Last week, we shared about Christians in Colombia. This week, Sebastian, a former member of an illegal arms group and persecutor of Christians, shares his testimony.
Motivated by a deep hatred for everything related to Christianity, Sebastian’s zeal for persecuting Christians mirrored that of Saul, the Pharisee who lived 2,000 years ago. Born in the countryside of Colombia, Sebastian was recruited as a child into the ranks of an illegal armed group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). In the ELN, Sebastian never knew whether there would be enough food. He was always afraid of being captured or killed by government forces or other groups. Enemies were never far from Sebastian.
Sebastian’s life became filled with constant danger, but he felt like a true revolutionary and held great admiration for the socialist heroes Mao and Marx and had no desire to retire from his lifestyle. “I lived a clandestine life for many years,” shared Sebastian. The ELN was founded in 1964 by a priest who believed in the ideology of liberation. This illegal armed group is the second largest in Colombia and used to fight against the largest illegal and most well-known group, the FARC.
Sebastian quickly became a fervent persecutor of the evangelical Christian community in Colombia because they preached a gospel message that was considered a direct threat to the ELN and its ideology. “I was an enemy of God and of those who called themselves Christians.” A communist to the core, he couldn’t believe there were people who actually believed in a God. For more than 20 years, Sebastian was dedicated to persecuting the church in every way possible. “I never wanted to know who God was. I was an enemy of God, the churches and everyone who preached the gospel. I was trying to be faithful to the revolution. I had always focused myself on the persecution of everything that had to do with evangelical Christians.”
In the nineties, however, Sebastian’s life dramatically changed. “God, through a person, started to call me from a revolutionary life toward a spiritual life,” he shared. “In 1990, I was on my way to a man who was preaching the gospel.” When Sebastian approached the Christian, the man looked him directly in the eyes and said, “Young man, the Lord Jesus Christ has a calling for you. And although you don’t know it or understand it, you will become a preacher.” Sebastian had intended to kill the man, but something inexplicable touched his heart, and he left the man unharmed. This moment started him on a slow and painful road toward true peace.
Over a period of three years, God revealed Himself to Sebastian through multiple dreams. With his whole being, Sebastian battled against God. “Those were three terrible years,” he shared. “But God didn’t let me die.” Late one night, Sebastian left his companions and went up on a mountain to be alone. Desperate for a response from either the devil or God, Sebastian called out to them both and heard no answer. He fell asleep, but as the morning approached, Sebastian had a dream. He saw a door in heaven. A cloud descended and stopped in front of Sebastian. A voice came out of it and said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth. Repent, because you are going to die.” Terrified, Sebastian woke up and panic overtook him. In spite of this vivid revelation, Sebastian continued to fight against God.
Then one day, he said, “I went together with my companions to attack a military patrol. By accident, I was locked in and my companions left me behind. I fought until I ran out of ammunition. It was a miracle of God that I wasn’t shot by the military. When I was down to my last bullet, I placed the gun to my ear. I knew how life in jail would be, so my motto was to not be taken alive. When I was about to pull the trigger, I remembered the man who spoke to me. I remembered my dreams and the voice that had spoken to me. I don’t know where I found the strength, but I said, ‘If the God of the evangelicals, the God of the dreams sets me free in this moment, I will serve Him until I die.’” What happened next can only be explained as a miracle. He heard a gust of wind and felt like his body was floating through the air. Moments later, he was in another place wondering if God had somehow moved him.
Again, Sebastian heard the voice of God. “I am Jesus of Nazareth who took you and saved you so that you will serve Me.” Broken at last, Sebastian surrendered everything he had to God. The Saul in him had died, and the Paul had been born.
After Sebastian came to faith, he left the ELN, but decided to remain in the same town where he had previously imposed laws and ordered obedience. From that moment on, he desired to be an example within his community. It didn’t take long for the oppression to begin. “My old companions started to persecute me because they didn’t believe that God had saved me. God changed my life, and I felt happy and blessed to have God in my life. But the five years after my conversion were difficult. For them, I was a traitor. Three times they tried to kill me.” After those five years, they told Sebastian they would no longer try to kill him, but that he had to keep his mouth shut about the gospel. “I just cannot keep quiet about it,” he said. “I have spoken about our Lord Jesus often. I’m not afraid.”
Not only did Sebastian’s life change, but his wife, who had been involved with the ELN as well, also came to faith, along with their children. As soon as Sebastian stopped working for the ELN, his family also began to experience persecution. On one occasion, some fighters placed a landmine near the farm where Sebastian lives. Though the mine did not explode, it caused a lot of fear for the family. Sebastian and his wife chose to stay, but to protect their children from being kidnapped, they made the difficult decision to send their children to the Open Doors Children’s Center.
It wasn’t an easy choice for Sebastian to send his children away. “My children were not used to being far away from home, and I wasn’t either. I don’t even like to think about it. I wanted my children to be next to me, so it was hard for me to let them go. But when I saw how God was changing them while living in the center, I began to rest and know that my children are in God’s hands. Now I know that they are an example and a blessing.”
“How do I still keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, despite all the persecution? By reading the letters from the apostle Paul and reading about the martyrs of the church. This assures me that I can live in the midst of difficulties and in the midst of a war while still being guided by the Lord. What encourages me deeply is the example of Jesus. He faced the leaders of Rome, the local leaders. But He shed His blood and submitted His life. He left us a promise that those who overcome will one day be with Him. I want to be an overcomer.”
Lord God, You are “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” You have promised that, “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:6) Thank You for pouring out that water of life to Sebastian and using him as an instrument of redemption in the nation of Colombia. We pray for Your protection over him and his wife. Thank You for the Children’s Center where their children can grow in the knowledge of Your Word under the discipleship of the staff there. We pray that they might become Your mighty warriors and continue the battle for faith where they live. We pray that the water of life might be poured out in Colombia, a mighty deluge that will raise up a multitude of believers to praise Your Name. In the mighty Name of Jesus, who rules above all earthly princes … and rebel groups, Amen!