Tuesday, March 17, 2009
“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.
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.”
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).
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org and Jenny Neme, Director of Justapaz 1-287-3968, email@example.com.
Thanks for blind carbon copying us on your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org