Photo used for illustrative purpose only.
In the last few weeks, incidents of persecution against Christians in rural parts of the country have increased. In some rural areas of Colombia, which is number 41 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, local Evangelical Christians are being sent to prison by indigenous ethnic leaders who deem them responsible for COVID-19.
Photo: An indigenous person from this community has to walk around seven hours to access food, medical care, agricultural supplies.
The traditional animist beliefs held by some of these communities means they believe that converts to Christianity are the source of all plagues and diseases. One of these groups is the Arahuaco Indians who inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia. Leaders of such groups believe that expelling Christian converts from their communities will help to put an end to the coronavirus.
“For this reason, they do not hesitate to imprison them and force them to renounce their faith,” said Camilo Ruiz, coordinator of research and communication for Open Doors Colombia. “For example, during the week beginning 4 May, we heard from our partners in the north that two Christians – Isabel* and Isaac* – were taken to jail in a place called El Escondido (The Hidden Place), deep in a very remote mountain range.”
Isabel and Isaac were detained during a prayer meeting. “They simply met, as they always do, to praise Jesus,” Ruiz explained. “But the problem is that the indigenous chiefs consider any Christian gathering a serious violation to the local religious customs. It is considered a crime which could carry even a death sentence.”
Those from indigenous communities who decide to follow Jesus are not welcome any more in their own homes. They are rejected, ostracized and at risk of losing all they have, both their possessions and their livelihood. Under normal circumstances, being a Christian convert in these communities is tough, but the impact of coronavirus means that Christians in these remote areas of Colombia are being targeted as scapegoats.
PASTORS’ LIVES AT RISK
Not only that, but church leaders are putting their lives in danger to take aid to people in need, especially those who live in more rural areas. In places such as Tumaco on the Pacific Coast, and the Amazon and Catatumbo regions which border Venezuela, they are extremely at risk, not just from the virus, but of being targeted by illegal armed groups that control these regions.
Pastor Leandro* is one such church leader. He has been running relief and support programmes supported by Open Doors in Colombia for the last 10 years, including the ‘Agape in Your Home’ programme, which is currently providing food and pastoral support to 300 families living in these remote areas. The need for aid and emotional support is so great that pastors and other church volunteers have decided to venture out every day, often travelling along deserted and dangerous roads to reach the most vulnerable communities. They walk through the streets of towns and villages, handing out food parcels, masks, antibacterial gel, and Bibles to believers and non-believers alike.
“We have taken advantage of the government’s decree that allows us to move during the quarantine,” Pastor Leandro says. “We have been able to bring food to many people. Those who can’t work are very depressed and face serious financial difficulties. We pray for and with them. We offer them pastoral guidance and share the Word of God with each one of them.”
People in these remote communities controlled by rebel groups are living in both dire need and in fear. Pastor Amanda*, who has been preaching in the Catatumbo region for more than 20 years, explains, “People are not only fearful of the control imposed by these illegal groups, but they also fear being infected with coronavirus and then being killed by rebels.”
But there is hope. During the pandemic, Pastor Leandro has seen many people decide to follow Jesus. “It brings me so much joy,” he says.
*Names changed for security reasons
Reaching persecuted Christians in Colombia is only possible with your continued support and prayers. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are far from over, but you can find more ways to stay connected to and support your persecuted church family.
Every PHP 3,150 could mean a Rapid Response team could courageously bring emergency aid to a family of persecuted believers.
That God will protect pastors in Colombia as they take provisions and support to Christians in remote areas.
That the Holy Spirit will give courage to Isabel, Isaac and other believers living under the sway of indigenous ethnic leaders or armed rebel groups.
Give thanks for those who have found Christ during this period – pray that key leaders from ethnic and armed groups will also discover Him.