From guns to guitars: how a Colombian child escaped persecution and the guerrilla movement

Abraham* was sent to the Open Doors Children Centre in Colombia aged only ten in order to escape forced recruitment into the guerrilla movement and persecution for his family’s Christian faith.

Abraham grew up in an animistic community who saw Christianity as a threat to their worldview. The punishment is expulsion, expropriation and forced labour. When Abraham’s father, Rutilio* became a Christian it was seen as a direct attack on the ancestral, shamanic and cultural principles that governed the community.

Rutilio was put on trial where, through violence, the community tried to make him renounce his faith. After he refused to do so, he was sentenced to forced labour for the entire community.

Two years later Abraham turned ten. In his region, children between 10 and 14 years old are often kidnapped and taken away by illegal armed groups. In order to make these children ready to fight, kill and be willing to die, they are subject to sexual violence and physical and psychological torture. Since the 1960s, almost 17,000 children in Colombia have been recruited by the guerrillas and paramilitaries as child soldiers.

“The armed groups forced all families to send one or two children to the war,” said Abraham. “Families that did not send their children ran the risk of being killed themselves. I was on the guerrilla lists to be recruited. My future was to hold a gun.”

His parents decided it would be best to secretly send Abraham to the Open Doors Children’s Centre – a place where he could study, and be safe from war and persecution.

“I remember that when Abraham arrived he was a quiet and very fearful child. His drawings were often violent. He was drawing the weapons of war familiar to him: guerrillas in uniform and sad faces. His drawings were reflections of everything he had experienced,” said Pastor Alberto* Director of the Open Doors Children Centre.

The process of Abraham’s readjustment was not easy. However, in the company of other children, and the care of tutors and teachers, Abraham began to heal.

Music was a way for Abraham to express and process the trauma he experienced growing up. At the Children’s Centre Abraham discovered instruments he had never seen before. Now he plays guitar, bass guitar, the piano and drums.

Abraham won a scholarship to study international trade at university. He wants to be a skilled professional able to provide support and development to his indigenous community, where his father still lives.

Thanks to the scholarship, Abraham is able to continue living at the Children’s Centre. As well as his university studies, he takes care of the centre’s farm animals and teaches the younger children how to care for them.

 Colombia is number 49 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Persecution comes from leaders of indigenous communities who perceive Christians as wanting to impose their worldview. Christians who stand against the drug cartels receive death threats. Many Christians are forced to pay a ‘protection tax’ against assault. Violence is particularly intense when former gang members convert to Christianity.

Colombia plays England today (3 July) in the World Cup. Help blow the whistle on extreme persecution and Pray while they play.

*names changed for security reasons

Erin James

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