It was particularly awkward, then, when Julie and I went to Guatemala ten years ago to work with Mennonite Central Committee, and people kept introducing us as Evangelical missionaries. That was the label I would have used for the US Protestant church planters who had come down to save the souls of Catholics at the behest of radical dictators like Rios Montt, now on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. He saw the Catholic priests in the rural areas as some of his most dangerous political opponents. By converting campesinos to Evangelicos, President Montt would come to be seen as the duly appointed civil authority referred to in Romans 13:1-2, and, therefore, above criticism. It is the two-kingdom excuse for turning heads away from injustice in this, the worldly kingdom.
Pastor Salvador Alcantara is one of my heroes because he was willing to follow the path of Jesus into the everyday lives of the people he serves and name the injustices being committed by civil authorities. Salvador is pastor the Four Square Evangelical Church of Garzal, Sur de Bolivar, Colombia. When the families of Garzal received titles to their properties about a decade ago, there was great rejoicing. Shortly afterwards, a wealthy family with ties to narco trafficking paid off a judge to recall those titles for “corrections”. There was dismay, but the entire community gave up their titles. Except for Salvador, who refused to cooperate. The other titles were lost. His title would end up being a critical part of the legal proof that would lead to the return of all the titles just weeks ago.
In taking his stand and encouraging the community to stand up for their rights, Salvador faced criticism from fellow pastors and church leaders for refusing to focus only on the spiritual kingdom. He received death threats from paramilitaries hired by the Barreto family. They offered to let him choose whatever portion of the land he wanted for himself if he would drop his support for the claims of the rest of the community. He stood firm. Salvador believes, as I do, that the work of the kingdoms needn’t be separated.
I visited him at the end of March. The delivery of the titles was imminent, and we drank hot chocolate made from his cacao harvest. We talked about what would come next. For years, the church has wanted to re-assign him to another church, and he has declined, asking to be allowed to finish this task. Now the task is finished, and he will move on. He wasn’t interested in land for himself. He wanted justice for all. Amen, Salvador.