Sub-commander Mateo of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia knew that a good guerrilla obeys orders, so when his cadre arrived at the evangelical church, he did as told: he set fire to the building.
The 1999 attack took place about 7:30 p.m., in the dark, in Toches, a village so small it doesn't appear on most maps of the tiny Colombian state of Quindío. About 50 worshipers were meeting inside for a midweek service.
Mateo fired warning shots in the air to give the Christians a chance to flee to safety. His superior scolded him. The guerrillas then poured gasoline around the church and ignited it. When the church erupted in flames, the 50 worshipers rushed outside.
The pastor confronted the attackers. Guerrillas shot him and two church members, killing all three.
Two years ago, Mateo's crimes landed him in prison. Mateo is not his real name. Revealing his true identity and location would endanger his life. Prison is the best thing that ever happened to the former guerrilla fighter.
In early 2003, Mateo, now 24, accepted Christ through prisoners who themselves had become Christians while incarcerated in Medellín's Bellavista Prison. Bellavista has become a pulpit for all of Colombia, as prisoners who meet God there are transferred to other penitentiaries to plant churches behind bars.
Like thousands of other guerrilla fighters in war-torn Colombia, Mateo was born into a poor peasant family that eked out its living working coffee and plantain plantations. The rebel recruiter that called on teen-aged Mateo seven years ago was his older brother, who had spent 22 years in the guerrilla ranks.
Mateo eagerly received the message that taking over Colombia's government and imposing communism would solve all the woes that he, his family ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Find hope and historical insight. For a limited time, explore 60+ years of CT archives for free!
- Daily devotions from Timothy Dalrymple during this pandemic.
- Hundreds of theology and spiritual formation classics from Philip Yancey, Elisabeth Elliot, John Stott, and more.
- Thought journalism that inspires you to think more deeply about your faith.
- View the complete archive.
- Join now and get print issues access to archive PDFs.