Death-Defying Ministry

Protestant leaders practice grassroots justice--and keep a low profile.

Jesús Goez is hiding in plain sight.

He preaches every Sunday.

Runs a feeding program for 600 kids.

Supervises a job-training program.

Operates a recycling program and a bakery.

He does all this to keep his tiny church with its big vision moving forward—while living miles away from right-wing paramilitary squads that have tried to assassinate him.

Goez is not unlike countless pastors, union leaders, and journalists. Each group has become mired in Colombia's fierce ideological war. Leftist guerrillas, private armies, and right-wing paramilitaries—backed by factions within the Colombian army—have torn the country asunder since the 1960s.

The church in Colombia has paid a staggering price in this conflict. In 2004, armed groups murdered 40 Protestant leaders, according to the Council of Evangelical Churches of Colombia. More than 50 congregations closed due to violence. (Nearly 10 percent of Colombia's 47 million people are Protestant.)

"All those funerals. So much death. In this war, the violence, the threats, the death, it penetrates your soul," says Mennonite pastor Ricardo Esquivia, one of Colombia's leading Protestants and peace activists. "So you pray, asking God for strength so that your soul does not become as sad as all the things happening around you."

In 2005, New York's Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding praised Esquivia's efforts, honoring him with the prestigious 2005 Peacemaker in Action award.

Since the 1980s, more than 200,000 Colombians have died in the violence, and up to 3.4 million have fled their homes. Community leaders have been hit especially hard. More than 4,000 union leaders have been killed. The death toll includes 62 Roman Catholic priests, nuns, and missionaries. Four ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Christianity Today
Death-Defying Ministry
hide thisFebruary February

In the Magazine

February 2007

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.