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REPORT ON THE STATE OF COLOMBIAN CHURCHES
TO THE GLOBAL FAMILY OF FAITH
Bogota D.C. August, 2002
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.
Dear faithful Brothers and Sisters, in whom we share the faith and hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
May the peacemaking gospel of Jesus continue guiding your lives in the paths of justice and peace.
Having proven that there millions of people committed to the message of Jesus Christ and having felt your fraternal love and the protection of your powerful prayers, we give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be part of this global family of faith. We are grateful for your recognition, concern and care.
With souls full of thankfulness for God's love and protection, but also with profound pain and deep sorrow for the most recent infractions suffered by the Colombian people, we turn to the North once again to tell you of our current situation.
On February 20th of this year, after three and a half years of negotiations and a precarious peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, the Colombian government decided to unilaterally break the negotiations with this guerrilla group. In this case, the Colombian government was victim of its own inexperience and isolation from the people. It was pressured by its errors, the establishment and the United States government.
The Colombian government "demilitarized" a large area in the southern part of the country, turning control over the FARC, for the duration of the peace talks. The peace talks were held in this demilitarized zone, but at the same time the army, guerrilla and paramilitary continued fighting and preparing themselves to continue the war once the meetings were over.
The U.S. government donated USD 1,300.000,000 to the Colombian government, 85 percent of which is military in nature--weapons, planes, helicopters, military training and advising, radar equipment, as assistance to help stop the war and fight drug trafficking.
As we said when the U.S. government first sent the money, this was like providing a pyromaniac with thousands of gallons of gasoline to put out a fire. The result was as expected: a gigantic fire, thousands of lives extinguished a large part of the country destroyed and very pyromaniac burned.
As a result of the insanity of millions of dollars in military "aid," the dangerous and useless fumigations over the fertile earth, the profiting from the business of war, the preparation for combat through military training, and deceiving the Colombian and U.S. people through false information, the only sure thing is that the armed groups are stronger than every …the army continues with its threats, the paramilitary continues massacring, the guerrilla attacks…and unarmed civilians continue to suffer.
The armed conflict's many manifestations-- constant combat between the army, guerrilla (FARC and the National Liberation Army--ELN) and the paramilitary (or the Self Defense Group of Colombia-AUC), village attacks, threats to whole populations, selective assassinations, kidnappings, disappearances, bombs falling from above sky and placed strategically, illegal and legal roadblocks, displacement and fumigations-- have affected not only the general population, but also the church. The Christian community is present all over the country, especially in zones where the war is most intense.
A new government has just been installed in Colombia, headed by Alvaro Uribe Velez, who won the Presidential elections with hard-line campaign promises (a "strong hand") against the guerrilla. Nevertheless, on his inauguration day there were three attacks in Bogotá alone, one of them on the Presidential residence, the Casa de Nario, resulting in 22 tragic deaths. All signs appear to indicate a continuation of combat and, upon the decision of the guerrilla, the arrival of the war to urban areas. The government is organizing a million people to be informants for the armed forces and intends to involve the civilian population in the armed conflict-- on their side. They are also imposing new taxes to pay for the war effort and a new contingent of soldiers. The situation is difficult and we do not see prospects for peace right now. The last thing we need more fuel for the fire, what the United States government plans to send as military aid.
The church has been greatly affected by the intensification of the armed conflict; none of the armed groups have respected the faithful.
Understanding that this is not an exhaustive list, allow me to summarize some of the events that have affected us recently:
I. Violent deaths of pastors and church leaders:
II. Kidnapped Pastors and Church Leaders
- CORNELIO TOVAR- Pastor of the Alliance Church, Algeciras, Huila. Assassinated on August 17, 2002 by one of the armed groups. He left behind three children (all minors). His wife was killed three years ago.
- FANNY GAVIRIA- Leader of the Church of God in the Puerto Asis, the provincial capital city of Putumayo. Assassinated on August 3, 2002 by armed men, presumably from the AUC, at her small store. She left behind three children, ages 19, nine and four years-old.
- ADELMO CABRERA POLANCO - Pastor of the Alliance Church, where he served for 20 years, and local elected official of Puerto Rico, Caquetà. Assassinated on August 3, 2002. He left behind an elderly spouse and a five-year-old grandson, whose father (the son of Pastor Polanco) was killed several years ago.
- LUIS CARLOS CABRERA RAMIREZ- Leader of the Alliance Church in Puerto Rico, Caquetá. Assassinated on August 3, 2002. He left behind a spouse and five young children.
- LUIS CERON TURISTAR- Leader in the Church of God, Puerto Asis, the capital city of Putumayo. Assassinated on August 1, 2002, by armed men, presumably members of the AUC. He left behind his wife; she is expecting their first child.
- GABRIEL EDUARDO MONTES GOMEZ- Leader and Justapaz volunteer from the Mennonite Church, municipality of Colosò, Sucre, 68-years-old. Assassinated on July 28, 2002 by armed men, presumably members of the FARC. He left behind a widow, ERNEDA PUCHES, and eight children JULIO CESAR, IBETH, SANDRA, LADISMITH, LEONARDO, GABRIEL, STELLA and GUSTAVO MONTES, all of whom were displaced, unemployed and dependant on their father.
- ITAMAR LARA- Leader of the Association of Evangelical Carribean Churches (AIEC), municipality of Alto Joquín, Tierralta, province of Córdoba. Assassinated on Saturday July 20, 2002, presumably by members of the AUC He left behind his wife, 35-year-old MARIA OTTO, and five children between three and 18 years of age.
- JOSE VICENTE FLOREZ - Pastor of Global Missionary Movement Church and local elected government official of Campo Hermoso, Municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, the former demilitarized zone. Assassinated July 14, 2002 by armed men, leaving behind a wife YOLIMA CASTAÑO and two young children.
- JOSE SANCHEZ- Pastor of Global Missionary Movement, municipality of Campo Hermoso, Caquetá. Assassinated on July 13, 2002, by armed men. He left behind his spouse and two children.
- LUIS CARLOS CARO PACHECO- Pastor of United Pentecostal Church and Mayor of the municipality of La Solita, province of Caquetà. Assassinated June 5, 2002 by armed men, presumably from the 49th Front of the FARC. He left behind a widow and several young children.
- JUAN JOSE RUEDA- Leader of the Christ is Coming Missionary Center located in the Alto Cañabraval, the municipality of San Pablo, southern Bolivar. Assassinated by four armed men who identified themselves as members of the AUC, in the front of the church and all the church members. He left behind his wife and two minors JUAN JOSE and MARIA RUEDA GARCIA.
- ELISEO CARVAJAL- Leader of the Wings of Mercy Church who also worked as a radio operator in the town of Cristal, municipality of Florencia, Caquetà. Assassinated May 24, 2002, by armed men, presumably from the AUC. He left behind three children (all minors).
- FREDY ANTONIO URUETA- Pastor of the Association of Evangelical Caribbean Churches (AIEC) in the town of Las Piedras, municipality of Toluviejo, Sucre. Assassinated on May 6, 2002 by armed men, presumably from the FARC. They took him from the church while he was leading a prayer vigil and killed him in front of the church building in plain view of all those in attendance. He left behind his wife NORIS PATERNINA and a nine-year-old daughter.
- ARISTOS PORRAS ARANGO- The 34-years-old was a leader of the Association of Evangelical Caribbean Churches (AIEC) in the Village of Villa Madeira, municipality of Tierralta, in the province of Córdoba. Assassinated on May 5, 2002 by armed men, presumably from the AUC, in church while leading the children's Sunday school class. He left behind a wife and three young children.
- JOSE ANTONIO PEREZ- Pastor from the municipality of Aguas Azul, province of Casanare. Assassinated on April 28, 2002 by armed men, presumably by the FARC, in Arauquita, Aracua where he pastured the Global Missionary Movement Church. He left behind his spouse, DORALY GUTIERREZ, and four young children.
- ANTONIO MARIA GALLEGO GOMEZ- Leader of Pesquera Church in the province of Arauca. Assassinated on April 25, 2002. He left behind his mother, his wife, MARIA ELSY CIRO and five young children.
- HECTOR PEÑA- At 25 years of age, he was pastor of Pentecostal Church in the village of Puerto Amor, municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, province of Caquetà--the former demilitarized zone. Assassinated on February 28, 2002 by armed men, presumably members of the FARC. He left behind his wife, CAROLINA ZARATE and two young children-a three-year-old and a four-month-old baby.
- MARTIN- Leader of Free Pentacost Church in Corocito, Arauca. Assassinated February 18, 2002 by armed men. He refused to align himself with either the FARC or the ELN. It is assumed that they are his assassins.
- BENJABER VARGAS BARBOSA- Pastor of Four Corners Mission Church; assassinated November 12th, 2001 in the municipality of La Gloria, Cesar, presumably by FARC guerrillas. He left behind a widow, VIRGINIA ISABEL JIMENEZ, 31 years old, and three children, LILIBETH, VICTOR ANTONIO and JUAN ANDRES VARGAS JIMENEZ, 13, eight, and seven-years-old respectively.
- ALBERTO LOPEZ- Leader of the Global Missionary Movement Church, in the town of Carbòn, municipality of Aguachica, in the province of Cesar. Assassinated on December 8, 2001 by armed men, presumably by members of the Self Defense Groups of Colombia, the AUC. He left behind a widow and four children of one, two, three, and four years of age.
- WILFER ANGARITA- Leader of the Global Missionary Movement Church, in the town of Carbón, municipality of Aguachica, Cesar. Assassinated on December 8, 2001 by armed men who took him from church. It is assumed that they were members of the AUC. He left behind a wife and a one-month-old child.
- CARLOS JULIO SANTANA- Leader of Global Missionary Movement Church, in the town of Carbón, Aguachica, Cesar. Assassinated on December 8, 2001 by armed men, presumably from the AUC. He left behind a widow and three children, one, two and three years old.
- Oscar Dias- Leader of the Global Missionary Movement Church in the town of Carbón, Aguachica, Cesar. Assasinated on December 8, 2001 by armed men, presumably by the AUC. He left behind a widow.
- HERNANDO OTERO MEZA - Leader in the province of Arauca. Assassinated on May 14, 2000. He left behind his wife and three young children.
- YESID TUREROSA GONZALEZ- Church leader in the province of Cucuta. Assassinated on December 12, 2000. He left behind his wife, three grandchildren and three children. Two of his sons have been killed as well.
- GIOVANY GONZALEZ- Leader in Aguachica, Cesar Assasinated October 23, 1999 in Arauquita, Arauca.
Many pastors and church leaders have been kidnapped by the illegal armed groups, often at their roadblocks. This has forced us to look for solutions and talk with the armed groups when possible. We currently have a small group of kidnapped leaders and pastors that we are trying to free. We will refrain from sharing the number of captives and their names, as doing so could further jeopardize their safety as well as that of their families.
III. Threatened Pastors and Leaders
The illegal armed groups, the FARC, ELN, and the AUC, continue their war, declaring pastors and church leaders military targets. They consider them enemies because someone has accused them of something, an informant mentioned their name, someone from "the other side" changed alliances and says they are aligned with "the other side." For the armed groups the friend of the enemy is their enemy, and they only trust those within their own group. There are approximately fifteen leaders and pastors living under threat. For reasons of security we are not able to mention names. We do, however, ask for your prayers on their behalf.
IV. Displaced Pastors, Leaders, and Church Members
Due to the intensification of war --including threats from the armed groups, fumigations, and bombings by the police and army-- approximately 500 church families have been displaced. This is approximately three thousand people. We are providing assistance through material aid, thanks to the support of international churches and church agencies such as the United Church of Christ (UCC), Lutheran World Relief (LWR), Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the Presbyterian Church. Some Colombian churches have helped as well, such as the Assembly of God. We will not list all the families that have been affected due to security concerns and space limitations.
Church members flee their homes because they find themselves in the middle of combat or the armed groups ask them to abandon their land to avoid being killed in the crossfire. Others leave when the armed groups require them to provide proof of identification to leave and enter a given area. Still others leave because the armed groups block food from entering and people are driven from their homes by hunger.
V. Churches Closed by Order of the Armed Groups
In the past years there have been at least four hundred reports from churches that had to close by order of the armed groups or due to other war related dangers-like fumigations and bombings. Some of these churches open temporarily, but then have to close again for the same reasons. This phenomenon affects us all over the country, especially in areas influenced by certain armed groups. By way of illustration, we present a list of churches that have been closed in one region of the country, in the province of Arauca which borders Venezuela.
Municipality||Church and Pastor Name|
|ARAUQUITA||* Four Corners Church - Eusebio Alina |
* Assembly of God, José Montoya
* United Pentacostal, Jesús Sotelo
* Missionary Movement Church, Alfredo Morales
|ARAUQUITA||* Four Corners Church- Pedro Peña |
* Assembly of God- Fidel Martinez
* Missionary Movement Church- Arnulfo Lozano
* United Pentacostal
LOS CHORROS|| * Four Corners Church. James
AGUACHICA||* Alliance Church |
*United Pentacostal Church
BRISAS DEL CARARA ||* Global Movement Church. José Suárez |
* Christian Alliance Church.Pastor Rueda
PANAMA Y ARAUCA||*Four Corners Church .Pedro Peña |
*Allliance Church. Marcos
BOCAS||*United Pentacostal Church |
*World Movement Church
PUEBLO NUEVO||*World Movement Church. Helio |
* Four Corners Church .Olmedo Caceres
* Ebenezer Church. Pedro
* Church of Good News
FILIPINES||* Global Movement Church |
* United Pentacostal Church
PUERTO MIRANDA ||* Free Pentacostle Church
* United Pentacostle Church
BATALON||* Pentacostle Church
COROCITO||* Free Pentacost Church .,Martin, (Assassinted) |
* Adventist Church.
* Free Pentacost Church. Sole Maldonado
PUEBLO SECA ||* Pentecostle Church
ARAUQUITA TODOS LOS SANTOS||* Global Missionary Movement Church
PUERTO LLERAS ||* Global Missionary Movement Church
LOS PAJAROS ||* Four Corners Church. Jose Suarez
JAVILLAL ||*Global Movement Church
SARAVENA PUERTO NARIÑO||* Alliance Church . Daniel|
* Marcelo Chapetar
* United Pentacostle Church
Although the armed groups have said that they will respect places of worship, they do not. In some cases the armed groups close churches through declaring the pastor an enemy or recommending the closing of a church for the security of the church members.
VI. How are We Responding?
Above all we are praying and asking God to protect us and our community of faith, especially the suffering church. We are also creating committees and brigades in the churches located in highly afflicted regions to provide immediate attention to affected church members. We are working towards the unification of different denominations and Pastors Associations in order to create a mutual support network. We relocate threatened individuals and families from rural areas to the cities. With the support of the aforementioned agencies, we assist people living through emergency situations. We are offering our experience and services as a bridge between the different armed groups and the government. We are developing micro-enterprise and self-sustaining projects so that the victims of violence can rebuild their lives and create a future for themselves. Our educational and pedagogical training programs help communities interpret their lives from a Biblical perspective, read the signs of the times and, in this way, be a part of the solution to this war that is destroying our country. We continue strengthening the Evangelical Council of Colombian Churches (CEDECOL), which, at this moment, is active in 36 conflict zones in eight provinces. One hundred members and approximately 500 volunteers work all around the country in various projects. In this way we strengthen and support ourselves, since roughly 60% of the evangelical churches in Colombia, composed of approximately 150 missions and denominations, are affiliated to CEDECOL.
Beloved sisters and brothers, we give you this small report so that you pray and ask God to give us strength, courage, a joyful spirit and hope. We ask for these things so that we may be able to continue being salt and light before the Colombians people who are being destroyed by injustice and violence. We know that where sin abounds, grace is abundant as well, and that we, with your help, are a seed of life, light and hope for the Colombian people.
May God continue blessing you,
RICARDO ESQUIVIA BALLESTAS
President of The Human Rights and Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombian Churches (CEDECOL)
Director of Justapaz: the Christian Center of Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Direct Action
Translated by Janna Bowman