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Persecution of Evangelicals: The Reality Some Pastors Keep Hidden

Evangelical church members speak about how Ortega's repression "reaches everyone," although some pastors prefer to defend the regime

Cruzada evangelista “Buenas nuevas Nicaragua 2023” organizada por Puerta de la Montaña. Foto: Tomada de El 19 Digital

Redacción Confidencial

7 de mayo 2024


Josué considers himself a victim of the Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime. He frequently attends an evangelical church in Masaya. A few months ago, he lost his job. The reason: the NGO where he worked, which belonged to his church congregation, was shut down by the government. 

"It's a shame that it seems that evangelicals in general are gaining ground in exchange for favors for the dictatorship, when that's actually happening with only a very few pastors. In reality, what most of us are experiencing is the closing of spaces," says Josué

At Josué's old job, they carried out health outreach programs in various communities in the Masaya province. "But from one moment to the next they forced us to close and left us out on the street," he laments.

That's why he finds it "absurd" that at least four evangelical associations in Nicaragua have published statements in defense of the Ortega-Murillo regime, thanking it for supposedly guaranteeing "full religious freedom." 

"It's crazy that just because of a few pastors who have acted opportunistically, all of us evangelicals are being put in the same basket. There are thousands of us who protested in 2018 and many of us condemn the persecution against the Church, particularly against Catholics," Josué says. 

The Human Rights Collective Nicaragua "Never Again" stated in its report, "Closing of civic space in Nicaragua," that as of February 2024, at least 288 organizations that are linked to evangelical churches had been closed in Nicaragua, as part of the more than 3,600 NGOs that have been canceled by the dictatorship.

"We're silent victims"

Fernanda has been attending an evangelical church for 15 years. She points out that "many people believe that only Catholics have been victims of repression," but the reality is that "many prisoners, exiles, and people who have been assassinated or persecuted" have been evangelicals.

"It's true that at some point the regime tried to sell the image that the country was becoming less and less Catholic, but only as part of its war against the Catholic Church," Fernanda says. 

However, she believes that "the honeymoon [with the regime]" was only "a mirage" because "the regime persecutes all those who do not worship the two dictators."

In her case, Fernanda's brother was a political prisoner. "My family experienced firsthand the repression of the dictatorship. The truth is that many of us are silent victims, and the reality is that the repression affects us all," she says.

Fernanda saw how her sister-in-law and nieces were "helpless" during the months that her brother was imprisoned. "He was the breadwinner in that home and our whole family came together to support them, but things were really hard until he was released, and the cost they paid was having to go into exile," she recounted. 

21 pastors exiled by persecution

According to attorney Martha Patricia Molina's most recent installment of her report "Nicaragua: a persecuted Church?," there has been an increase in attacks on evangelical churches, particularly starting in 2022. 

"On 24 occasions, evangelical pastors, their families and congregants have been harassed, repressed, imprisoned, prosecuted, exiled, or persecuted by police and paramilitaries," according to the document presented in October 2023.

The report details that evangelical churches have denounced repression against pastors, arbitrary closure of media outlets, universities and social projects. 

"The Catholic Church and evangelical Christian churches are being cruelly persecuted by the Sandinista dictatorship," said Molina during the presentation of the study.

The document reports that at least "21 evangelical pastors have had to flee into exile as a result of persecution by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, and three pastors have been denied reentry into Nicaragua."

Vigil for the 21st anniversary of the Rivers of Living Water church and the 31st anniversary of Radio Maranatha. Photo: Taken from El 19 Digital

Friends today, enemies tomorrow…

Carmina recalls that she attended the "Good News Nicaragua" crusade in November 2023. The two day event in Managua brought together more than 1,300 evangelical churches in the country. 

During the activity, the coordinating organization, Mountain Gateway, thanked "the good government" for its "backing" and for allowing the celebration, according to press statements published in the dictatorship's propaganda media. 

"In the case of our church, which is in Carazo, they invited us and provided us with buses so that we could go. The support of the government in the organization of this event was noticeable," recalls Carmina

One month later, the legal status of Mountain Gateway was canceled. Its assets were confiscated, and eleven Nicaraguan pastors and two lawyers were imprisoned and sentenced –in a sham trial– to between ten and fifteen years for the alleged crime of money laundering. 

Carmina says it is "shocking" to see how the pastors "went from being favored friends to being criminal enemies. Although one has one's beliefs, it's evident that in Nicaragua the dictatorship persecutes [religious] faith and the only thing they want is for the churches to be devoted to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo." 

The fall from grace of Mountain Gateway 

In its best days, the Mountain Gateway evangelical ministry carried out prayers for close associates of the regime and had the regime's approval to carry out massive national level activities, when these kinds of events were forbidden for other organizations and religions

"The Gospel wants freedom. The freedom to do and to think and things like that are a threat against a government that wants to control everything," said the American missionary and president of Mountain Gateway, Jon Britton Hancock, during an interview with CONFIDENCIAL and the program Esta Noche. 

Now the religious leader denounces a "less visible persecution" against the evangelical churches. 

"In 2023, I spoke with many Nicaraguan pastors who told us that we had to be very careful about our opinions and the way we spoke," admitted Britton Hancock.

Four associations express their "gratitude" to the regime 

In recent weeks, at least four evangelical associations in Nicaragua have publicly expressed their defense of the Ortega-Murillo regime, which they claim "guarantees" religious freedom in the country.

The Federation of Nicaraguan Evangelical Churches (FIENIC), the Evangelical Pentecostal Conference of the Assemblies of God of Nicaragua (CEPENAD), the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua, and the Association Church of God in Nicaragua are the organizations that deny any alleged prohibition of worship activities.

FIENIC's April 16 statement notes that it is "pleased to affirm that full religious freedom prevails in Nicaragua for the people of God. In our nation, the fundamental right of every individual to profess their faith and practice their religious beliefs without fear or hindrance is recognized and respected."  

FIENIC says it has 147 affiliated organizations, which "group together 4,360 evangelical churches throughout the national territory." 

Meanwhile, the CEPENAD statement says: "We want to publicly express that in Nicaragua there is full freedom of worship." 

"Every citizen is free in the exercise of their faith, without discrimination. Worship celebrations are held in the temples, with the preaching of the Gospel and activities of a religious nature," says the statement signed by Reverend Roberto Rojas Moya, secretary of that organization. 

The president of the Church of God Association in Nicaragua, Teodoro Guido, also stated publicly that "All our pastors and our more than 100 congregations have not had any impediment to carry out evangelism, discipleship and social projects with children in our communities." 

Guido also said they have had the "support of the National Police in the free mobilization of our churches to our national convention as well as police protection during the same." 

The Board of Directors of the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua, which represents 331 churches, thanked Ortega and Murillo directly for "always supporting our evangelistic work, and for having favored the carrying out of all our activities."

Evangelical churches "are very diverse" 

Teresa Flores, director of the Observatory for Religious Freedom in Latin America, told Christianity Today that since the Evangelical Church "does not have a unified leadership, the persecution is different and more difficult to perceive". 

"As for evangelicals, we also know that there is an underreporting of persecution. Many pastors who have been threatened or assaulted prefer not to denounce it, because they know that if they do, the consequences could be worse," said Flores. 

This year, the Open Doors organization ranked Nicaragua 30th on its annual list of the most dangerous countries to be a Christian. 

"Christian leaders have been harassed and arrested, properties seized, Christian schools, television stations and charities shut down, and churches monitored and intimidated," the report states.

Pastors have been persecuted 

A pastor of a small congregation in Managua told Christianity Today that his church's bank account was frozen and that he received violent threats for not promoting pro-regime events. "Those who say there is no persecution do not understand what persecution is," he said. 

"We pastors avoid talking about politics in our sermons because we know that among the people who are listening there may be agents of the State who will later accuse us of violating the law," said the pastor. 

Due to police harassment, pastor Henry Aguilar, who participated in several demonstrations in 2018, went into exile with his family in 2022.

Pastor Henry Aguilar demonstrating on a street in Managua. Photo: Taken from La Mesa Redonda

"There has been [an evangelical] group that has been allied with the government, and pastors and Christian leaders who have applauded and remained silent for personal perks that I have always criticized…. These leaders are not the Evangelical Church. The Evangelical Church is the one that is in the street," Aguilat declared to the media outlet La Mesa Redonda (Roundtable)."

Aguilar said that "every so often," the political secretaries of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) visit evangelical churches in each neighborhood. 

"Many of our pastors refuse to participate, but they are being watched. These pastors feel personal fear given the attitude of the regime. Some have left the country and this has not been very well known," Aguilar denounced.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.