What does persecution look like in Colombia?
When Colombian President Gustavo Petro came into office last year, he touted a plan for "total peace." But that hasn't happened in the last year. Instead, church leaders continue to be harassed, extorted and murdered due to the violence around control of territories between armed guerillas, drug gangs and other armed groups. Christians in these areas who dare to speak publicly about corruption and violence face attacks for their bold witness. Similarly, church leaders who oppose criminal activities in their sermons also can be targeted. Believers who work with youth or champion human and environmental rights risk violence from armed groups. Essentially, any action that a group views as defiant or opposes their illegal activities is enough to lead to violent attacks or immense pressure.
In some indigenous communities, there is sometimes significant opposition toward Christian missionaries and anyone who has converted from traditional practices to follow Jesus. As a result, these believers can face threats, imprisonment, physical abuse, and lose access to basic needs like water, electricity, education, sanitation and even the loss of land. This hostility creates a reality that can leave Christians completely ostracized from their community and increasingly vulnerable to the violence engulfing many rural areas in Colombia.
There also seems to be a growing intolerance toward Christian views in the public sphere, especially about issues concerning life, family, marriage and religious liberty. Sometimes, Christians can be accused of hate speech and intolerance, which can promote self-censorship.
Who is most vulnerable to persecution?
Christians living in places controlled by armed militias are the most likely to face violence for any kind of public witness. Some believers who abandon their indigenous spiritual traditions also may experience pressure and abuse from their own family and community.
"I would like to tell [the armed rebel group] that I forgive them in spite of all the evil they did, because maybe they didn't know or hadn't thought about what they were doing, and that I don't hold grudges."Thiago, a Colombian teenager whose brother was forcibly recruited and later murdered by an armed militia group
What has changed this year?
The situation in Colombia has not changed much in the last year, although the short and unstable periods of truce during peace negotiations have meant a slight decrease in pressure and violence against Christians. The bloodshed continues despite a shift in government, and armed groups continue to refuse to give up their weapons or their territories. In the places controlled by some of these groups, any Christian who stands up for their rights or the rights of other vulnerable people can be targeted, attacked or even killed. Because huge areas of Colombia are largely under the control of armed groups, what Christians can and can't do varies by region and the armed group that controls each area—and in many rural parts of the country, simply following Jesus in a public way is enough to get you killed. In some indigenous communities, there is ongoing opposition to converts to Christianity.
Open Doors strengthens the persecuted church in Colombia through Bible distribution, training, trauma care, community development projects, emergency relief aid, and education and safe houses for children.
- Colombia’s peace treaty with illegal armed groups is not yet a reality—and violence is still rampant. Pastors and church leaders often find themselves in the crosshairs of such groups. Ask God to protect church leaders and help them to serve Him, despite the danger.
- Pray for believers who are part of indigenous groups that view Christianity as a betrayal of culture and family. Pray that these Christians can find community and hope in the Lord.
- Ask God to protect and preserve the Open Doors Children’s Center as it cares for and equips the next generation of Colombian church leaders in parts of the country.
Almighty God, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Colombia. We lift up those living in areas controlled by criminal or drug gangs—please protect Your people as they strive to follow You and give them both wisdom and courage to be bold in their faith. We also ask for Your mercy on our family who convert from the faith of their community to follow You. Show these believers they're part of a global Body and that they aren't alone. We pray Your peace would reign in Colombia—that the violence would finally cease. We ask all these things in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.