Another pastor has been murdered in Colombia, marking two deaths of church/social leaders in six days of each other. The string of pastors’ deaths have left families, churches and communities they loved and served reeling and traumatized.
The most recent attack came on February 15 when Pastor Tomas Francisco Estrada* was murdered ( circumstances are unknown) in the rural area of Buenaventura, a coastal seaport city in western Colombia. For 11 years, the pastor served in ministry. The impact of his death has critically affected his family. When she learned her husband had been killed, Pastor Estrada’s wife, Luisa Montes*, suffered a nervous breakdown. The now single parent of their two children, Luisa is in critical health.
Six days before Pastor Estrada was killed, another leader, Pastor Leider Molina*, was hit by five gunshots during the evening of February 9. He was leaving the church just after preaching a service. His murder took place in the municipality of Caucasia in the country’s northwestern region.
In that same area six months before, Pastor Hector Galarza was killed in September 2018 in the small town of El Cedro* on the way to preach when he was approached by two men and shot in front of his family. His wife, Mercedes*, was also critically traumatized. Scared for their lives, the family fled to a nearby town to take refuge. The tiny house they now live in is in a depressed neighborhood. There, hidden from those who murdered her husband, Mercedes struggles to rebuild her home. She cries often. She also has nervous attacks. So do her grandchildren who run to hide whenever they hear a loud noise.
A Threat to Criminal Groups
In Colombia, church leaders often play a dual role as de facto community leaders, especially in small rural communities. This recognition often makes these leaders and their families a target of paramilitary forces, guerrillas and criminal groups wanting to control the region.
Pastors Galarza, Estrada and Molina were all known for their commitment to preach the Word of God and actively work for the betterment of their communities. They refused to succumb to the threats of criminal groups, not only ignoring them but also actively opposing them. They advocated for justice processes and the restoration of community rights from the paramilitary and organized crime groups.
The preaching and courageous action of pastors like Pastor Estrada, Molina and Galarza have dissuaded many young people in the country from joining criminal groups. Many youth have even renounced armed conflict and illegal operations. Today, it’s estimated that some 14,000 children are enlisted in criminal arms groups in Colombia. These leaders and those like them were targeted to counter the growing number of people going to church and their opposition to armed groups.
And in places where the Christian church maintains a strong influence, residents are less inclined to be part of criminal operations. By preaching the Word of God, the Christian church establishes a direct opposition to the purposes of the armed groups. For this reason, these men were seen as a threat. They died advocating for and defending the people of God–taking seriously Jesus’ call to make disciples.
Almost 1,000 Killings in Last Three Years
The violent deaths of Pastors Galarza, Molina and now Estrada reflect the arduous situation the Christian church in Colombia is facing. The church in Colombia is under attack with reports of murders, threats and attacks on social and church leaders continuing to escalate.
Between 2016 and 2019, the country has seen 566 murders of church and social leaders, according to reports by non-governmental organization Indepaz. In 2019 alone, the murders of reportedly 19 social leaders in different parts of the country have struck fear in the regions. The church must preach the message of Christ in the midst of crossfire where the war in Colombia seems to have taken a new breath and is now escalating.
Our Open Doors team reports that the repeated crimes of pastors murdered in Colombia and the continued threat of conflict in the area have left the Christian church terrified. Some believers have fled with their families; others are staying, waiting for the government to intervene.
PRAYING WITH THE CHURCH IN COLOMBIA
- Please pray with the family and church of Pastor Molina (he had no wife or children) and the widows and children of Pastors Estrada and Galarza.
- Pray with the church in the Caucasia and Buenaventura areas and throughout Colombia as they face this ongoing violence. Pray for protection and boldness as they continue to stay in the area and be a light in increasing darkness.
- Pray with church leaders in Colombia as they lead the church to follow Jesus and His ways despite the threat of losing their lives. Pray for economic and pastoral support for families affected by the murders and attacks against religious leaders.
- Pray specifically for youth throughout Colombia to stand strong against these criminal groups’ recruitment ploys. Pray that God would give these young people discerning eyes and a bold spirit to resist.
- Pray with parents who must send their children away from home to protect them. Ask God to bring them peace and comfort.
- Pray with Open Doors’ children’s centers in Colombia that minister to young people who have been rescued from paramilitary and criminal groups or children of Christians leaders whose families are often targeted.
• Representative names and photos used for security reasons