Imagine you’re settled at home with your family and involved in a loving church community. But then your son has to leave - not for study, but because staying would mean recruitment to a notorious gang. And then you have to leave - not to a bigger house, but because staying could mean being killed. This is the story of Pastor Alberto Solá in Colombia – and how you embraced his family in their time of need.
Because of your support, Pastor Alberto Solá (pictured with a Bible) and his family have been able to rebuild their lives having been on the run from gangs
It was a Thursday, a day like any other. Pastor Alberto Solá – whose name we’ve changed for security reasons, along with all others in this article – was inside his church building in Tarazá, a town in northwest Colombia. Suddenly, a man from one of the many illegal armed groups that operate in the area rushed into his office with a warning: his son was about to be ‘recruited’.
"This man, moved by divine mercy, told me he knew of plans to recruit my son..." Pastor Alberto
It was a terrifying, ominous prospect – but Pastor Alberto could still see God’s providence. “God is so good,” he says. “This man, moved by divine mercy, told me he knew of plans to recruit my son by force and I only had 20 minutes to take him away from Tarazá.” The pastor ran across town to look for his son, managing to reach him before the criminals did.
He took his son to Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, to live with a Christian family. It was safer there, but danger still lurked; he felt he was constantly being watched. In Medellin, just as in Tarazá, there are criminal gangs that roam the city day and night on the prowl for children, especially teenagers, to recruit to their criminal organisations. Some can be recruited with tantalising offers of money and power – but if that doesn’t work, violent threats usually do.
When Pastor Alberto started serving the church in Tarazá, he encountered people who’d been traumatised by the violent activity of local gangs. He worked hard to provide the congregation with pastoral support. The impact was instant and noticeable, as members drew closer to each other and the church grew more visible in the community.
Youth work was one area that grew in prominence. In discovering the love and acceptance of Jesus and the church, young people in Tarazá were being shown an alternative to a life of drugs and violence.
Unsurprisingly, the gangs weren’t pleased. Pastor Alberto, his family and the church became targets.
“These Christian families knew of the warnings made by several criminal groups against their church, but they continued working, especially with the youth,” says Joe, an Open Doors partner. “Everyone was very happy to see young people praise the Lord openly, but also cried and grieved for those who chose the path of war by joining illegal groups voluntarily."
Reality hit home for Pastor Alberto when the son of another pastor was killed. He paid the ultimate price for rejecting the advances of one of the gangs. Pastor Alberto could see that he and his family were in real danger.
“They added that all young people must be part of their groups.” Pastor Alberto
Despite a surge in killings and increasing fear among Tarazá's population, Pastor Alberto continued with his mission, bearing with the violent threats. His wife and two daughters couldn’t leave the house at all because of the many warnings they received from criminal gangs.
“One day, I received a note from a gang saying that if I didn't cooperate with their 'cause' then I shouldn't be in this town,” the pastor recalls. “They added that all young people must be part of their groups.”
At this point, Pastor Alberto had already taken his son to Medellin, but now he felt the whole family had to move. They left Tarazá and moved to Caucasia, a different town in the same region.
But different home, same danger. A young church leader served the family by accompanying the pastor's daughters whenever they left home. But one day, barely a month after the family’s arrival, the young pastor was shot dead. He had just returned the girls home from an outing.
It prompted another search for home for Pastor Alberto and his family. They went to at least three different towns looking for a place to settle, but each time criminal gangs tracked them down.
Everything changed for the family when they met with the director of Open Doors Colombia. Now, thanks to your support and prayers, Pastor Alberto and his family are rebuilding their lives.
The family were given the finance to buy food and move into a home in the south-west of Colombia, and the resources to start a business to enable them to be self-sufficient.
Pastor Alberto’s son, Lauro, reunited with his family, leads the project. “We run a film company that produces audio-visual and photographic material,” he explains. “We’ve seen the grace of God in the work we do, and as a family enterprise we are committed to following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are very grateful for the support in this endeavour.”
“Thanks to Open Doors, I’ve been able to continue studying what I enjoy best.” Joana
Pastor Alberto and his family continue to serve God in their new community, where they have been living for a year. He preaches to a young and growing church, and the family use their film expertise to share the gospel.
You’ve also come alongside the family to provide trauma care, giving them a safe place to process the violence they have experienced. It’s a journey that’s enabling them to dream again, including one of Pastor Alberto’s daughters, Joana, who is excited to complete her higher education degree. “Thanks to Open Doors, I’ve been able to continue studying what I enjoy best,” she says. “Soon I’ll be working as a graphic designer. All the glory and honour be to our Lord Jesus Christ."
You’ve not only given practical support to this faithful and courageous family, but also reminded them that they are part of a global church family. In the warmth of your embrace, Pastor Alberto and his family know they’re not alone or forgotten.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.