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StoryColombia | 09 November 2022
An ex-militant, now a pastor and a warrior woman
Show: true / Country: Colombia / Colombia
Urabá is one of the most important banana growing areas in Colombia and, unfortunately, it is also one of the most representative regions of the conflict in the country. It all started a little more than 30 years ago, when paramilitary groups began making incursions into the region to fight the guerrillas and began to affect the lives of its inhabitants, as in the case of Reina*.
The Gulf of Urabá is a strategic place for drug trafficking, which is why illegal groups fight for control, forcibly recruiting children and young people from the region to fight in a conflict that doesn't even belong to them: "I didn't know about God. In my region there were only illegal groups, and they would take you away," says the protagonist of this story.
Without God or law
For many of the armed groups, "religion is the opium of the people," as a 19th century German intellectual and philosopher once said, and many see religion as a means of control by the ruling classes. This is what Reina, now 45 years old, was taught, but she was forcibly recruited by the guerrillas as soon as she had enough strength to carry a gun, carry her backpack, and walk for several days in the jungle without stopping.
The Unit of Attention and Integral Reparation for Victims (Unidad para la Atención y la Reparación Integral a las Víctimas), an organ of the National Government of Colombia, assures that: "Forced displacement, homicide, crimes against freedom and sexual integrity and the involvement of minors in the activities of armed groups, are some of the predominant facts in the sub-region...". And while it is true that this recruitment is forced, another effective weapon of these groups is indoctrination, as Reina assures: "...they told me many lies and I ended up in the ranks where my life was a calvary, where I was taught to deny God, that God did not exist, that men had invented this story of God in order to make people live oppressed under the yoke of the state. And I completely believed that God did not exist...".
On the other hand, there is the lack of opportunities and the neglect of the state. According to the Socio-economic profile of the Urabá sub-region, carried out by the Medellín Chamber of Commerce, about 25.83% of the basic needs are unsatisfied in every household in this region, including the lack of formal jobs, the inhabitants' low level of education, the lack of health insurance, and the lack of basic sanitation, among others.
The first war
These situations are what led Reina to join this armed group: “My soul was wounded... I had no peace, but pure thirst for revenge seeing so much injustice, to see even innocent relatives who went out and did not come back because they were killed. I was filled with so much impotence, so much anger, so much hatred…”.
This is how she joined the ranks of the guerrillas and her life changed completely. Her days in the jungle would start at 4:45am, she would brush her hair and be in formation by 5am. If there was food, she had breakfast at 7am, and if not, she simply started her workday, which, she says, changed according to the needs of the organization: "I did all the work that had to be done - mobilization, going out... It was a life of daily routine, always moving from one place to another. There was never stability anywhere."
But that is not all. She says that in a male-dominated environment, "...women are mistreated and discriminated against. So, we are abused in every way". Despite this, she made her way in that world and began to fight: "My job was to patrol. I was fully equipped. I was a warrior, a fighter...", a fight that continued later with the paramilitary side.
Although her life has completely changed long ago and she no longer interacts with these groups, Reina says, "Back then we worked in a more organized way. Today there is more disorder. Today we only see the groups kill, murder, rape, and steal. Although we have always seen it, now we see more and more robberies, murders, and homicides...". Today, having changed her way of life, having transformed her mind and shared the gospel with those around her, she has become an enemy of the ideology that is prevalent in the armed groups in the country and assures that: "You have to be careful when you walk, because they are always watching you, every move you make, to get you out of their way." But how did this change occur in her life?
The turning point
Although in her youth she rejected God and firmly claimed that He did not exist, she now acknowledges that "God was there, always looking at me." In her process with the Lord, hearing the preaching was not enough, nor were the times when she heard the gospel or perhaps a praise service. For Reina it was necessary to have a personal and even supernatural encounter with God.
She says that one day when she was on her way home after being in the jungle for a long time, she fainted, and as in a dream, she describes: "I started to go down, down into the depths. I was going through a very fearful and cold tunnel." At that moment she remembered the people who had shared the gospel with her and went to an even worse place where someone started showing her all the material things she longed for. Reina says that the person told her, "What good is all this money to you? What good is what you want? What good is it to you if you don't even own your own body?” Faced with this situation, in the same dream she began to cry and to ask God, if He really existed, to take her out of that place.
While all this was going on in her dream, the people who saw Reina lying on the ground took her to a hospital, and when she finally woke up, she asked a woman who had told her she was a Christian to pray for her. "When I got home, my mind was different. And from that moment on, many people started praying for me." The same people who prayed for her, saw a total transformation in her life and invited her to a service at their church the following Monday. "That Monday I made the decision to go to a sister and she took me to church, and that night I accepted the Lord as my Savior," she says.
Of course, it was not an easy path, but a long one full of repentance and forgiveness. For Reina, her being part of armed groups was the fault of her parents, who could not give her the opportunity to study. "I felt anger towards my parents and everyone, I felt anger towards myself and society...That was something that affected me. And it filled me with a lot of anger. Seeing others in offices and seeing myself in the ranks of an armed group, because my parents didn't have the opportunity to study. But I started to forgive myself, because, to be honest, neither of my parents were to blame for the fact that I couldn't study."
During this process, many people rejected her because of her past life, and there were even some who did not believe that she had been transformed. But Reina stood firm in her faith and grew in her desire to serve the Lord. According to her: “If I served the devil with so much love, with how much more love will I serve the one who gave me life? And if I was already brave enough to carry a gun, here I must be brave enough to serve God. If nothing was big enough for me there, how much less now that God is the one who has me in his hands, that I am not on my own?”
As she appreciated the price Jesus had paid on the cross for her, it was inevitable that she felt love and compassion for those who did not know Him. Reina began to pray, fast, read the Bible, and repent of her past life. It was also when she met her husband and began to serve as a leader in her church and became one of the elders of the congregation. After some ups and downs in her service and walk with the Lord, she was asked if she wanted to start a church, to which her answer was "yes."
So, Reina and her family began to hold small meetings in different houses and see the needs of the community in order to establish the new church. In the middle of this, a man threatened to kill her. He was demanding that she return to work with the armed groups and stop preaching the word, otherwise she would die, to which Reina responded: "I will not work with you, nor will you kill me, because I will not die when the devil wills, but when God wills. And I will continue to serve God”.
“There is nothing more worthwhile than serving God”
This is how she began to be persecuted for following the Lord. There are men who come to her church meetings to watch her and pay attention to the content of her sermons, sometimes following her in the street, demanding that she quit her work of preaching the gospel, but she stands firm. This led us to ask her if it was worth suffering persecution for following Christ, to which her answer was: “I believe that because of what Christ has done for us, God is worth serving. No matter the situation, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter where. There is nothing more worthwhile than serving God. He is the only one who deserves everything”.
Therefore, despite the difficult situation of violence in Urabá, Reina is willing to continue serving the Lord and loving her brothers and sisters, bringing reconciliation between members of her church who before Christ were from opposing armed groups and considered enemies. It is because of this same conviction that one of her greatest dreams, despite her limited resources, is to be able to have a foundation to help the children in her area, as well as many other people with limited resources. This firm conviction that nothing is worth more than serving the Lord is what makes her say: “Whatever God allows, He allows for good".
She is aware that the context in which she found herself led her away from the Lord and to make bad decisions in her youth, which is why she encourages us to pray for her country: “We must pray for Colombia because it is one of the countries with the most internal violence and the most poverty. Pray for Colombia, for us, that God will fill us with more wisdom to be able to continue rescuing those souls that are lost. Church, please pray for Colombia!”