In Colombia, child believers are at risk of banishment and arrest from their own communities governed by tribal law.
There’s a spiritual darkness along the scenic Caribbean coast of Colombia (#50 on the World Watch List).
In the Sierra Nevada mountains of Santa Marta live multiple indigenous people groups, each with their own language and customs. Yet they are united in one key way: they all persecute and drive out anyone who claims the name of Christ. Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase of violent incidents against indigenous Christians, even children. This has resulted in many Christians fleeing their villages looking for a place to live and worship in peace. A few months ago, we had the privilege of meeting brothers Jonathan* and Samuel.*
It’s 5:00 a.m. at the Casita. Today the oppressive heat has been replaced with a comfortable morning breeze that greets the locals as they wake.
Although it’s early. 15 indigenous children have already begun their daily chores. Some spend time in morning prayers, others help prepare breakfast, and the smallest ones get dressed and prepare for school. These 15 children are a makeshift family of refugees. These are the children of the persecuted church.
As persecution has increased in the indigenous regions of Colombia, Open Doors has established safe spaces for children to call home. Called the Casita by the children, the shelter provides an opportunity for children and youth to study and demonstrate their faith freely.
THE GOAL: FREELY PRACTICING THEIR BELIEF
Before, these children attended their village school where they were taught their peoples’ animist religion. This type of education was designed to preserve tradition and prohibit “new religions” such as Christianity. They learned about shamanism and enchantments under the main authority of the village known as a Mamo, or witch. Any parents who refused to enforce this religion could be penalized with loss of land and even physical torture. For these reasons, indigenous Christian families often travel great distances to practice their faith freely.
This is how two brothers, 15-year-old Jonatan* and 14-year-old Samuel,* came to the Casita.
“Where I am from, no one can live as a Christian, nor can they read the Bible because it has been forbidden,” Jonatan explains. “My father, though he is not a believer, gave me permission to come to the Casita and learn more about God.”
Jonatan and Samuel grew up in the Arhuacos community in Colombia, and Jonatan proudly wears his traditional Arhuacos clothing. Jonatan and Samuel often teach their friends their native language. “Our clothing, language and culture are important,” explains Jonatan. “These things identify us and are part of who we are.”
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