CHRISTIANITY TODAY/September 8, 1989

In parts of Bolivia and Peru, just saying no to the drug trade can be a difficult and dangerous thing.

For Benito Mendoza, a 40-year-old peasant farmer in the mountainous Chaparé region of Bolivia, growing coca has been a profitable livelihood for many years. It has enabled him to provide a decent life for his wife and three children.

In a country where the average percapita income is one of the hemisphere’s lowest (approximately $600 a year), coca farming has been a fruitful enterprise, netting Mendoza $5,500 annually. The innocuous-looking shrub, from which cocaine is produced, flourishes in this part of the world.

Mendoza is a professing, evangelical Christian.

“We strip the leaves from the plant, put them out in the sun to dry, bundle them back up, and the ‘narcotraffickers’ come by in big trucks to pick them up,” offers Mendoza through a translator. “They pay us in American dollars.

“We have been told about the danger of cocaine, but with coca I can feed my children and send them to school. My choices are very hard.”

While North American congregations are coming to grips with the increasing incidence of drug addiction within their own ranks, church leaders south of the equator are struggling with a different kind of problem related to the drug trade. They say Mendoza’s story is an illustration of the inroads the thriving drug cartels have made into evangelical communities in Latin America.

Easy Money

While there are no statistics to confirm a trend of any kind, some church leaders in Bolivia and Peru, the principal coca-growing nations, fear a growing number of Christians may be falling prey to the lure of easy money—or to the coercion of increasingly violent drug traffickers.

“We know we ...

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