David and Gloria Martinez – Taking Jesus into the Jungle

David and Gloria Martinez

Taking Jesus into the Jungle

The areas along Colombia’s borders are highly dangerous “red zones” controlled by various guerrilla and paramilitary groups that run a lucrative drug trade in these regions.

Becoming Invisible

David and Gloria Martinez have been faithfully serving the Lord in Colombia’s Choco department since 2005. On numerous occasions their family have been threatened with death for their gospel work. Here is the rest of their story . . .

After moving to another part of Chocó in 2010, David, Gloria and their children continued to experience persecution from all sides as the government, paramilitaries, rebel groups and organized crime syndicates vied for control of territory. “There were moments we had to run out of the community,” Gloria said. “There were months when we were actually in another community because the drug situation was really bad. Of course … there was a lot of fighting, so we would leave the area while it was happening, too.” 

During the first few years, however, most of the persecution came from a local religious group. “For four years, more or less, they wouldn’t rent us a good house,” David said. “We always had houses that were falling apart. I would fix them, and then they would kick us out once I fixed it.” 

Then, a group of indigenous village leaders prohibited David and his family from entering their community. The village even sued them, claiming David’s family was damaging their cultural identity by introducing and spreading Christianity. 

“We have been able to demonstrate with those who are believers today that we are not here to damage the cultural identity,” David said. “We always try to teach in their language. We talk to the kids in their languages.” 

To keep the peace, David and his family moved out of the indigenous community and into an Afro-Colombian community. Descended from those brought to the Americas during the slave trade, the Afro- Colombians live much as their African ancestors did. Some of them even continue to practice African folk religions. 

Among this community, David and Gloria lead a mixed congregation from indigenous and Afro- Colombian backgrounds. And they continue to minister to 20 indigenous believers in the community they left. “They can’t kick us out because we are already out,” David quipped. 

In 2019, David and his family visited 25 of the 28 indigenous communities in the area, often receiving threats as they passed through guerrilla and paramilitary territories. Although the Colombian government and the FARC signed a peace agreement that was ratified by the nation’s congress in November 2016, David and Gloria said the peace deal has not brought peace, especially in Chocó. In fact, they said, the guerrillas are only regrouping and rearming under the failed peace deal. 

“Right now we are a military objective for the armed groups because we are not from the area,” Gloria said. “We are always praying to become invisible. The indigenous people who are Christians experience a lot more persecution from their community, and in many cases from the armed groups as well.” 

In some ways, David’s family and the guerrilla groups are battling each other for the minds of the region’s youth. Guerrilla groups often lure the children into their ranks with the promise of weapons and cash. Thousands of Colombian children have fought in the country’s war; many were raised in guerrilla camps and trained as fighters from a young age. The FARC alone has reportedly recruited 3,700 child soldiers throughout its history. 

To help children follow Christ instead of the rebel groups, David and Gloria started teaching a children’s Bible class two years ago. At first they held the class in an indigenous village, but after receiving threats from village leaders they changed their approach. With parents’ approval, they now pick up about 200 children each weekend using a boat that VOM helped provide. David picks up 50 children at a time, takes them to his home for the Bible lesson and then returns them to their homes. 

David and Gloria also watch for vulnerable children whom the guerrilla groups might target as recruits. They help the children’s families enroll them in school and even transport them to and from school when possible. David thinks they have prevented about 10 children from joining the guerrillas. “God helped us to save these kids,” he said.  

Raising Children in Danger

Acknowledging the risk, David and Gloria intentionally involve their children in their ministry as part of their spiritual education.

As for their own children, David and Gloria bring them wherever they go, relying on God to help them recognize risky situations. “There was only one time that God showed us they shouldn’t accompany us on a trip,” David said.

Although Samantha, now 13, has occasionally expressed fear and anxiety when traveling through guerrilla territory, even having nightmares of rebels hunting down her family, her parents said she has largely overcome those fears as she has gotten older. “I am not afraid,” she said confidently, “because I know that God is protecting us and there are a lot of people praying for us when we do this. I really like being in the ministry, the adventure of so many rivers, so many challenging places, and I like it with the family.” 

Juliana, 10, and Daniel, 7, help their mom with Sunday school and share the gospel with children in their own ways “I am a little embarrassed to say a lot to them, but when I play with them, they see Jesus in me,” Daniel said quietly. 

David and Gloria admit that raising three children while ministering in an area dominated by guerrilla and paramilitary groups has been a challenge, but God has helped them make it work. “It has been a privilege to preach the gospel and to be a testimony to many other families,” David said. “Sometimes people say they don’t go to the field because they have kids, but we tell them, ‘You can! You can do ministry; you can work and your kids will be fine.’ Right now in school, they all have very good grades.” 

Samantha takes online classes, and Gloria plans to homeschool the others until they are in fourth grade. “What we do, I will download all the homework [in the city]. I take it to the jungle, and when I come back I upload that onto the platform,” Gloria said. 

While they do their best to provide their children with a solid education, David and Gloria know their children are getting a spiritual education by being a part of their ministry work. “We don’t limit what they see as we minister,” Gloria said. “They also must have their own personal devotion. We believe they need a personal relationship with God and not just what they see their parents do. I learned it that way when I was growing up. If I didn’t have a personal relationship with God, I wouldn’t have felt the call.” 

David and Glora are encouraged by the prayers of Christians in other countries. “Thank you for going with us to these places,” Gloria said. “Through your prayers, we go together. We don’t do this alone. If it weren’t for you guys praying for us, I don’t think that God could make us invisible.” 


콜롬비아를 위한 기도

Heavenly Father, we stand beside our brothers and sisters who are serving in the most dangerous parts of Colombia. Thank You for their commitment to You and for their faithfulness to advancing Your kingdom. Give them rest as they live and work in stressful and potentially violent situations. Keep their marriages and families strong under this tension. Keep them and their families from evil, and protect their children from being kidnapped or forcibly recruited by armed militants. We pray that their faith will grow daily as they are nourished by Your Word. May they remain faithful despite threats, pressure and difficulties. Give their shepherds wisdom as they lead. Renew their souls through Your Spirit. Channel their fear into wise action for the sake of the gospel. May they see You meet their daily needs. 


Lord, You have the power to change hearts. We pray that You will move in the hearts of all the members of the rebel and paramilitary groups and turn them to You. Cause them to seek spiritual fulfillment as they see that the communist cause and lust for money and power do not satisfy. 


We lift up the country of Colombia and its people to You, Lord. We pray for its leaders as they make decisions that will affect the country now and in the future. Give them wisdom in dealing with the various rebel and paramilitary groups. May they act with integrity and with the country’s best interests at heart. 


In Jesus’ name, Amen.