Joel Cruz García and José Humberto Mendez, R.I.P.
This past Saturday I heard the terrible news that protestant pastors Joel Cruz García (age 27), and José Humberto Mendez (age 65) had been murdered by the FARC guerrilla in the community of La Legiosa, Huila in southern Colombia. Pastor Jorge Arturo Giraldo of the Colombian Council of Protestant Churches (CEDECOL), called on all Christians to “pray and support in any way that you can Yuvy Andrea Oyola (pastor Cruz García’s widow) and their daughter of just a few months of age.”
Retaliation? Religious Intolerance?
Joel and José Humberto were murdered the night of July 5th, the same day millions of Colombians marched in protest against kidnapping as a tool of war (a practice most commonly associated with the FARC). Some believe that their murders were in retaliation for protestant churches’ support of the march. Others have pointed to the long-standing difficult relations between the FARC and protestant churches (as well as the Catholic Church), and feel that this is yet another case of religious intolerance.
Patterns of Violence and Displacement
Over the past four years, some 150 protestant pastors have been killed in Colombia, and some 400 churches have been shut down or displaced by violence. “Right now our number one concern is supporting the families of these two pastors and their churches. Events like this can often cause displacement,” stated Ricardo Esquivia, president of the Peace Commission (CRVP) of the Colombian Council of Protestant Churches.
Yesterday, El Tiempo – Colombia’s main daily newspaper – reported that Christians went to Plaza Murillo Toro, in Ibagué (capital of Huila department) to publicly protest the murders of Cruz García and Mendez. El Tiempo also reported that those present expressed fear that these murders could signal a return to the repression protestant churches suffered in that region in 1999 and 2000 when several pastors were murdered and entire churches displaced.
Please pray for the families and churches of pastors Joel Cruz García and José Humberto Mendez as well as for the courage and wisdom of all of Colombia´s leaders (Protestant, Catholic, and secular) at this time.