How many Christians are there in Colombia?
There are more than 49 million Christians in Colombia, which is most of the country’s population of 51.7 million – but believers still face significant persecution for their faith.
How are Christians persecuted in Colombia?
Church leaders continue to be harassed, extorted and murdered due to the violence around control of territories between armed guerillas, drug gangs and other armed groups – despite recently elected President Gustavo Petro pledging a plan for ‘total peace’. Christians in these areas who dare to speak publicly about corruption and violence face attacks for their bold witness. Similarly, church leaders who oppose criminal activities in their sermons also can be targeted. Believers who work with youth or champion human and environmental rights risk violence from armed groups. Essentially, any action that a group views as defiant or opposes their illegal activities is enough to lead to violent attacks or immense pressure.
In some indigenous communities, there can be significant opposition toward anyone who has converted from traditional practices to follow Jesus. As a result, these believers can face threats, imprisonment, physical abuse, and lose access to basic needs like water, electricity, education, sanitation and even the loss of land. This hostility creates a reality that can leave Christians completely ostracised from their community and increasingly vulnerable to the violence engulfing many rural areas in Colombia.
There also seems to be a growing intolerance towards Christian views in the public sphere, especially about issues concerning life, family, marriage and religious liberty. Sometimes, Christians can be accused of hate speech and intolerance, which can promote self-censorship.
“I would like to tell them that I forgive them in spite of all the evil they did.”thiago, whose twin brother was forcibly recruited and later murdered by an armed militia group
What’s life like for Christians in Colombia?
Persecution began early in Thiago's* life. Because of his Christian faith, he and his family were oppressed by local indigenous authorities. Thiago and his brother had to leave their school when local authorities decided to withdraw government aid, because the family did not participate in indigenous rituals.
One day, Thiago’s mother told him that the indigenous authorities went to his aunt's school and kidnapped her and his cousins, taking them away in a truck. His aunt managed to call a friend in the police and they were rescued. Fearful of more attacks, Thiago’s mother sent him to the Open Doors Children’s Centre – so he could have a safe education. Sadly, there wasn’t space for Thiago’s twin brother Mateo* to go too.
Soon after Thiago arrived at the Children’s Centre, Mateo was kidnapped by guerrillas. They released him, but threatened they’d come back. “They told him, while they were kidnapping him, that just by looking at him, he had to belong to the [guerillas],” Thiago says.
They returned and Mateo was taken again, and the family didn’t hear any news. After nearly a month, Thiago’s mother received the heartbreaking information that Mateo’s body had been found. A tutor at the Children’s Centre drove Thiago the 13 hours back home for the funeral.
Although his heart was comforted by seeing his mother, it did not last. One of Thiago’s uncles, who was guarding the coffin at the burial, had overheard some young guerillas. “They were talking about the need for another person [to join their group],” says Thiago. “And when my uncle was listening, he realised that that person was me.”
Because of this, the tutor took him as soon as possible back to the Children's Centre, where he received comfort, emotional and spiritual support. Over time, his heart continued to heal, to the point where he now can let go of his anger and hatred. “I would like to tell them that I forgive them in spite of all the evil they did, because maybe they didn't know or hadn't thought about what they were doing, and that I don't hold grudges,” he says.
*Name changed for security reasons
Is it getting easier to be a Christian in Colombia?
Colombia has dropped 12 places on the World Watch List, thanks to a reduction in violence and in pressure across several spheres of life. There were still reports of 16 Christians being killed for their faith, and the level of violence remains extreme – so it is good news that persecution is lessening, but Colombia remains a very dangerous place for Christians, particularly those who speak out against guerrilla groups.
How can I help Christians in Colombia?
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Colombia. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors strengthens the persecuted church in Colombia through Bible distribution, training, trauma care, community development projects, emergency relief aid, and education and safe houses for children.
Almighty God, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Colombia. We lift up those living in areas controlled by criminal or drug gangs. Please protect Your people as they strive to follow You and give them both wisdom and courage to be bold in their faith. We also ask for Your mercy on our family who convert from the faith of their community to follow You. Show these believers they're part of a global Body and that they aren't alone. We pray Your peace would reign in Colombia and that the violence would finally cease. Amen.