Paula*, a young Colombian woman, doesn’t know which illegal armed group threatened to kill her brother, a pastor, if he didn’t flee. Nor does she know why. But she does know that on Sept. 22, Paula and her mother found the body of the lay pastor who was assigned to fill her brother’s place dumped on the doorstep of her own home.
Narco-traffickers and at least six organized violent groups are engaged in a bloody struggle for control of a war-ravaged state on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The violence has forced much of the population to flee, leaving behind homes, lands and livelihoods.
The region’s majority indigenous and African Colombians suffer the brunt of the conflict’s fallout: displacement, poverty, hunger, lack of access to schools and forced recruitment into one of the armed groups. The main targets of forcible recruitment are children from 8 – 10 years old, and sometimes younger. Amid hunger, illiteracy and lack of access to medical care, life is fraught with brutal perils that directly affect everybody, including believers.
While the gospel has made strong inroads in spite of the conflict, warring factions constantly impede the growth of the church. Armed groups forbid churches from meeting at night, often imposing strict curfews. The lack of Bible training for pastors and lay leaders, combined with the danger inherent in publicly standing for Christ, has brought the church in this region to the verge of collapse.
Yet Paula, living within the swirling cauldron of conflict, bravely shines the light of Christ into the encroaching darkness. She dreams of building up the church in this embattled region to serve the Lord. She especially wants to help her family members and young people across Cordoba to fully understand the gospel. To accomplish her goals, she needs Bible training.
Paula recently took part in an Open Doors inductive Bible study training and biblical exegesis. Desperate for Biblical training, she rented a mule for three days to attend this free training at a Bible institute founded by an Open Doors volunteer.
Like many Colombians, Paula lives in dire poverty after being displaced by years of war and conflict. A single mother with two small children, she struggles to survive on charity from others. To secure just the basic essentials of food and medical care for her family, she is trying to sell some of the land she lives on. Scarce resources have previously kept Paula from taking part in theological trainings, but training such as that provided by Open Doors at no cost to the attendee, is vital to the health of the region’s embattled churches.
Paula has had many trials in her brief 25 years of life – lupus, a heart ailment, poverty, joblessness and displacement a decade ago from her own small tract of land. Yet in the midst of these trials, she leads the youth in her church. She has also led a regional Christian youth organization. Additionally, she volunteers to help the United Nations in its development projects. As a community leader, she guides the area youth to resist involvement in growing coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived.
Amid the turmoil that is everyday life in this ravaged region of Colombia, her eyes are fixed on Christ. “Although we have these restrictions, we’re moving forward, trusting that God is with us,” she said.
Father, we lift up this faithful young woman before You. Though she is poor, she is profoundly rich in the presence of Christ. Yet to survive in this life, she has temporal needs, and we pray You will sustain her in her need for healing and medical treatment, for food and other necessities. Thank You for the great wisdom You have granted her in her work as a church youth leader; we confidently call on You to continue empowering her with wisdom and influence. In the name of Jesus, who will never leave or forsake her, or us, Amen.
*a pseudonym was used to protect her identity