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.