Thursday, September 24, 2009

Murders and Threats Against Church Leaders in Córdoba, Northern Colombia: Urgent Action Plea!!!

"We could easily be killed for saying this, but the international church needs to know."
Church leader in Southern Córdoba

Crisis in Córdoba
So far in 2009 six Protestant church leaders from southern Córdoba have been murdered by paramilitary armed groups. Several attempted murders and dozens of death threats have caused the forced displacement of hundreds of people. Some churches have been literally caught in the crossfire. In one town six pastors were threatened to be killed if they failed to make extortion payments. A significant number of the victims were targeted for their community leadership in land-rights struggles and for opposing the violence affecting their communities.

We are profoundly concerned about the ongoing collusion between rearmed paramilitary groups and Colombian public security forces as well as the lack of response from other state agencies to this violence. “We would like to see a change in this marriage between the paramilitaries and the army. If the army were to really fight these groups it would be different,” stated a local pastor. In recent conversations pastors and community leaders spoke of their deep fear about reporting on paramilitary operations that have intensified in the past five months, “If the [state agents and paramilitary groups] knew what we were telling you, as soon as we left this meeting we’d be shot. We don’t dare talk about these things with Colombian authorities. It’s just too dangerous.”

In the province of Córdoba in 2008 there were 512 violent deaths, including six massacres. This is the highest murder rate in the past 18 years. If the violence that has been documented so far in 2009 is an indication, the rate will increase this year.

Since 2006 we have repeatedly denounced the rearming and remobilization of paramilitaries in Córdoba. The territorial dispute between the paramilitary groups has increased this year; the number of cases we have documented as well as the analysis of local leaders indicate that these groups are seeking to consolidate their control. As we have previously documented, the armed groups target local pastors and leaders as a strategy of coercion. According to local leaders and local and regional analysts, the current surge in violence is being driven by an economic interest in drug trafficking routes.

We have documented the following three murders in the past four months of 2009:

1. On September 6 at approximately 10:00 p.m. three hooded presumed paramilitaries came to the home of Foursquare Church Pastor Rafael Velásquez and shot him, killing him immediately. His wife and six young people from the church were present at the time of his murder.

2. On July 24, at approximately 11:20 a.m in the Santa Marta community, the geographic location of paramilitary demobilization talks with the government, four presumed Black Eagles paramilitaries shot and killed Marco Fidel Suárez Moreno. Marco was married to Elcy Ramos with whom he had four children ages 11 to 22. At the time of his murder Marco was a city council member in Montería and a community arbitration provider (Conciliador en Equidad) and a leader at the Galacia (AIEC) Church. Marco was a councilmember in Tierralta from 1998 to 2000 and had previously served as president of the Commmunity Council of Santa Fe de Ralito and Las Aguaditas.

3. On June 28, at 8:00 p.m. four armed men, presumed members of the paramilitary organization, the Self Defense Gaitanistas of Colombia, arrived at Jhon Jairo Martínez’s house in Montería and killed him. Jhon Jairo was a leader from the AIEC church and was married to Olga Isabel Hernández with whom he had three children, ages two to nine. They lived on a farm that had been given to them and 39 other displaced families by INCORA (the Colombian agrarian reform agency) in 1997.

We have documented more than 20 human rights violations in 2009 in the province of Córdoba, including threats, homicides and individual and collective forced displacement by paramilitaries and guerillas. The cases that we have registered corroborate the communities’ claims that the violence is caused by the armed groups’ fight for territorial control and drug-trafficking routes.

Sixteen international non-governmental organizations and denominations sent a letter to the Colombian Attorney General on April 2 of this year reporting paramilitary violence against church and community leaders, listing several specific cases and asking the Attorney General to investigate. Once again, we request a progress report in the investigation of these crimes. We request State agencies and civilian, military and police authorities to take immediate and effective action to ensure justice and to stop these activities that threaten life and human dignity in the province of Córdoba.

The alarming pattern of paramilitary violence is not the full story of Córdoba´s political violence; while they are fewer in number, communities in the department also report persecution from the guerrilla. All aggressions are equally harmful and wrong, no matter by whom they are committed. We condemn them equally.

We ask that you pray for the safety of communities in Córdoba. As Christians we pray for strength and guidance for the members of these communities; that they may persevere in their commitment to working for God’s vision of a nonviolent Colombia that can live in peace with dignity for all. We ask you to also pray for those responsible for this violence that they may turn themselves in, seek restoration of the damage they have done and transform their lives.

Please send the following model-letter to the Colombian Attorney General and copies to your Members of Congress and to us at

Fiscalía General de la Nación
Guillermo Mendoza Diago
Fiscal General (E)
Diagonal 22 B No.52-01, Fax: (+571)570-2000 Bogotá D.C. Colombia

Dr. Guillermo Mendoza Diago,

I am writing to express my concern for church and community leaders in the province of Córdoba. So far this year six protestant church leaders and even more social leaders have been killed by presumed rearmed paramilitaries. Among those killed are Pastor Rafael Velásquez, murdered September 6, Pastor Marco Fidel Suárez Moreno, murdered July 24, and church and community leader Jhon Jairo Martínez, murdered June 28.

We ask the Colombian Attorney General’s Office to:
1. Investigate these cases as rapidly and thoroughly as possible.
2. Ensure that those responsible for the crimes be held responsible.
3. Ensure the protection and reparation for the victims of these crimes and their families, as well as that of all persons living in this region who are demanding the rights to their land, in light of the danger and importance of their work.

I ask you to please communicate the status of these investigations to Pablo Moreno, the National Coordinator of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (Comisión de Paz del Consejo Evangélico de Colombia – CEDECOL) at 2-513-0781, and Jenny Neme, Director of Justapaz at 1-287-3968,


A Prophetic Call: Edition 4

2285 Protestant and Evangelical victims of war in Colombia in 2008. That's 2285 victims of human rights and International Humamanitarian Law violations in Colombia that the Documentation Project of the Protestant Peace Commission (CRVP-CEDECOL) and Justapaz (with which yours truly works) were able to fully document. There are undoubtedly many more, as our human and financial resources and the challenges of doing this type of work in Colombia limit our ability to document all cases.

Download the English report here. Y en español aqui.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Naming the Unspeakable, a Witness to Hope

The Unspeakable. What is this? Surely, an eschatological image. It is the void we encounter, you and I, underlying the announced programs, the good intentions, the unexampled and universal aspirations for the best of all possible worlds... It is the emptiness of “the end.” Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity, which can be broken open again to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God. Yet nowhere do you despair of this miracle. You seem to say that, for you, this is precisely what it means to be a Christian; for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.
-Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable

Idia, William, Narciso, Manuela, Yuby, Rosendo, Fanni, Jorge, Orlina. These are some of the names that have been on my mind a lot over the past year. They are some of the victims of the ongoing war in Colombia; the ones I’ve been privileged to get to know the best. But victim is such an incomplete description of who they are; they name the Unspeakable in Colombia, and through their courage, they are witnesses to Christian hope.

On September 15th of last year I was told of a community and church leader named Narciso Diaz who had been shot and was in the hospital in Montería a few hours from where I lived. Here is what I wrote to a friend that night:

Today I went to visit with Narciso Diaz and his wife Manuela. Narciso, a church and community leader from a rural part of Tierralta, Córdoba was shot in the face on Thursday night and somehow survived. Around seven p.m. Thursday night Narciso noticed that the door leading from his kitchen to his back yard was open. When he walked outside a man with a hood covering his face stepped forward and pointed a gun at him. He shot Narciso in the face (the bullet traveled diagonally through his mouth and came out of his neck below his ear), and said, "Maybe the Organization of American States will save you," and fled, leaving Narciso for dead.

Narciso’s wife Manuela came running to his aid and found him lying in the living room (where he had made it on his own). She summoned the help that eventually saved his life. Due to the remoteness of where they live as well as Colombia's precarious infrastructure and medical facilities, it was three a.m. before Narciso made it to the hospital. "We know that God was with Narciso. It's a miracle he is alive," Manuela told me today at the hospital.

We believe a paramilitary group that operates in the area targeted Narciso for murder. The reference to the Organization of American States is in reference to leadership workshops that Narciso had taken that were funded and organized by the OAS. The paramilitaries likely thought he was an informant.

Narciso and Manuela are members of Emmaus Church of the Association of Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean. They will now be forced into displacement, as it is too dangerous for them to return home. Needless to say, they are very scared. When I was introduced as a missionary who represented churches in the United States, Narciso said to me, "I am a servant of God. I know there are many people all over praying for me... that is why I am alive. Thank you."

Here is a man, who narrowly escaped death, who has trouble speaking due to the bullet fragment still lodged in his tongue, who has never before met me, but who is grateful for my presence, because he is grateful for your prayers.

Narciso has since recovered his health, and along with Manuela has displaced to a new community. They are now farming new land due to the support structure they found in the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia. Narciso is once again establishing himself as a community leader, helping organize the rural community in their struggle for running water. He and Manuela also lead worship services in their new neighbors’ homes.

In the quote at the top of this letter, Thomas Merton says that the Unspeakable can be broken open to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God. And that living that reality is what it means to be a Christian; for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.

Narciso is now eager to share his story. Having stared death in the face and having been sustained by faith he embodies the miracle that can break open the Unspeakable. He hopes that his story and his courage can help turn the tide of violence in Colombia.

And as for me, I’m doing well... continually grateful for the opportunity to accompany folks like Narciso and Manuela and be a witness to their Christian hope.

Grateful for your sustaining prayers,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pastor Still Missing - Urgent Action Requested

“Rouse yourself, rouse yourself! Stand up...” (Isaiah 51:17a)

A Pastor Disappears

I first heard of Idia and her missing husband, Pastor William Reyes – of the Light and Truth Interamerican Church of Maicao, La Guajira, on the morning of September 27th a little more than 24 hours after the pastor disappeared on a rural Colombian highway. I was roused by an early morning phone call from the National Coordinator of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL), with whom I work; “A pastor has been disappeared. We need to tell the international family of faith; we need them to take action,” he told me as I mentally refocused my energy on this new pressing task. We put out a call for urgent action the next day, asking the international community to contact the Colombian Attorney General’s office as well as the Governor of La Guajira – the northwestern province where Pastor Reyes had previously lived.

Unfortunately, Colombia continues to be a dangerous place to follow the Prince of Peace. In 2007 the Documentation Program of Justapaz and the CEDECOL Peace Commission documented 324 violations against church members. Colombia has over 4 million internally displaced persons – more than any other country – and 1,500 more are forced from their homes every day. Approximately 3,000 people die every year because of the violence.

Pastor Reyes ministered in a highly conflictive area of northern Colombia on the border with Venezuela where leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, Colombian military and police, narco-traffickers and smugglers make for a dizzying context of lawlessness, extortion and violence. When Pastor Reyes did not return home on the evening of September 25th, it was anybody’s guess as to who may have taken him. Both the local pastor’s association and his family had been targets of extortion requests and multiple death threats in the months prior to his disappearance; such are the costs of being a leader, religious or secular, in Maicao.

When I first met with Idia three weeks later I came away impressed with her strength. She spoke of her gratitude for church members around the world who had responded to the alert and urged the Colombian government to investigate her husband’s disappearance. She shared that she found comfort in the words of Isaiah 51, and spoke of her faith that her husband was still alive. Was her mentioning of verse twelve an indication she knew this might no longer be the case? I am he who comforts you; why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die, a human being who fades like grass, Isaiah 51:12.

New Threats

Things took a turn for the worse in January of this year. On January 15, 2009, an unidentified man came to the church and asked for Idia. When the church receptionist told him she wasn’t there, he asked for her address and cell phone number, which she also refused to give him. He stated that it was “In [Mrs. Miranda’s] best interest to get in touch with him, than for him to have to find her”—hardly a veiled threat.

On January 21, 2009, Mrs. Miranda’s eldest daughter (Luz Nelly, age 16) was approached by an unidentified man on the street who told her if she wanted to see her dad she should come with him. When he attempted to grab her by the arm Luz Nelly fled. On February 19, armed men entered another Christian church, just a few blocks from the Light and Truth Church, and forcibly removed a female parishioner who has not been seen since.

When Idia shared these disturbing new developments with me, she broke down and cried, “I wanted to stay... but this changes everything. They tried to take my daughter! They can torment me, but I can´t bear the harassment of my children. If something were to happen to them… I want to leave.”

No Progress

Unfortunately not much has changed over the past six months. Despite our repeated efforts, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office still reports no progress in investigating Pastor Reyes disappearance. As of our last communication, an investigator still had not been assigned to the case.

As the six-month anniversary of Pastor Reyes’ disappearance draws near we’re asking for your help once again. Please see the urgent action request below.

Just as the words of Isaiah 51 comfort Idia, may they challenge us.

“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord... Rouse yourself, rouse yourself! Stand up...” (Isaiah 51:1a, 17a).

Urgent Action

Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace and Justapaz

On September 30, 2008 we requested urgent action on behalf of the pastors of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao - FRAMEM) and especially for Pastor William Reyes of the Light and Truth Church (Iglesia Luz y Verdad). February 25 marked the five month anniversary of Pastor Reyes disappearance.

Recent developments include the January 19 attempted abduction of Reyes’ daughter and the February 19 abduction of a member of a neighboring church. These incidents indicate the precarious situation faced by Pastor Reyes’ wife, Idia Miranda, and their three children, William Reyes Miranda, 19, Luz Nelly Reyes Miranda, 16, and Estefania Reyes Miranda, nine.

We invite your prayers and actions on behalf of the Reyes family. Read on for a chronological update and action steps.

A Pastor is Disappeared. His family lives in fear.

On Thursday, September 25, at 10:00am Pastor William Reyes departed Valledupar, Cesar, for his home in Maicao, La Guajira. He never arrived and has not been heard from since.

On Saturday, October 4 2008, thousands of Maicao residents marched through the streets of Maicao calling for Pastor Reyes’ safe return. After the march, Pastor Reyes’ identification documents were found in a wallet that had been left just inside the Light and Truth Church.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, an unidentified man came to the church and asked for Mrs. Miranda. When he was told she wasn’t there, he asked for her address and cell phone number, which were also not given to him. He stated that it was “In [Mrs. Miranda’s] best interest to get in touch with him, than for him to have to find her.”

On Wednesday, January 21, 2009, Mrs. Miranda’s eldest daughter (Luz Nelly, age 16) was approached by an unidentified man on the street who told her if she wanted to see her dad she should come with him. When he attempted to grab her by the arm, Luz Nelly fled. On Thursday, February 19, armed men allegedly entered another Christian church, just a few blocks from the Light and Truth Church, and forcibly removed a female parishioner.

After over five months of hearing nothing regarding her husband’s case and the renewed threats, Mrs. Miranda fears for her family’s safety. Despite repeated attempts, we have yet to receive report of any progress in investigating Pastor Reyes’ disappearance from the Colombian Attorney General’s office.

Action Requests: Political Advocacy and Prayer

Communicate with Colombian Attorney General (see sample letter)

Ask that the Attorney General:

• Ensure a timely investigation into Pastor William Reyes’ disappearance.

• Communicate the status of their investigations to Ricardo Esquivia (National Coordinator of the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace) and Jenny Neme (Director of Justapaz).


• For the safety of Pastor William Reyes and his family.

• For the safety of the members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao.

• Repentance of the material and intellectual authors of the crimes.

Sample Letter:

Fiscalía General de la Nación

Dr. Mario Iguarán

Diagonal 22 B No.52-01, Fax: (+571)570-2000

Bogotá D.C. Colombia


Dear Mr. Iguarán:

I am writing to express my deep concern for the safety of Pastor William Reyes, his family and the members of the Fraternity of Evangelical Ministers of Maicao (Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao - FRAMEM). Pastor Reyes pastors the Light and Truth Church (Iglesia Luz y Verdad de la denominación Iglesia Evangélica Interamericana de Colombia) of Maicao and is a member of FRAMEM – which has received repeated threats from illegal armed groups since March of last year.

Pastor Reyes departed Valledupar, Cesar for Maicao, La Guajira at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 25, 2008 and has not arrived or been heard from since.

We ask that you take all steps necessary to locate Pastor Reyes and to protect his family and the members of FRAMEM. Those responsible should be held accountable for their crimes.

We ask that you communicate the status of the investigation to Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, National Coordinator of the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Colombia, CEDECOL 313.555.4404, and Jenny Neme, Director of Justapaz 1-287-3968,


Thanks for blind carbon copying us on your letter at