Former guerrilla fighter Reina: “My soul was wounded and I had no peace”

Religion is opium for the people – that’s how Reina* (45) was taught. She was recruited into the ranks of the guerrillas as soon as she was strong enough to carry a gun and a backpack and walk for days without breaks in the jungle.

Urabás is one of Colombia’s most important banana-growing regions and unfortunately also one of the country’s worst conflict zones. More than 30 years ago, paramilitary groups began to carry out attacks there while fighting guerrillas and this also affected the lives of local people.

Today, Urabán Bay is a strategic place for drug smuggling, which is why illegal groups fight for power there and forcefully recruit children and young people from the area.

Without God and law

In addition to forced recruitment, the groups use brainwashing as their weapon. On the other hand, the people of the region have almost no prospects in their lives and the state does not interfere in this situation. There are not enough formal jobs, the population’s education level is weak and healthcare and waste management are inadequate. In all households in the region, approximately a quarter of basic needs are not met.

All of that was on the backburner when Reina joined the militia. “My soul was wounded and I had no peace. I just thirsted for revenge when I saw so much injustice. I even saw my innocent relatives leave and never come back because they were killed. I was full of powerlessness, anger and rage.”

When Reina joined the guerrillas, her life changed completely. Days in the jungle started at 4:45. Reina brushed her hair and was ready for duty at 5:00. If there was food, Reina ate breakfast at seven, and if there was not, she just started the workday. The content of the days varied according to the needs of the organization.

Reina talks about the conditions in a male-centered society: “Women are often treated badly, discriminated against and exploited in all kinds of ways.” Despite everything, Reina found her place in the community and began to fight: “My job was to patrol. I was fully equipped. I was a fighter.” Later, the battle continued on the side of the paramilitaries.

A turning point in the jungle

One day, when Reina was on her way home after a long stay in the jungle, she fainted. She describes her experience, which was like a dream: “I began to sink down, down into the depths. I went through a very scary and cold tunnel.

At that moment she remembered the people who had told her the gospel. Then she got into an even worse place where someone started showing to her all the material things she was chasing.

Reina says that the person said to her: “What use do you have for this money? What good do these things that you desire, do to you? What good is it if you don’t even have your own body?”

Getting into this situation, Reina started crying and asking God to take her away from this place, if He really exists. While all this was happening in Reina’s dream, some people saw her lying on the ground and took her to the hospital. After waking up, Reina asked for the intercession of a woman who had told her she was a Christian.

“When I came home, my insides had changed. From that moment on, many people began to pray for me.” The intercessors could see a complete change in Reina’s life and invited her to their church for a service the following Monday.

Long way home

The road was not easy, but long, full of regret and forgiveness. Reina felt that the reason for joining the armed group was that her parents could not provide her with the opportunity to study.

In the process, Reina was despised by many because of her past and some people didn’t even believe that she had changed. However, Reina remained steadfast in her faith and her desire to serve the Lord grew. “If I served the devil with so much love, how much more will I serve Him who gave me life,” says Reina.

After meeting her husband, Reina began serving as a leader in the church and became a member of the church’s board of elders. In her mission and wanderings, she experienced both losses and successes and then she was asked if she wanted to start a church.

Reina and her family began holding small-scale meetings in various homes and researching the needs of the community in order to start a new congregation. In the middle of the process, Reina was approached by a man who threatened to kill her if she did not stop preaching the word and return to her job with the armed group.

Reina replied to the man: “I will not cooperate with you and you will not kill me. I will not die when satan wants, but when God wants. I will continue to serve God.”

“Nothing is as important as serving God”

Later, a few men began attending Reina’s church meetings to observe her and evaluate the content of her sermons. Sometimes men would follow Reina down the street and demand that she stop preaching the gospel, but Reina remained steadfast.

“I believe that God is worth serving because of what Christ has done for us,” says Reina. “The situation, the circumstances and the place do not matter. Nothing is as important as serving God. He is the only one who deserves everything.”

Despite the complicated situation of violence in Urabas Reina wants to continue serving the Lord and loving her brothers and sisters. She seeks to bring about reconciliation between church members who previously belonged to opposing military factions and considered each other enemies.

*Name changed for security reasons.

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