Latin America’s longest war has been going on for more than five decades. From the outside, Colombia appears to be peaceful and quiet. The diversity seems to be in perfect harmony. But when one sets foot on the ground, harmony is gone and anxiety takes over. A civil war has been going on for years. Many Colombians suffer from the complex battle between the government and illegally armed groups. More than five million people have been displaced over the years. Thousands have been killed. Today a third of the country is controlled by illegal armed groups. Christians are persecuted because the message of the gospel stands against the practices of illegal armed groups. Colombia is ranked 35th on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians. Who are these Christians? What challenges do they face? And do they still believe in real peace?
“You have to stop preaching and holding church services. If you continue to preach, we will kill you,” said a FARC commander to a pastor in Guaviare, Colombia. FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is the biggest illegal armed group fighting against the Colombian government since 1964. One of the primary ways FARC exerts power is by imposing their rules on the people of Colombia. In April 2014, 12 churches were closed by FARC. Without a doubt, this event reminded pastors of the terrible moment in 2009 when Pastor Manuel Camacho was shot by guerrilla fighters because he refused to stop preaching the gospel. This was not only a tragedy for his family, but also a big shock for the Christian community in Guaviare. Life as a Christian can be deadly.
Christians like Pastor Manuel are found everywhere in Colombia. These are brave men, women and children who live out a dangerous faith. And what makes their faith dangerous? The answer is their decision to follow Jesus, the One who brings true peace — a peace that many Colombians don’t know because of the ongoing war. Christians understand the rules: obey every order the guerrilla gives you and stop preaching and evangelizing. But many Christians don’t want that. They are convinced that Jesus is the only hope for their country. They want to see as many people as possible come to know Him.
Despite the severe persecution and threats, the Gospel advances. Even among guerrilla fighters. The life of former guerrilla Sebastian is an excellent example of how God works in the hearts of bitter and broken people. Sebastian, who used to be a strong persecutor of the Church, became a Christian after God called him and changed his life. He decided to continue living in the same region, but now his goal is to spread the gospel. “One night, I was preaching and some guerrillas came to me,” said Sebastian. “They wanted to kill me because I was preaching, but God protected me and I left alive.”
Open Doors understands the complexity of the situation for the Colombian Church. Pastors who live in rural areas frequently travel to isolated villages to bring Bibles and Christian literature to all who want to know more about Jesus Christ. Open Doors supports the Persecuted Church with biblical training and Christian literature. For many Christians, the consequences of the war still influence their lives. Those families who were forced by guerrillas to move, now have to start all over again. They experience trauma and have lost their income. Income generating projects sponsored by Open Doors are a great help for displaced and hurting families.
Another unique project of Open Doors is a safe house for children and teenagers who, due to persecution, cannot live at home. The children living in the Children’s Center often come from the countryside and areas where FARC and other rebel groups are in control.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.