Reuben: Child Soldier at 7, Pastor at 15
This article featured in Frontline Faith Magazine - Love > Fear, click here to read.
Rubén was only seven when he began training as a guerrilla fighter. He grew up in the midst of extreme poverty in rural Colombia. His dysfunctional family life, filled with abuse, led him to search for a way out.
“You go to the guerrillas because it seems to be the option,” said Rubén. “You want respect from people, which is why it is easy to be deceived by guns, uniforms, and camaraderie. You don’t realise the deception until it is too late.”
At the age of 10 Rubén was already well-known for his aggression. He was elevated to a position of leadership and became the commander of more than 80 armed men.
The Plan That Went Wrong
When Rubén was 12 he was sent as a spy into a neighbouring village. Rubén disguised himself as a peasant and worked during the day. At night he would sneak around gathering intel. On one farm, there was a group of pastors who regularly met together to worship. They’d bring guitars, tambourines, and smiles on their faces and they’d always give Rubén a hug.
“These things amazed me,” Rubén said. “This showed me that not all people were bad and that the guerrillas were not always painting an accurate picture of people.”
Rubén began to attend the pastors’ Sunday services. His curiosity about God started to grow and he decided to memorise Psalm 41:1:
“Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.”
When the guerrillas formed a plan to kidnap one of the wealthiest men in the region, Rubén agreed to help. But the plan went horribly wrong and they found themselves surrounded by the army, down on their knees. The military began to shoot Rubén’s companions.
“At that moment I knew they were going to kill me,” Rubén said. “I was last in line and didn’t quite understand what all had happened, but I knew I was going to die.”
In the midst of his anguish, Rubén recalled the words of Psalm 41:1. Suddenly other guerrillas intervenedand Rubén was able to escape.
“My comrades told me that I had been saved by the ‘spirit of the revolution’, but I knew that God had saved me because he loves me and wants something different for me.”
A Radical Conversion
Rubén’s life changed radically and when he was 13 he gave his life to Christ. After his conversion, he renounced the guerrillas altogether; then, the persecution began. “I worked in intelligence and had a lot of information about them. For this reason, they could not let me go easily. From the day of my conversion they wanted to kill me.”
At the age of 15 Rubén became a pastor. He began to preach the gospel of peace and reconciliation. Many people attended his services, including fellow guerrillas. But there was trouble ahead.“The paramilitaries had been following me for a long time,” Rubén said. “They knew about my past as a communist guerrilla. They believed I was continuing the revolution... I knew I had to leave immediately.”
Image: An outdoor church meeting in Colombia
One afternoon in June he was summoned to court by the Colombian justice system. “I knew it was in God’s hands,” he said. “If God wanted me to go to prison for the time I spent breaking the law, I would do it. If I was incarcerated, I planned to continue sharing the Gospel with the people around me.”
But because his days as a guerrilla took place when he was a child, Rubén wasn’t sent to prison. Instead he was prohibited from doing any public work for three years, including working as a pastor.
A New Mission
After the three years, Pastor Rubén returned to his hometown. He knew there was still much work to be done and many fighters who needed to know God. One Sunday, several young visitors appeared at his church. They were guerrillas who had stumbled across bags hanging on trees on the road and they wanted to know about God.
“I know the common routes of the guerrillas,” Rubén said. “I often leave books alongside the road. I want them to know God’s heart for them. It is my hope that they will want to seek God and pursue true life.”
Young people are now refusing to become guerrillas because they have decided to follow Christ. Pastor Rubén’s impact has changed many lives in Colombia. But it hasn’t come without a cost. Leaders of local armed groups have forbidden anyone from employing or supporting Rubén or his family.
“Even though I was afraid, God showed me his powerful protection over my family. That is enough to continue His work. I will not leave here because the region needs to know much more about God.”
Open Doors supports Pastor Rubén and his family. They are finishing off their secondary education in order to have better employment opportunities. They’re also attending trauma counselling to stand strong in the face of persecution. Please continue to pray for Rubén.
This article featured in Frontline Faith Magazine - Love > Fear.