In the mountains of Northern Colombia, a woman and her family defy the restrictions placed on Christianity by walking at night, smuggling Bibles and visiting secret churches hidden in the middle of the jungle. The risk is high, but what is greater is their love for those who do not yet know Christ.
To reach the house of Agustina*, to encourage her, and to get an update on how she is, the journey is long and tiring. You have to drive for many hours on bumpy and twisting dirt roads – at one point crossing a river without the aid of a bridge, slowly and carefully driving through the shallowest parts hoping not to get stuck! For the final stretch, the path is too small for a vehicle and walking uphill along a steep dirt path is the only option.
Then, in the middle of the jungle, hidden by the mountain and the trees, lives Agustina. She is of strong build, has small eyes, and a wide, welcoming smile. Agustina has been a Christian for 10 years, of which the last two have been dedicated to the expansion of the Gospel into the deepest reaches of the jungle of Northern Colombia, to places where entry for ‘the white man’ is forbidden. Sites entirely dominated by the traditional authorities that promote the radical rejection of Christianity and its representatives. On more than one occasion Agustina and her husband Hector* have been deprived of their freedom and imprisoned by these authorities because of their Christian faith.
In many of the indigenous communities of Colombia, the spread of Christianity has been interpreted as a direct attack on local culture and tradition. This generates the radical and violent persecution of indigenous Christians living in these areas, which prevents them from freely living out their faith.
Javier*, a missionary to the indigenous people of northern Colombia, explained that, “For indigenous people to receive Christ implies the rejection of their entire community. The new indigenous Christians are then often excluded and discriminated against and this generates a huge disadvantage for them. Often they are denied land tenure, participation in economic programs, and the provision of health services.”
However, and despite the harsh persecution of which the indigenous Christians are victims, the indigenous people who do follow Christ build a faith that becomes strong in the face of such adversity.
Hector, the husband of Agustina, explained, “Salvation – we only have it through Christ. If Jesus won, we too can overcome.” Hector and Agustina, helped by their children, have developed a secret way to move through the jungle at night, bringing the message of Christ into the isolated and hard-to-reach communities that are controlled by indigenous authorities.
Before setting off on these night-time missions, Agustina and her family try to get as much information as possible about the place they will visit. The distances, the routes less traveled that provide most cover, and information about the tribal leaders in charge. Contact is made with those who want to know about the Gospel, and arrangements are made with them to provide shelter and hide Agustina and her husband.
Agustina explained that, “We walk at night, because that way they cannot see us. We walk in pairs, and in silence, because the less noise we make the better. When we arrive we go to the house of those people who are interested in Jesus and in coming to know Him. When they receive us, they let us sleep in their houses. We pray there, we share the Word, and we sing in very low voices so as not to attract attention. If we are discovered, we will all be in danger.”
“Sometimes many people have come to the same house in search of teaching and miracles. Many accept Christ and start a new life as secret Christians.”
Although Colombia is a country that promotes freedom of faith and conscience in its constitution, in many indigenous communities Christians suffer persecution because of their faith. This is because indigenous populations in Colombia have a system of government independent from the State, which is defended by law.
It is for this reason that any legal action taken to defend Christianity in the hostile indigenous communities has not had much success. Government bodies often turn a blind eye towards the abuses and violent acts against indigenous Christians.
Open Doors has been partnering with Agustina for the past few years. During this time, we have helped develop her missionary efforts in the region by providing pastoral assistance. Open Doors has also provided financial help to her family, and supported family enterprises to help achieve financial stability. We have also supported Agustina’s family by providing education and training for their children. One of them, Mateo, is currently at “La Casita”, a refuge home where children study and prepare themselves vocationally to serve back in their local communities after leaving school.
In the middle of their current situation and difficulties, Agustina and Hector pray that the Church will be free from persecution, a prayer that is as beautiful as it is challenging:
“Lord, we Christians who suffer persecution pray for our brothers who can adore you in freedom. We ask you to fill them with strength and faith, we ask you to protect them always, because only You know the persecutions and challenges that they must go through in the future so that your name is known. Give them strength, and be with them in their future persecution. Amen.”
*Name changed for security purposes.
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