By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (BosNewsLife)– The young family of a missing evangelical pastor in Colombia was still waiting Wednesday, March 25, for Colombian authorities to launch an official investigation into his disappearance six months ago, amid concerns he may be the latest victim of violence against Christian leaders in the South American country.
Pastor William Reyes, 41, from Light and Truth Inter-American Church, went missing September 25 last year, while travelling with a group of church leaders from the Fellowship of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (FRAME), from the city of Valledupar to his home in Maicao, in northern Colombia, Christians said.
“Some days I feel so desperate, I don’t know what to do,” his wife, Idia Miranda de Reyes, said in published remarks. “My daughter Estefania helps me stay strong. She tells me, ‘Mama don’t cry,’ remember that God is with us.’”
Her husband’s disappearance raised alarm, as over 130 Christian leaders have been murdered in Colombia in the last few years, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group investigating the case.
In addition, FRAME reportedly received threats from paramilitary groups and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), since March 2008. Fighting between FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) began 40 years ago, with both groups vying for power. Millions of people have lost their homes and murders take place every twenty minutes, CSW said. Colombia has over 4 million internally displaced persons – more than any other country – and 1,500 more are forced from their homes every day, according to rights investigators.
Michael Joseph, a missionary of the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Colombia, confirmed that Pastor Reyes “ministered in a highly conflictive area of northern Colombia on the border with Venezuela.”
He said, “leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, Colombian military and police, narco-traffickers and smugglers make for a dizzying context of lawlessness, extortion and violence.” More than 120 Colombian journalists were killed in the 1990s, many for reporting on drug trafficking and corruption.
Joseph said pressure increased this year on the pastor’s wife and three children, 19-year-old William, 16-year-old Luz Nelly and 9-year-old Estefania, following apparent new threats. “On January 15, 2009, an unidentified man came to the church and asked for [the pastor’s wife] Idia. When the church receptionist told him she wasn’t there, he asked for her address and cell phone number, which she also refused to give him. He stated that it was “In [Mrs. Miranda’s] best interest to get in touch with him, than for him to have to find her”—hardly a veiled threat,” Joseph explained.
Several days later, on February 19, “armed men entered another Christian church, just a few blocks from the [missing pastor’s] Light and Truth Church, and forcibly removed a female parishioner who has not been seen since,” Joseph added. More details were not immediately available Wednesday, March 25.
Joseph said on January 21, Reys’ eldest daughter Luz Nelly was approached by an unidentified man on the street who allegedly told her “if she wanted to see her dad she should come with him.” When he attempted to “grab her by the arm Luz Nelly fled.”
Idia Miranda de Reyes has expressed her worries to Christians about the threats. “I wanted to stay… but this changes everything. They tried to take my daughter. They can torment me, but I can´t bear the harassment of my children. If something were to happen to them… I want to leave,” she reportedly said.
Yet, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office reportedly confirmed that an investigator has still not been assigned to Pastor William Reyes’ case, despite significant pressure from CSW and other international human rights organizations. There have been allegations that authorities are cooperating with crime syndicates.
Colombia’s government claims however it takes violence serously and this week ordered nine palm oil companies to return thousands of acres of lands to farmers, which were allegedly violently taken by armed groups.
In addition, right-leaning President Alvaro Uribe says he takes a tough stance against left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries alike.
CSW’s Advocacy Director, Alexa Papadouris, told BosNewsLife that his group is concerned about Pastor William Reyes’ family. “They bravely continue to face the reality of their father’s disappearance. We urgently call on the Colombian government to take immediate steps to conduct a detailed investigation into Pastor Reyes’s disappearance and bring those who are responsible to justice without further delay.”