Breaking the Cycle of Violence

April 10, 2013

Everyone in the community knew the two families were feuding. For months they had squabbled over rights to a tract of land.

Their war of words finally turned violent when Felix and his brother, Rigoberto, became embroiled in an argument with a member of the opposing family. Felix watched in horror as the man pulled out a gun and fired a shot at Rigoberto.

It was an image that seared Felix´s mind and froze his heart. He had watched his brother die.

From that moment on, the 38-year-old man was driven by thoughts of revenge. He felt justified in what he wanted to do. After all, the brother he looked up to, just two years older than he, had been cruelly and needlessly taken away. The desire for vengeance grew deeper each time he saw Rigoberto´s grieving widow and their four children.

Felix may have carried out his intentions, if not for the compassion and wise counsel of a missionary who came to their village in eastern Colombia. Diego (not his real name) is one of dozens of full-time missionaries who serve with the Lord´s Vineyard of Colombia (VOC), a Christian Aid-assisted ministry that sends indigenous workers to hard-to-reach jungle areas to preach the gospel and plant churches.

These missionaries face many challenges. First, there is the difficult terrain and little or no infrastructure. Diego´s journey from his home church to Felix´s isolated community was a two-hour trek on horseback. Others travel by boat, bicycle, motorcycle, or on foot.

Travel can be treacherous, too, with communist guerrillas and opportunistic bandits lurking in the darkness.

Since the start of the ministry in 1965, there has been a focus on taking the gospel message to isolated peoples. Most live in extreme poverty, lacking access to stable employment and quality health care. VOC missionaries have planted over 50 churches in these remote rural villages, many of which can only be reached by river.

Christian Aid Mission has provided funding for motorboats to make travel safer and faster. They have also helped supply horses and motorcycles for the missionaries to use in areas where there are no paved roads.

Proclaiming a gospel of peace

When they visit a community for the first time, a team of VOC missionaries begin by going house to house, forming relationships with the people and telling them about Jesus Christ. In the evenings they hold evangelistic meetings with music, prayer, and worship. In a village where a number of people accept Christ, a worker will stay on to continue Bible studies and discipleship.

That´s what happened in Felix´s village two years ago. Diego was visiting his community and going from house-to-house to share the gospel. Felix´s family was one of those who received a visit. Still grieving, Felix told the missionary about the murder of his brother. His heart was angry and bitter. The missionary prayed with the family and promised to return.

Diego kept his word, and on his second visit he brought food and clothes for the widow and children of Rigoberto. The provisions had been given by the congregation at the church he planted in another community.

Felix was touched, as were other members of his family. The missionary told Felix of the freedom he could have through forgiveness. He shared Romans 12:19, “Do not avenge yourselves ... ´Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,´ says the Lord.” Although Felix was not a murderer, he too had committed sins and deserved judgment from God. But Christ had come to redeem him and forgive him for his sins. With fresh understanding, Felix gave his heart to the Savior and asked for God´s help to let go of the terrible rage that consumed him.

He started going to the missionary´s church on Sundays, a four-hour round trip. Over time an unexpected peace came into his heart, and the desire for revenge left him. His change in demeanor grabbed the attention of other family members and his neighbors.

Witnessing the remarkable change in their brother, Felix´s two older sisters, Cildana and Armira, also received Christ and began attending the church. They shared with others what God had done for them.

The missionary reported that Felix has become a “very committed believer” and now serves as a deacon in his church. In addition, Felix has opened up his home for a Bible study that is led by the missionary. Four families in the village are coming.

“I have seen the change in Felix´s heart. Now he has joy and peace,” the missionary said. “Because of his testimony, now there is more harmony in the community, too.”

A fruitful harvest

The story of God´s transforming grace does not end here. The man who killed Felix´s brother fled the area. He and his family moved to a village several hours away, where another missionary with the Lord´s Vineyard of Colombia visited them.

Months later that missionary continues to see the family regularly. The wife of the man received Christ and now attends a church near their community. God is opening the man´s heart, too, as he occasionally goes to worship services with his wife.

“There is no established justice system in these areas, so it is common for people to want to take matters into their own hands,” said a spokesperson for VOC. “When missionaries start new congregations, they often have to deal with fighting between neighbors and have to become mediators. They need a lot of wisdom as they seek to teach peace and forgiveness.”

VOC is making an impact for God´s kingdom in remote villages across Colombia, as more lives are transformed and souls are saved. Supporters of Christian Aid have made it possible for VOC to construct meeting halls, hold evangelistic events, and supply Bibles and children´s Sunday school materials. The ministry also hosts a Bible training conference twice a year that draws 600 to 800 lay leaders and Sunday school teachers.

The Lord´s Vineyard of Colombia is currently looking for funds to help two congregations build a stable bridge so they have safe access to their meeting halls. They also need ongoing support for their workers. Sponsorship of a missionary costs $50 a month.

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