Unstoppable in Colombia

He won't let anything stand in his path to reach lost souls for Christ.

Faith. Many times it was all that Carlo Perez* took with him on his walks through the jungles of Colombia.

Evil hides in the underbrush and around almost every corner in the path, but despite the threat, he marches forward, accompanied by four of his brothers in Christ.

The attack happened in a split second, but it seemed as though things were moving in slow motion as he dove for cover, sliding into the mud under the foliage.

He watched as one of five robbers, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, unsheathed his machete and raised it high. The sound that followed is something that will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.

The blade sliced through the air...and then the skull of one of Perez's friends.

The noise resembled an eggshell cracked on the side of a frying pan. Blood poured from the man's head–still alive, he shrieked in excruciation. Perez could see the gray tint of the man's brain.

The event was not atypical of the kind of danger Perez faces on a daily basis in Colombia. He has been threatened, beaten and robbed. He has watched helplessly as others in his ministry have been kidnapped or killed by military or guerrilla groups. When he was 14 years old, terrorists killed his father. Perez, determined to avenge his father's death, joined the army at age 21.

At age 24, he married his wife, Rita. Only days later, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and hospitalized because of aggressive behavior. Perez's miraculous healing, after a pastor prayed over him, was the seed that bore his unshakable faith and dynamic ministry.

"I was unstoppable," he said.

Making disciples

Today, after 40 years of jungle ministry, Perez continues to persevere. As the director of a large and growing Colombian ministry, he immerses himself in the training of native ministry leaders. Every six months, Perez holds training seminars for eager, future church-planters.

The number of ministry leaders continues to grow. Their testimonies are a tribute to God's redeeming power. Many of them are former thieves, alcoholics, sorcerers, fighters and assassins.

In addition to providing missionary training, Perez also trains young women to become Sunday school teachers. Perez sends these young women back to their hometowns with Christian T-shirts for each child who attends their Sunday school classes. Parents are usually thrilled to discover their child wearing a new shirt and become curious to learn more.

Hostile territory

Perez's ministry operates on the eastern side of Colombia, mainly dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC is the oldest, largest and best-equipped insurgent force in the country. It controls approximately 40 percent of the country, and finances itself through kidnapping ransoms, extortion and the drug trade.

The average FARC guerrilla earns almost double the wages of a civilian, and is especially adept at recruiting youth, who are promised a better life than their impoverished parents.

These youth are soon called upon to attack, rob, kidnap and kill innocent people.

Many parents send their children to big cities, where there is less chance the guerrillas will recruit them. Perez's ministry has strategically planted churches in these cities, which provide food, clothing and shelter to those who have come to escape the FARC. His ministry workers also teach a skill or trade to the youth to enable them to earn a living.

Perez's ministry workers have also constructed a guesthouse and hospital in Bogotá for the many displaced people who are forced to evacuate their homes after the FARC seizes their property.

Many times, FARC guerrillas will attend a church meeting under cover to covertly monitor the service. "They are very sneaky," Perez said. "They appear legitimate because they know a few Scriptures and address others as 'brother' or 'sister'."

Changing lives

Perez's ministry leaders are unable to take an offering, as members of the FARC would confiscate the funds. The financial assistance received from Christian Aid has therefore been an invaluable resource to the ministry. A Christian Aid field scout discovered the ministry in 1987.

Because Christians are under the constant scrutiny of the FARC, Perez sees this as an opportunity for evangelism. "It's the everyday living–being a good neighbor, inviting them in for dinner, a kind word–that will plant seeds in their hearts and eventually win them to Christ," Perez said.

Perez's ministry workers have started reaching members of the FARC with the gospel. Raul, a commander of a guerrilla group, murdered a Christian man in one of Perez's churches.

After learning about the tragedy, the pastor of this church visited Raul, telling him about God's love and forgiveness. The visits continued for several more months. Raul and his family eventually accepted Christ as Savior.

Raul's testimony has been repeated in the lives of countless others who have learned about Christ through Perez's missionaries.

Perez is now heading toward the finish line of his faithful race; however, he is not doing so timidly. On the contrary, even after receiving surgery for six hernias, Perez continues his brave journeys through jungles and rivers via motorcycle and canoe to remote regions in Colombia.

*Name changed to protect identity.