Good Friday morning to everyone.
It’s a little after 5 am. Today is a travel day. I’ll be headed out in about 90 minutes to take the hour + ride to Monteria to catch a plane to Bogota & then up to Manizales. It is always good to be in Manizales.
Last night after the service, Jaime & I sat down with Carlos to visit. He shared a little of the history and background related to the place we went to Wednesday afternoon. And, I think it sheds like into the conditions brother Correa faces on a daily basis.
The work in Guanábano began about 6-7 years ago after someone in Barranquilla got in touch with Carlos in regards to possible contacts in the area. Carlos was warned that that entire area was filled with paramilitaries. He went anyway. He met with the contact(s), baptisms happened, and his twice-weekly trek out there began. These new Christians had to explain to the paramilitaries who Carlos is and why he is coming out there. More on that in a moment…
Here’s a little background into the paramilitaries. You have to understand Colombian politics. Over the last century +, Colombian politics (and S. America in general) has been characterized by corruption and weakness. This prompted various factions on both sides of the political aisle to organize and resist the government. In the late 1950’s leftist communists (FARC) began working to overthrow the Colombian government. The USA, in efforts to stop communism on this continent assisted the Colombians in resisting FARC, which resorted to violence, kidnapping, and extortion in undermining the government. The government, up until the beginning of this year, had been at war with FARC since 1961. On the other side, the far political right, groups emerged that stressed Colombian independence and viewed American intervention as a threat to national sovereignty. Then the drug wars began. Both FARC & the paramilitaries got involved with the drug cartels who have an unlimited supply of money. Here locally, the paramilitaries guard the travel routes for drugs going out of Colombian through the isthmus of Panama. The ensures them of having the necessary resources to buy weapons and supplies to prolong their resistance. You can’t even begin to imagine the level of violence that was here in the 80’s and early 90’s. Everyone was at war with each other. FARC & the paramilitaries were at war with each other. Both were at war with the government. Pablo Escobar was king of the Medellin cartel, and basically at war with the government. No one could trust anyone. Countless people lost their lives.
In NW Colombia, where I am, the paramilitaries still control everything, especially in the rural areas. They have people everywhere, even here in the city. Since they’re moving drugs they’re pretty protective of their territory. Guanábano is the home base for one of the paramilitary groups. Shortly after Carlos Correa began working there, someone knocked on his door late at night. They told him they knew everything about him. His wife, his kids, what his job is, what church he works with here in town, and that they were watching him. This did not faze him.
One of the brothers in the church out there knows some of the paramilitaries and vouched for him. When things “heat up,” one of them will call him in advance and tell him not to come. He used to go out & hold Wednesday evening services around 6.30 pm. Sometimes, he wouldn’t get finished until 8 or 9, eat briefly, and then do the 1.5 or 2 hour trek back here to Lorica. One night about 5 years ago, as the study wrapped up, the brethren urged him to stay the night and not go home. He resisted, saying he’s never had trouble before. So, as he headed home, just out of town he came up on two people on motorcycles, who immediately began tailing him. He sped up. They sped up. They closely followed him for 20-30 minutes. He said it really frightened him. After this happened, he moved the service time up a few hours so that he no longer has to travel back home after dark or late at night.
Just 7 months ago, things with the paramilitaries heated up. Two officers from the Colombian National Police were dispatched to Guanábano. They positioned themselves at the corner of two roads and were checking ID’s and papers of every person who passed by. 18 paramilitaries came out, surrounded them, and killed them both. For the next month, the Colombian military patrolled the area, and then left. Unknowing to me on Wednesday, went drove by the corner of the road where these two officers were murdered.
For Jaime & I to come out with him to Guanábano, Carlos had to inform the small church in advance, so they could clear it with the paramilitaries. Since they know who Carlos is, they had no problem with our coming.
A few months ago the paramilitaries changed leaders. Everyone was really worried that this would make things hard for Carlos. In fact, it was a difficult transition as he couldn’t travel out therefor several weeks until everything was “Ok’d” by the new leader. Now, everything is OK. The brethren have vouched for him and everyone is satisfied.
The place we went to on Tuesday, Palmitto, is controlled by a different paramilitary group. When problems arise, the sister out there will call Carlos and advise him not to come until things settle down.
There have been many times where Carlos’ wife has been worried for his life. He tells her God will take care of him and for her just to pray. Last year on Dec 31, he had been out to Guanábano and got back to the ferry. It was already dark. After he got on the boat, the ferry got stuck in the middle of the river. (The water was very low.) It took several hours to get the vessel unstuck. He actually got to ring in the new year stuck on the ferry in the middle of the river, and missed out on some family events going on here in town. His wife Janeth feared that he had been killed.
I was totally moved by hearing him talk about his experiences. It’s completely unimaginable for Americans. I would ask that you pray for brother Correa and his work in a very difficult place.
Ok, that’s all for now. I have to get packed up & get ready to head to the airport.
Love you all. Thanks for all you prayers & feedback.