We are sad to report the news that our brother, Mexican pastor Eduardo ‘Lalo’ Garcia, was shot dead earlier this month in another exhibition of lawlessness in the troubled city of Juarez, which is just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Pastor Garcia with his daughter, Griselda
He was shot at least six times on 8 June, as he was chased by unidentified assailants believed to be members of the drugs trade, which is rife across Mexico’s northern border towns.
He had attempted to flee his pursuers in his car, but he was chased and shot, his car eventually swerving into a bus stop, and then another car, before coming to rest.
Besides being the pastor of the Nueva Vida church, Eduardo also led 'Evangelismo Masivo Juárez', a local movement in Ciudad Juárez which sought to achieve peace in a city plagued with crime, drug-trafficking and violence.
Eduardo organised prayer sessions in the streets and in churches, as well as services and concerts attended by hundreds of people. His most recent project involved the distribution of Bibles in Ciudad Juárez as well as in other towns and cities in the state of Chihuahua.
'We had decided to try to rescue the city'
Eduardo began this evangelism movement shortly after the killing of his son. In an interview last year, the pastor had spoken of his 24-year-old son Abraham’s murder during a particularly gruesome period of violence in 2009.
“The telephone rang and I heard my wife yell. I was on the second floor, but I heard her cry ‘No!’ very loudly,” the pastor recalled. “So I went downstairs quickly and asked, ‘What happened?’ And she just said, ‘They killed Abraham.’"
A photo of Pastor Garcia with his wife, Maria, and his son, Abraham
“The pain we feel is really strong. We wouldn’t wish it on anyone… We had decided to try to rescue the city, but I never imagined we would become a part of the statistics.”
Eighteen months after his son’s death, the pastor’s daughter, Griselda, was kidnapped and her father was forced to pay a ransom to secure her release.
Jorge Rodriguez, the Director of Religious Affairs for the city government, said in an interview last year that the trials of the Garcia family shone a spotlight on crimes that in many cases go under the radar.
“These [criminal] groups are affecting the whole city and especially the Christian community because we are a people of peace,” he said. “In many cases, the abuses are not even reported, but we have specific cases of pastors being kidnapped and children of pastors being kidnapped, such as in the case of Pastor Eduardo Garcia and his family.”
Christians 'a direct threat' to organised crime
Eduardo's murder took place in broad daylight in a city once known as the murder capital of the world.
The state governor of Chihuahua, of which Ciudad Juarez is the largest city, admitted last year that his government does not have the means to tackle organised crime and said he’d asked for federal resources to fight the drug cartels.
From 2007-2014, thousands of people were killed every year in Juarez in violence related to organised crime. In 2011, the death toll across Mexico was greater even than in Syria, and Juarez was at the centre of it.
A period of relative calm followed – though dozens are still killed every month – but a local church leader said he feared another crescendo of violence was around the corner.
Most of the violence is drug-related and centres on Mexico’s 3,000km-long northern border, where cartels seek to take Class A drugs on the final leg of their journey from South America to the States.
While the violence affects everyone, ‘actively practising Christians’ are particularly vulnerable according to Dennis Petri, an Open Doors expert on Latin America.
Dennis says, “Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work – for example setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organising youth work – that is a direct threat to the activities and interests of organised crime because it takes the youth away from them, so it is a direct threat to their market.”
Dennis mentioned one church leader who was killed for setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic and then refusing to close it despite threats. He also cited the example of a church leader who set up a football team for vulnerable boys, some of whom were working as informants for cartels. When one boy then told the cartels he no longer wished to be an informant, he was killed.
Stand with your church family in Mexico
Organised crime is a huge problem in Mexico, and a leading factor in the persecution of Christians. Those who stand up to drug cartels can face intimidation and death threats which aim to silence their ministry. Those who convert from indigenous communities face expulsion from their homes and families as a punishment for leaving tribal customs. Mexico is number 39 on Open Doors 2018 World Watch List.
Despite these threats, our courageous brothers and sisters in Mexico believe that following Jesus is worth the risk. We must stand with them in prayer and action, and ensure that the ministry of Eduardo and others like him can continue.
Open Doors supports persecuted Christians in Mexico through advocacy to address the root causes of persecution, and mobilising the Mexican church to support persecuted Christians. Read more about how your support and prayers are making a difference to our brothers and sisters in Mexico, and give a gift to support our church family in Latin America.
- That God would comfort and protect Eduardo's wife and daughter, Maria and Griselda, during this time of grief
- For God's protection to surround Christians in Mexico as they stand up to drug cartels, and for God to change the hearts of those who work in organised crime
- That believers would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news of Jesus to their communities.