Tribal Colombians Tortured for Abandoning Spiritism
Members of one indigenous group in Colombia are coming to Christ in record numbers, but choosing to embrace the Christian faith has come with a cost.
Many have experienced intense persecution for leaving their tribal traditions.
When you see the joy of worshipping indigenous Paez Christians from the Nasa tribe in southern Colombia, it's hard to imagine all they have endured for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Paez Chirstian village leader Marco Tulio said his people are being persecuted because they are evangelicals.
"We don't want to come under the tribal leaders and do the things they say we have to do," he said.
Tulio lives with other Christian refugees in an Andes Mountain village. He is among those who opposed tribal practices like stealing, land raids, drunkenness, and chewing coca leaves.
These Christians also refused to abandon their faith to participate in tribal rituals linked to spiritism.
Tulio said as a result, the Christians were threatened by village leaders who have ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC.
"We have also been threatened by death, physiological threats," Tulio explained. "They said they would take away our medical aid, they would be no schools for our children, they would cut off electricity and water."
As a result, around 50 families traveled more than 100 kilometers and set up a temporary village on a farmer's land, living in little huts made of plastic with a dirt floor. It's been a struggle to survive.
"Our people had to do something we never would have thought we have to do and that was go into the marketplace and beg for money to support our families," Tulio said.
"Slowly we got the trust of the farmers in the region and, one by one, they started to hire people from our tribe. Now our people have work," he continued.
Around three dozen Christian families from other villages in the region also moved to the make-shift village after being expelled from their communities. Some of them had been badly beaten on their legs before being chased out.
The anger toward Christians even led to the destruction of a church. The violence was secretly videotaped. The video shows men on the roof dismantling the building.
But the torture of the believers was more hateful. Paez Christian Leonor said the persecution began when the women began embracing the faith of their husbands instead of listening to the tribal leaders.
"They worshipped the Lord freely and following their husband's advice," she explained. "So the tribe descended on them and put the husbands in jail for 72 hours, and put them in stocks and those torture machines that rip their limb. They also gave them 20 lashes, some more, some less. After that we were forced to leave."
Leonor told CBN News how one young girl begged the tribal leaders to beat her instead of her father because she feared he would be killed. They granted her request, whipping her from the waist down.
"The pressure was increasing more and more and the tribal leaders started to come down on us because of our belief in God, that He is bigger than the gods that the tribes have believed in," Leonor said.
"So we were fasting and praying about this. Finally they destroyed everything and kicked us out," she added.
Leonor's husband Wilson was a leader in the church. The tribal leaders did not appreciate what he was teaching.
In April 2013, tribal police stopped Wilson and a dozen of his fellow co-workers as they headed to Cali to sell raspberries.
Wilson and the others, including women, were taken to a secluded area until tribal police decided what to do with the Christians.
'We had to endure hunger and cold for three days," Wilson recalled.
Then they tortured the men by putting them in stocks.
"Then they put the wood really tight around my legs and then they hang you upside down for 15 minutes. After that, my legs got numb and I couldn't walk, I fell to the floor," he recalled.
"They put me in a chair and whipped me 15 times," Wilson explained. "They also whipped my friends. I prayed that the Lord would help me get through the whipping."
Wilson said the Lord answered his prayer.
"After the whipping they said to me, 'This is your fault because you have been terrible.' I told them I didn't do anything wrong. The only thing I didn't do was the witchcraft, and I told others not to participate in that," he explained.
"I prayed the Lord would help me endure. I didn't feel anything, the Lord made it so I didn't feel the pain while they were whipping me. The other brothers and sisters prayed the same thing, and the Lord gave us all the strength. Some of them fainted," he said.
According to The Voice of the Martyrs partner Russell Stendal of Colombia Para Cristo, there are more than 400,000 indigenous believers in four states in southern Colombia among the 3.5 million indigenous people.
"We have become more and more aware of them, and they are one of the largest tribes in Colombia, and it's been one of the most intense persecution situations," Stendal explained.
"But this is probably where the Gospel is growing the fastest in Colombia right now is among the Nasa Indians," he added.
Colombia Para Cristo has several dozen radio stations all over the country broadcasting the Gospel in some of the dangerous places on earth.
Not only does this new village of indigenous Christians contain a church building, but also a radio station to proclaim the one true God--even to those who violently oppose the Gospel.
"The Lord has given us ways to help these people to where we are perceived as part of the answer. And many times even the non-Christian Indians thank us for helping them to have a tribal radio station that, of course, is run by the Christians," Stendal said.
Tulio said the Christians have faithfully endured the suffering.
"As we look back and see what the Lord has done, yes we have gotten stronger and have been strengthened," he said.