More than three years after a bloodless coup ended the political career of former Guatemalan President Jose Efrain Ríos Montt, controversy still rages over his 18-month rule. Depending on the observer, Ríos Montt was either a bloody dictator or an anointed Christian statesman.

Guatemalans remember the Sunday-evening television broadcasts when the ex-president preached evangelical faith to this largely Roman Catholic nation. They also remember the thousands who “disappeared” under his government. Interestingly, the act that may have brought down his regime—establishing a stiff 10 percent sales tax—has not been rescinded.

When he became president in 1982, Ríos Montt was principal of a day school operated by El Verbo (The Word) church. After leaving office, he returned to the Guatemala City church to work full-time as an elder.

Elder Ríos Montt

El Verbo is a 1,700-member charismatic congregation whose leaders played an important role in advising the Ríos Montt regime. Housed in a former roller skating rink, the church supports more than 70 daughter congregations (including one in Miami), missionaries throughout Latin America, various publications, a school, and an orphanage.

One of 15 church elders, Ríos Montt directs the “equipping department,” which has developed more than 60 seminars and courses to train Christians for church leadership positions. He also travels throughout Guatemala leading seminars on Christian leadership and discipleship for pastors’ associations.

In an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Ríos Montt said the transition from head of state to church elder was not difficult. “For me there is no difference. As I see ...

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