News out of Argentina suggests that a small Baptist church in Rio Terceo, Cordoba, Argentina may finally get some justice.
Several years ago, Pueblo Grande Baptist Church and their pastor Marcelo Nieva decided to help women in their community by opening a home for those fleeing drug abuse, sex work and domestic violence.
Unfortunately, the move caught the attention of local drug gangs. With these women no longer taking drugs and willing to work the sex trade, it was directly impacting the gangs’ revenue sources.
Because of this, gang lords and their supporters initiated a two-pronged attack against the church.
They branded the church as a cult and accused it of “brainwashing” women. This method proved so effective that they were able to organize a rally in June 2014 against the church.
Spurred on by media reports, hundreds of people showed up in front of the church where they not only threw stones and sticks at the building, but even painted the Spanish word for cult “secta” on the building.
However, rather than tracking down those who provoked the attack, police instead searched the church looking for cultic items and evidence church leaders were abusing its members.
Nieva, 36, said police regularly searched the church and often purposefully damaged their facility while doing so.
The gangs also became violent. In October 2014, Nieva and a lay leader in the church were in a car when an unknown gunman attacked them. Thought no one was hurt, the car was hit with several 9mm bullets.
Along with this there was a barrage of anonymous death threats. These took a disturbing turn after Nieva’s wife gave birth, when the callers began to direct their threats against the baby. There have also been many Facebook postings calling for people to kill members of the church.
When the church appealed to police for help they were rebuffed and often mocked which led some to believe the gangs were paying off key members of the force.
For three years, police turned a blind eye to what was going on in the community despite repeated efforts by the church and its lawyers to obtain justice and protection. The church even went up the chain of command to the regional police headquarters but were again ignored.
The church ended up using several lawyers as they repeatedly quit, some suspect because of threats from the gangs.
However, things began to change when Roman Catholic lawyer, Aleiandro Zeverin, took their case. Alieandro is an internationally known lawyer in Cordoba. He believed the treatment of the church broke the country’s hate laws that protected against discrimination because of religion.
In May 2015, Zaverin won an important case that ruled the actions against the church were in clear violation of Argentina’s hate laws.
Since the police actions were also in question, the court assigned the Argentine National Gendarmerie, an elite police unit, to give 24-hour protection for the church. Since then crimes against the church have dropped dramatically.
A criminal investigation is now being conducted against local radio and newspapers, police and several other offenders.
Though several members left the church because of the violence, Pastor Nieva said:
“The most amazing thing about the majority of those who have stood firm is that they are newborn Christians. They were born again under persecution and they love Jesus.”
The story reminds me of the persecution the Apostle Paul ran into while in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19. It was also due to lost revenues. Paul and his group were having a profound impact in the city and many were healed and saved.
Luke, the author of Acts, tells us people were giving up their magical rites and incantations and even had a ceremony where they burned magical books with an estimated value of 50,000 pieces of silver (v 19).
However, the growth of the Church was now starting to have a noticeable impact on the revenues of local idol makers and obviously book publishers. And one in particular, Demetrius, a silver maker who made shrines to the god Artemis, began to stir up people against the church:
“Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business.26 You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 27 Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” (Acts 19:25-27 NASV)
A massive crowd gathered and they seized two of Paul’s associates, Gaius and Aristarchus, and dragged them to the Assembly demanding justice.
However, the town clerk, an honest man, citing the courts was able to gain control of the situation and the release of the two disciples.
- Court ruling in Argentina spurs prosecution of aggression against church: Morning Star News