“To receive so many letters from people who have never met us, yet share they’re praying for us, is to see the love of the Lord,” Hern Ramos said when Open Doors presented him with more than 1,500 letters sent by believers around the world to support and encourage him.
Hern’s father, lay evangelist Nelson Ramos, was martyred in early 2011 by an illegal armed group in Arauca, leaving Hern’s mother, Alicia Castilla, a widow. Two years later, on January 7 of this year, Alicia too was murdered, leaving the couple’s three children orphans. In the aftermath of this second tragedy, 20-year-old Hern says the letters from Christians around the world have brought joy and hope to him and his sisters, Rosmy and Jackeline, ages 9 and 6. “I appreciate each one of them. To read them has been a support for me in this difficult situation.”
Hern recently participated in “Called to Live,” the second Open Doors meeting for families who have suffered the brutal deaths of loved ones. He shared what happened to his parents with other boys and men, a story that resonated with the painful experiences of those present.
“That was liberating because in my family I don’t feel comfortable expressing my feelings,” he said. Asked how he has handled his grief, Hern hid his face and began to cry. Tears buried deep in his heart since the day his mother was murdered, spilled over as he recalled the painful day members of an illegal armed group burst into their house as the family’s pastor finished an evening devotional during a joint birthday celebration for Hern and his sister Jackeline. One of the attackers pulled out a gun, aimed over Hern’s head and shot his mother, Alicia.
“I do not want to cry in front to my little sisters because I’ve swallowed my pain. Sometimes I wish that the man who put his gun over me had killed me instead of killing my mother,” Hern spoke in a broken voice. Someone who had been present at Alicia’s burial saw Hern crying at the meeting and told him that his tears were God’s victory in Hern’s life, because he must let the pain out in his heart to process the grief.
Hern’s life has been filled with both difficulty and God’s sure presence throughout the aftermath of his parents’ deaths. Since the 1990s, illegal armed groups in this eastern Colombian department bordering Venezuela have persecuted Christians, forcing displacements and church closures and killing pastors and leaders.
After his father’s death, Hern lived in a crowded house with his mother, grandfather and sisters as well as his older brother, Wilmer. When his mother was murdered, death threats against Hern and his siblings forced them to flee to another city to live with their uncles. To help alleviate the family’s dire financial situation, Hern took a job collecting bus fares. When the bus driver schemed to cheat the company of money and tried to force him to go along with it, Hern faced a difficult choice. “My mother taught me not to lie or steal, so rather than be forced to do something wrong, I left,” he said.
Hern’s decision to quit his job stirred up conflict within his family. Knowing the seriousness of the family’s financial situation, some family members became critical of his decision to quit. “I don’t regret what I did,” he said, in spite of their reaction, “I prefer to be without a job than do something against what God says in the Bible.”
Learning of the family’s difficult circumstances, Open Doors (OD) has provided them with groceries and offered Hern a part-time position copying training materials for the OD office. Pray that this job will give him the experience he needs to apply for other work.
Father, we thank You for Hern’s godly heart to serve You and for his desire to provide for his family. Grant him wisdom and strength, Lord, as he faces so many challenges. Be father and mother to him in the absence of his own parents. We pray Your continued provision of food and shelter for him and his siblings. And we pray that his brother Wilmer and others in the family will see Christ in Hern’s life, and that You will draw them to Yourself. In the name of Jesus who loves Hern…and all who believe…with an everlasting love, Amen.