Angry Mob destroys church in Bolivian Andes

Florida – An angry mob of Quechua-speaking Indians destroyed the only evangelical Church in the village of Chucarasi in the Bolivian Andes on February 28, after beating a congregational elder unconscious. Apparently, villagers attacked their Christian neighbors because they blamed them for a hailstorm that damaged local crops.

“People say that preaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ goes against their customs and traditions,” said Abel Colque in Oruro. Over the years, Colque and other church leaders have witnessed dozens of confrontations like the one unfolding in Chucarasi.

The trouble began two days after the end of the annual Carnaval festival, celebrated to mark the beginning of Lent. Like many traditional Quechua communities, Churcarasi observe the holiday with worship of Christo-pagan icons, ritual dances, and excessive consumption of alcohol. Andean animists believe such activities are essential to pacify local deities and avoid natural disaster. However, thirty families, since converting to evangelical Christianity several years ago, had declined to take part in the Carnaval celebrations, but instead spent the festival days tending crops in their field.

Two days following the conclusion of the Carnaval, a severe hailstorm hit Chucarasi, damaging fields of potatoes and grain. The catastrophe provoked fears within the community that the evil spirits were punishing the community for the evangelicals’ decision to not participate in the Carnaval. As a result, village officials announced a community meeting the following day, and summoned the church members to be present.

Suspecting that the village leaders would insist that they renounce their evangelical faith and return to animism, as they had done repeatedly in the past, all but one member of the church were absent for the meeting. Fortunato Bernal, an elder from the church who complied with the summons, arrived at the meeting, only to be seized and beaten until he lost consciousness.

News of the attack on Bernal reached the church congregation, which had gathered in their chapel to pray for reconciliation in lieu of attending the community meeting. Fearing more violence, church members withdrew to a nearby mountain peak to continue their prayer vigil.

According to witnesses, around midnight, an angry mob arrived at the church armed with picks, axes, and wrecking bars. Discovering that the church was empty, they proceeded to destroy Bibles, hymnals, and smashed the pulpit and pews before dismantling the windows, doors, roof, and walls of the church. Upon returning from their vigil, the congregation found only a pile of rubble where their chapel once stood.

In the days following the attack, the church leaders filed a complaint with the sub-prefect of Bustillos province, demanding reparations. However, the sub-prefect reportedly sided with the Chucarasi animists, refusing to arrest the ones responsible for the attack on Bernal and compensating the demolished church for only 25 percent of its actual value.

Emboldened by the ruling, Chucarasi leaders insisted that the evangelical believers either renounce their faith or leave the community. Also, death threats began to surface against Gregoria Conde, the man credited with introducing evangelical Christianity to Churcarasi in 1997.

The increasing tension prompted Bernal and Conde to travel to Oruro to seek the support of national leaders from the Church of God. Representatives of the Church of God, the Evangelical Christian Union and the inter-denominational organization Churches United were preparing to travel to Bustillos province to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Chucarasi crisis, however Colque reported that “The news from the community is that if somebody comes to intervene, they will be killed. For that reason, we would like to ask our brothers to pray for the evangelical community there.”

At the present, the Church of God congregation counts one-third of the community there.

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