You might not think of Colombia as a place where Christians face a great deal of persecution. But the country is home to violent and powerful criminal groups and drug cartels. And they don’t like it when Christians like Plinio, 12-year-old Daniela’s father, try to stop them. Your prayers and support can make a huge difference in the lives of persecuted Christian children.
Christmas is likely to look different for all of us this year. Some of us will be celebrating the birth of Jesus without our friends and family closest to us. You may have even lost somebody you love this year, and this will be your first Christmas without them. Daniela from Colombia (pictured above) is only 12, and she already knows how it feels to lose somebody close to her. In August 2019, her father, Plinio, was murdered because of his faith.
Plinio was a pastor in La Caucana. It’s a dangerous part of Colombia. But Plinio knew that it was part of his ministry to his community to speak out against organised crime and help prevent young people being recruited.
Daniela’s mother, Alba, remembers the day that her husband paid the ultimate price for this ministry. “I was working in the kitchen with some other women,” Alba says. “Plinio had gone to church to pray. When he came back, he sat and watched the news. It was a very peaceful day.” She pauses. “Suddenly I heard gunshots.” Plinio was shot twice. Murdered in his own home.
In some ways, Daniela is like many girls her age. “I like to draw. I feel inspired when I look at the sky and the trees,” she says. “When I grow up, I want to be an illustrator.” She’s happy to share these things about her life, but when she’s asked what she finds most difficult, it’s obviously harder to speak: “When I think about...” Daniela pauses, and her eyes fill with tears. She tries again. “When I think about my dad...” That’s all she is able to say.
Alba has seen how much the tragic event has affected her children: “My son [Sebastián] is very expressive. He cries and often says things like, ‘I don’t want anything to happen to you, because I’d be left alone.’ On the other hand, Daniela is less expressive. She cries a little but doesn’t express her feelings.”
“Christmas for me is being with my family.”Daniela
Children are often the forgotten victims of persecution. Even if they aren’t directly targeted, the impact of having your parents threatened, attacked or even killed can last for many years. And times like Christmas can really bring home the loss. “Christmas for me is being with my family,” says Daniela, echoing how many of us feel. “I believe that celebrating the birth of Jesus is a moment of joy! Usually we celebrate together as a family; we’ll cook and eat together. I also remember a Christmas that we spent with the church brothers and our family, simply enjoying and talking.”
In 2019, Open Doors partners were able to take Daniela, Sebastián and Alba to a children’s centre, run thanks to your support. They could have a break, safe from danger and away from sadness and isolation, finding comfort and joy as they celebrated Christmas with other believers. When Daniela and her family arrived, all the staff and children were waiting outside with a big welcome home banner.
Thanks to you, Daniela and her family were able to celebrate with their church family and start to heal
“I didn’t expect so many people,” remembers Daniela. “It made me feel so good. I was really happy to be surrounded by so many loving people.” They spent four weeks there. “I felt good for the first time in a long time,” says Daniela. “I met many children and learned that, although there are difficult times in life, there are also times when Jesus helps us to overcome through people and prayer.”
In other words, Daniela had the opportunity to be a child. Daniela also saw the change in her family. “She saw that she doesn’t have to walk through this time of grief alone,” Daniela says of her mum. “She felt surrounded by other people. For Sebastián, it was the best experience he ever had! He likes to run and play football, so he invited the boys to play with him at the Children’s Centre.”
After seeing how dangerous the area was where the family were living, Open Doors arranged a new house for them in a much safer area. “This was only possible through the gracious prayers and gifts of our supporters,” an Open Doors worker says. “Alba wants to open a sewing workshop in her home. Daniela and Sebastián are at school and are happy. Through the trauma support, we can see that they are moving on with their lives, despite the painful loss they suffered.”
Daniela and her five-year-old brother Sebastián are among the 100 million+ persecuted Christians worldwide who are under the age of 18. “I worried about the safety of my children,” says Alba. “Because bad people don’t care if my children live or die.”
Will you be family to persecuted children like Daniela this year?
“It made me feel so good. I was really happy to be surrounded by so many loving people.”Daniela
Many families in Colombia are still in danger. In the region where they lived, two other pastors were recently killed by gangs for preaching the gospel. Drug traffickers see the church as threatening their way of life. Many pastors and their families are vulnerable and live with the fear of threats being carried out – or the tragic consequences, if they already have. Open Doors helps these families by giving them pastoral and psychological support, financial aid and – in some of the most harmful cases – a permanent home for children at the Children’s Centre.
Open Doors believes that every child persecuted for their faith should be protected, provided for and given hope for a better future. In many countries, Open Doors partners provide practical, spiritual and educational support to children – including the provision of Bibles, training and long- or short-term shelter in dedicated centres. This is crucial for the future of a resilient church. We must stand with children who face danger and persecution every day because of their faith – particularly at Christmas, when they can feel especially isolated and vulnerable, but also for the long term.
“We always celebrate Christmas as a family, and now we have to experience Christmas without Plinio,” says Alba. “This will be very difficult for me, and certainly for my children.”
This Christmas season, you can be family to families like Daniela, Sebastián and Alba. Your support and your prayers will ensure that persecuted children know they are loved and they are not forgotten.
This year, you can send comfort and joy directly to Daniela and Sebastián! Why not send a letter to them – or to any of the children who live for longer periods at the Colombia Children’s Centre? They’d love to hear from you - their worldwide family.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.