Nearly 160 miles south of Bogotá, members of South America’s longest-running insurgency are rediscovering religion.
As part of the implementation of a 2016 peace deal, the Colombian government has permitted a Bogotá-based megachurch called Avivamiento to begin building churches to convert ex-combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to evangelical Christianity.
In a country scarred by more than five decades of war, the peace accord has become a religious as well as a politically charged issue. Colombian voters narrowly rejected an early version of the peace deal in a contested referendum. A revised peace deal was ratified by the Congress of Colombia.
Now approaching two years of implementation, the agreement faces new challenges after Colombians elected right-wing candidate Iván Duque in the country’s June presidential elections. Duque promised to revisit the accord and alter significant portions of it, including the transitional justice process that was key to the FARC’s signature on the agreement.
The church in Mariana Páez is the first Avivamiento has built in the 26 “transition zones” — camps where FARC fighters turned in their arms in exchange for official citizenship documents, a monthly salary and educational programming. Avivamiento plans to expand its outreach to every transition zone.
Before building the church, Avivamiento donated agricultural equipment and consistently visited the community of ex-combatants. After establishing the church, Avivamiento volunteers have returned to the community to lead Bible study and children’s activities during monthly visits. They also encourage FARC community members to follow services over Skype.
Avivamiento is one of the largest evangelical churches in Colombia, with 54 congregations in its national network and more than 50 in other countries. The church in Mariana Páez draws around 10 ex-combatants for weekly services.
Officials in the Colombian government deepened their collaboration with religious groups after Rodrigo Rivera was appointed head of the High Commission on Peace (OACP) in 2017. Tasked with implementing the peace deal, Rivera convened a summit of religious leaders to inform them about the contents of the accord, efforts that have continued under Duque.
“We had been trying to offer support for some time,” said Alejandro Rodriguez, who heads Avivamiento’s charitable works division. He explained that Rivera — himself a member of Avivamiento — facilitated the church’s access to ex-combatant communities as part of a wider opening to religious groups.
Jefferson Mena, the director of transitional territories for OACP, denied any conflict of interest in granting Avivamiento permission to evangelize in transition zones.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Julia Friedmann