Ríos Montt takes over in Guatemala after praying with his elders.

Guatemala’s March 23 coup was stalled for more than an hour while General Efraín Ríos Montt gathered the elders of his church for their advice and prayers. When they had given their blessing and laid their hands on him, he proceeded to the National Palace.

There howitzers and tanks in the central park had remained trained on the second floor offices of President Hernando Romeo Lucas Garcia. He had adamantly refused to surrender power to the junior officers who had smoothly executed the bloodless coup, insisting that he hand over to a general. The coup-makers named Ríos Montt. But his whereabouts was unknown, and they finally put out a call over the national radio network for him to present himself.

Four hours after he was ushered into the palace in civilian clothes, he appeared on television in camoflauge fatigues as president of a three-man military junta.

Ríos Montt, 55, is a dedicated believer and leader in the Verbo (“Word” as in John 1:1) Church. Founded by a group sent to Guatemala after the 1976 earthquake by Gospel Outreach of Eureka, California, Verbo is a fast-growing charismatic church that is successfully penetrating the middle and upper classes of Guatemala City. Sunday services draw crowds of over 1,000, and are held in a multicolored tent.

The main ministry of the church, according to its leaders, is the discipling carried out in the 12 “home churches” that meet in different sections of the city on Thursday evenings. One of them has been held in the Ríos Montt home, a modest two-story dwelling in a middle-class neighborhood, and led by “Brother Efraín” and Montt’s wife, Maria Teresa. Now the location of that group will have to change.

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