastor who came to continue the preaching of the gospel.
*Names changed for security reasons
Father God, we stand in awe of the faith You have bestowed upon these Christians in Latin America who are persecuted relentlessly for Your sake. Thank You for miraculous conversions, for strong faith, for voices that refuse to be silenced. We pray for Your protection to cover them, Your strength and encouragement to surround them, Your courage and wisdom to strengthen and guide them. Sustain them with food and water and a roof over their heads. When they are displaced, give them land to till. Silence the voices of indigenous councils, drug traffickers, and guerilla forces, that the voice of Christians might be heard above the clamor of wickedness. Let Your gospel message be heard and dispel the power of the evil one, drawing a mighty army out of the darkness, into the light of Christ, to proclaim truth and grace. In the name of Jesus, whose voice is powerful and majestic. “Though nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, and the earth melts.” (Ps 46) Amen.