Native missionaries working in remote jungle areas of Colombia face the constant threat of violence and extortion from the war-torn nation's powerful guerrilla groups, an indigenous missions agency reported Monday. As a result, two local churches were recently forced to close.
According to Christian Aid Mission, pastors and many church members had to flee the villages where its churches were located following threats and pressure from guerrilla fighters.
In their efforts to exert total control over the region, the fighters were targeting evangelical believers, the agency reported. This was partly because the effect their gospel was having on fellow guerrillas, the agency stated. Those led to the Lord were laying down their weapons and refusing to fight
In the two villages mentioned, the fighters have forbidden evangelical church services from taking place and are not allowing any person to travel for missionary purposes.
Many Christians throughout rural Colombia face such situations, Christian Aid reported. "Traveling to preach the gospel or attend a training meeting is extremely difficult."
According to one missionary, "The guerrilla groups block the roads and do not let us travel freely."
Another missionary reported that "Guerrilla people have constantly threatened us, and many times we have had to obey their commands."
These commands include demanding large sums of money from churches at random, as well as a fee at wantonly placed checkpoints along jungle roads.
According to sources, the current conflict in Colombia is rooted in a long history of economic inequality, a weak state presence in much of the country, political exclusion, impunity and social fragmentation. In recent years the conflict has intensified dramatically due in large part to the infusion of new resourcesfrom both drug-related profits that many of the armed actors currently receive, and more recently from a significant infusion of U.S. military aid.
During the course of Colombia's decades-old internal conflict, dozens of pastors have been kidnapped and held for ransoma common guerrilla method of generating income. Some Christians in rural areas have been killed for being alleged "government spies."
Believers from the two villages whose churches were closed down are praying the Lord would open the door for them to return and begin Christian meetings again, Christian Aid reported. Pray with them for the Lord's protection in the dangerous regions where they live and serve."
With over three million Colombians having been displaced since 1985, many say Colombia is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere with the third highest rate of internally displaced persons in the world.