Asking for permission to preach is a way of life for “Leonardo.” Merely forgetting or refusing to ask can result in death at the hands of the guerrillas or paramilitaries in Colombia’s “red zones.” Pastors in these areas are viewed as obstacles to the groups’ political ambitions because young people who become Christians are no longer attracted to the groups’ violent lifestyles. “They give you a time to start preaching, and you have to begin and be done at that time,” Leonardo explained. “There was no nighttime preaching or walking outside [allowed], and I always had to give a note if I was going to go anywhere.” Leonardo’s church soon transferred him to a different area, where he worked with people who had been displaced by guerrilla groups in the red zones. But his new home was not free from opposition, either. “There are gangs, hitmen,” he said. “I have been there two years. Two times they have not let me preach.” The gangs stopped Leonardo in front of his church and denied him entrance, saying, “Today no preaching!” But Leonardo found another place to preach. With a speaker and microphone in hand, he began preaching outdoors. He first began

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Categories: Stories from the Field

As the sound of gunfire grew louder, 10-year-old Luis and his brother ran to their room and crawled under their bed. They knew the gunfire meant guerrilla fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were again attacking their small jungle village in one of Colombia’s “red zones,” particularly dangerous areas. When soldiers from the Colombian Army arrived to repel the attack, the guerrillas took the boys’ father hostage to aid their escape. Although they released him four hours later, fighting between the guerrillas and government forces dragged on for days. Many of Luis’s friends were killed in the attack. All Things Made New Luis found true peace in Christ at age 13 and immediately felt the need to help people in villages like his who had suffered from the decades-long insurgency. “He told me He was my God and my Father, and He would always be there for me,” Luis said. “I felt the love of God come back in my life.” Using his small savings, Luis bought books, games and other items to distribute in his old village, which remained under threat. He also brought New Testaments and gave them to everyone he met, including police officers,

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Categories: Stories from the Field

Liliana struggled with faith after her father’s murder by Marxist guerrillas in Colombia, but God provided healing and is leading her to use her testimony to help people in another war-torn country. Liliana didn’t choose to grow up in Colombia’s treacherous frontier region, where Christians sometimes receive death threats just for attending church. And she didn’t choose to watch her family’s faith erode in a torrent of grief after her father’s murder. But she sees now that God used these trials and setbacks to direct His purpose for her life. And for Liliana, with that purpose came redemption and healing. Liliana’s parents, Amelo and Christina, moved to one of Colombia’s most treacherous areas to serve as church planters before Liliana was born. They were sent to pastor a church in the notoriously dangerous region along the Colombia-Venezuela border, where the Colombian military struggled to suppress a guerrilla insurgency by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC funded its rebel activities in part with cash from Colombia’s lucrative cocaine trade. And in response, drug lords formed right-wing paramilitary groups to counter the FARC’s incursions into their drug-trafficking monopoly, forming a third front in the chaos of Colombian violence. Although

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Categories: Stories from the Field

Elmer sat in a cave, listening to the howling wind and the hail pounding the rain-soaked earth. Surrounded by darkness and fearing for his life, the FARC guerrilla commander had much time to think and much to think about. He was being pursued by a FARC commander one rank below him as well as by government soldiers. The commander was jealous that Elmer had been promoted after government soldiers killed the previous top commander. And the government had placed a 200-million-peso (about $98,000 USD) bounty on his head that made him that much more of a target. Elmer saw only one solution. It was the solution that he had been taught in more than 30 years of indoctrination with Marxist teachings: “In situations like this, taking my life is my only way out,” he thought. He grabbed his gun and lifted it to his head. But when he tried to pull the trigger, he heard a voice saying, “Don’t do it.” He tried two more times, but each time he heard the voice, preventing him from pulling the trigger. The fourth time he tried, the hail and rain suddenly stopped. “Don’t do it,” the voice said again. “I love you.

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Categories: Stories from the Field

James Pino and his wife, Rocio, had already gone to bed for the nightwhen they heard an unexpected knock at the front door. When Pinoopened the door, he was met by two men asking for help with theirmotorcycle. He went outside to help while one of the men stayed by thedoor, where Rocio stood watching her husband. “Is your name Maria?” the man asked her.“No, I am Rocio Pino,” she replied. Suddenly three gunshots shattered the stillness of the night, andwhen Pino turned around he saw his wife fall to the ground. The attackers then jumped on their motorcycle and sped away. Because they lived in one of Colombia’s “red zones,” areas controlledby the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), no emergencyservices would respond. The road to their village was heavily mined andguarded by armed FARC guerrillas, so Pino and his daughters were leftto watch Rocio die on their front doorstep. Rocio was known for sharing the Gospel with everyone she met,especially the guerrilla fighters. “All who come here will hear aboutChrist,” she had said. Pino later learned that Rocio’s killers were probably retaliating against her for witnessing to a female guerrilla who hadstopped by their house a few weeks

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Categories: Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs

Chet Bitterman went in with his eyes open. He knew that sharingthe Gospel could be costly. It could cost everything. But hewillingly went to Colombia to bear the Good News. “…I findthe recurring thought that perhaps God will call me to be martyred forHim in His service in Colombia. I am willing.” Bitterman penned thosewords in his diary before he and his wife, Brenda, arrived in Colombia.Bitterman’s devotion to his Savior was evident: “I am willing.” When the gunmen came into the Wycliffe Bible Translators guesthouse in Bogotá, Colombia, early the morning of January 19, 1981, theywere looking for the mission’s leader, a more high-profile hostage whosecaptivity could somehow help their cause. Who they got instead wasChester A. Bitterman III, “Chet” to his friends. The next day PresidentRonald Reagan took the oath of office, and American hostages left Iranafter 444 days in captivity. Their ordeal was over, with the Bittermans’just beginning. They hadn’t been in Colombia long. Their mission career and theirtranslation work lay before them. They had gone to language school andhelped in various tasks for Wycliffe, including managing the guest house,serving as buyer for goods needed by mission workers and even as radiooperator. Finally, it seemed God was

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Categories: Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs

The small number of children in the village of Santana Ramos inColombia enjoyed coming to school and learning from theirteacher, Dora Lilia Saavedra. She prayed with them every dayand told them about Jesus while they learned. She also sometimes traveled for hours to more distant villages, where there were no teachers, tohelp the children there. She was a good, loving teacher. But one day inNovember, the children’s ordinary school day was interrupted when twomen with guns, wearing army fatigues and boots, walked into the one-room schoolhouse and told the children to leave. “There will be no more school today. Go home and return tomorrow,” they said gruffly. The children quickly gathered their belongings and slipped out of the schoolhouse, wondering what was going to happen. Dora Lilia and her husband, Ferley Saavedra, who also taught at theschool, knew what was going to happen, and they were prepared. Thesemen who had come for them were guerrilla soldiers with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist movement characterized by threat, force, and violence. For decades they have terrorized Colombians, targeting Christians in particular. “Christians are dangerous,” they say. “Christians cannot lie. If the army asks them about us, they will

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Categories: Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs

Squeals of delight from the children could be heard from down thestreet. Father Francisco Montoya was laughing with them, grinning from ear to ear. The local priest was performing illusions for the kids, reveling in the smiles that radiated from their faces. This was Montoya’s favorite time of day. Montoya called the kids closer and had them sit down as he pulledout his clarinet. The children sat mesmerized as the beautiful musicpierced the air and touched their souls. The adults also gathered aroundand allowed the sounds to wash over them. Putting down the clarinet, Montoya began telling the story of JesusChrist. The people of Quibdó, Colombia, needed to hear the Gospelmessage more than the music. God used the music to draw people closerand to open their hearts, and Montoya was now prepared to share thegood news with them. The next day, Montoya rose early to attend services and began histrek from Quibdó (the capital city of Chocó Department) to the villageof Nóvita. He traveled on foot all around the region, carrying necessarybelongings in a typical indigenous basket. The time passed quickly asMontoya walked steadily down the road. Suddenly, a man raced toward him and grabbed his right arm. Montoya pulled

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Categories: Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs

After several years of ministry work in Colombia, “Santiago” and his wife, “Mariana,” are used to fear. They have planted churches throughout Colombia’s “red zones,” where villagers are dominated by various guerrilla and paramilitary groups that target Christians as a threat to their existence. Followers of Christ refuse to join their violent cause, and when group members become Christians, they invariably leave the group. As Santiago and Mariana travel from village to village encouraging and supporting believers, they hear stories of rebels extorting money from families and raping women in the jungle. And some of the groups’ crimes occur closer to home, like the time guerrilla fighters slit the throats of eight people about 60 yards from their own house. Despite the danger and their own fear, they continue sharing God’s Word and shepherding their churches. This sometimes means working after midnight, six hours past the curfew enforced by the guerrillas and paramilitaries. “What helps me continue is the desire in my heart,” said Mariana, who’s had relatives killed by paramilitaries. “I don’t care about threats; I don’t care about violence. What fills me [with] the most joy is when I take people who are intimidated a Bible.” Although the

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Categories: Stories from the Field

Simon and Sara were roused from sleep at 4 a.m. by shouts and banging on the door. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in black rubber boots and olive green fatigues dragged the couple out of their house in pouring rain and forced them to get on motorcycles. As Simon and Sara clung to the motorcycles, feeling the slap of rain on their faces and the splatter of mud on their legs, they wondered if they were being taken to their deaths. The small jungle town in rural Colombia where Simon, Sara and their five children live is accessible only by water. Houses are scattered along the network of rivers, and the only way to reach them is by boat. Colombians living in this remote area make their living through farming. Simon and his family had moved to the area four years earlier to share the gospel with those living in the isolated “red zone,” an area controlled by guerrillas rather than the federal government. He and another pastor work together, ministering in opposite ends of the river region. VOM provided Simon with a boat to help him in his ministry work, and he shares the boat with the

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Categories: Stories from the Field