The unusual nature of our church services this year gives us opportunity to imagine what church is typically like for Christians across the world. For many of our persecuted brothers and sisters, times, location and form vary greatly as they seek to gather safely to worship God. This is certainly the case for one Christian community in Colombia.
Your faithful support gives these Christians the encouragement to keep seeking God and sharing their faith
For many of you, your Sunday services have taken on an unusual feel this year. The locations, routines and form you’ve grown familiar with were changed in an instant. Even now, with Christmas approaching, you’re probably conscious that you must hold plans lightly, knowing restrictions and guidelines can change at any time.
It’s been hard and we’re not too sure when church life will return to normal. But this time can give us a small insight into what Sunday services typically look like for persecuted Christians across the world, for whom our unusual is a glimpse into their normal.
It’s Sunday morning in the village of San Pedro de la Victoria, Colombia. Gabriel – an indigenous Christian whose name we have changed to protect his identity – wakes up to prepare a service he’ll lead later that day. Shortly afterwards, he leaves his house and goes to a deserted place, in the middle of the forest, hidden from everyone. In his village, being a Christian is likely to result in persecution.
Christians in the community do everything to keep the peace: they actively participate in local activities, such as meetings, works and traditional rituals. The latter is an obligation that Christians must fulfill, otherwise they are taken in for questioning, punishment and detention until they renounce the gospel.
Christians want to stop engaging in theses traditional rituals, as it goes against their beliefs. But it’s not easy. It reinforces how agonisingly tough it is for Christians to navigate their lives following Jesus in communities deeply entrenched in local tradition.
It’s for this reason Christians gather in hidden places, where they can pray, sing and study the Bible. After preparing the service, Gabriel goes to the agreed place and finds a group of Christians gathered, including Raul, an Open Doors partner who is visiting the community. Like Gabriel, Raul is not his real name.
Here’s how the rest of the day unfolds…
10-11am: The first service is held on a mountain, in the middle of the forest. On the floor are pieces of wood for people to sit on. In this precarious setting are men, women and children – all because of their love for Jesus. Together, for an hour, they pray and listen to the gospel.
2-5pm: A second service is held in another location. It’s a hut without walls, with a wooden structure and a roof made of straw. The hut is inside a farm of one of the Christians, away from paths where people normally walk. There they dedicate another time of prayer and praise to God, listening to a reflection prepared by Gabriel.
6-7.30pm: The third and final service begins, at the same farm. The community takes the opportunity to thank Raul for all the support they receive from you, our supporters. Raul shares a message and prays with the believers.
For the faithful Christians here, times and places of service vary. Sometimes they meet at night at someone’s house, other times they meet in the mountains, or even in the coffee plantations. Despite the uncertainties, challenges and risks, they never fail to seek God.
It’s remarkable, inspiring faith – and you play a massive role in this. Your generosity provides for Christians in Colombia materials that assist in their work, including cleaning and drying coffee, planting, and transporting water to homes. This means they can be financially self -reliant, not dependent on the community. It gives Christians encouragement to keep seeking God and sharing the gospel.
"It’s remarkable, inspiring faith – and you play a massive role in this."
Amazingly, the help is being noticed by people outside the church community. Many people who are not Christians have started participating in the secret services, showing an interest in the Christian faith. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
You can continue to send encouragement to believers living in rural areas in Colombia by coming alongside its children this Christmas. These young people grow up in communities hostile to Christian faith, or in areas where illegal armed groups roam. Some of the children spend time at the Colombia Children’s Centre, funded by your generosity. It’s a place of safety, education and fun, either for a short time or long-term. You can give them a Christmas gift, or even send a letter or drawing.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.