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24 February 2024

A church always on the run in Colombia

In Viviana’s community, meeting together as Christians is impossible. But God has blessed believers with courage and creativity to help them gather – which means church looks a little bit different…

Viviana, Colombia

Viviana meets with other believers through a backpack-weaving project

A typical service in Viviana’s* church doesn’t look anything like a church service – it looks like a backpack-weaving class. But that’s exactly why it works. “We are an invisible church here,” she says. “We don’t have a temple or the freedom to meet, so we gather in hidden places.” 

Viviana’s faith in Jesus is a complete secret to the rest of her community in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain range in northern Colombia. Her father is one of the leaders of the indigenous Arhuaco people, who believe in and worship Mother Nature. It’s a community where the gospel is completely forbidden.  

“We don’t have a temple or the freedom to meet, so we gather in hidden places” Viviana

Being a Christian is like having a disease, Viviana explains, a kind of madness that must be cured by the spiritual leaders. “They perform rites to purify you,” she says. As well as purification rites, a Christian might face physical punishment, imprisonment or expulsion from the community if they are discovered. 

Viviana has extra reason to be cautious – if her faith is found out, she could have her 13-year-old daughter taken away from her. Thankfully, her daughter is currently safe in the Open Doors Children’s Centre.

Meeting at The Escape

To meet with other Christians, Viviana must leave her village – sometimes for days on end. This is becoming harder to do without arousing suspicion. For several years, she and other Christians from the indigenous reserve have been meeting in La Huida or, ‘The Escape’. “The name originated when a brother from Peru came to visit us,” says Josué*, who leads the meetings. “He called it that because, as Christians, we are always on the run.” 

In La Huida, Christians are preparing themselves to take the gospel to other communities, to preach in secret, and to strengthen believers who live in remote places and cannot go to La Huida often.  

Disguising the church in plain sight 

“God sends us out as His sheep amid wolves” Josué

In recent years, meeting has become even more difficult after some young people were arrested and forced to confess when they were caught going down to La Huida without good reason. As a result, Josué and others worked together with Open Doors partners to create a project to give Christians an excuse to meet together.  

The women have created their own strategy for meeting and sharing the gospel: a backpack-weaving project, where they not only meet with other women to talk about the gospel, but also generate income to support the church’s missionary activities. Weaving backpacks is one of the most traditional customs of the Arhuaco women, so the class has attracted non-Christians too, who can hear about Jesus.  

“God sends us out as His sheep amid wolves (Matthew 10:16),” says Josué. “We must be wise and go because if we do not go, other believers will not either, and that is what motivates us.” 

*Names changed for security reasons 

Please pray
  • For Viviana, that she will be able to keep meeting with other Christians
  • That God will equip Viviana, Josué and all His people as He sends them out
  • That these secret church projects will introduce more people to the good news of the gospel.
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