Martyrdom of Columbian
pastor sparked intensive awakening
___By Mark Wingfield
___HOUSTON--The 1995 murder of a prominent evangelical pastor in Cali, Columbia, has sparked an intense revival in the city and its churches, the slain pastor's widow told a Houston gathering this month.
___Ruth Ruibal was among the keynote speakers at a conference on community transformation co-sponsored by Mission Houston and the Sentinel Group, a religious research organization based in Seattle.
___Ruibal said God has used her husband's martyrdom to spark unprecedented unity among evangelical churches in Cali, which in turn has brought about dramatic transformation in the city itself.
___The change has been so profound that Cali, once considered the drug-exporting capital of the world, is breaking free of its reputation as a drug center, she reported.
___Ruibal and her husband arrived in Cali in 1978 as missionaries. She grew up in a Baptist home in the United States; he was from Bolivia.
___Beginning in about 1991, both Ruibal and her husband, Julio, became convinced God was calling them to work for the unity of the evangelical community in Cali. For three years, they talked about and prayed for unity and reconciliation.
___"During 1992, 1993 and 1994, we were persistent in prayer," she said.
___Finally, various prayer leaders organized a citywide prayer meeting at a 22,000-seat coliseum in March 1995. More than 20,000 Christians showed up for the all-night prayer vigil.
___Two days later, Cali's newspaper headlined a story proclaiming that for the first time in recent history, the city had gone through an entire weekend with no homicides.
___Ten days after the prayer vigil, one of Cali's seven well-known drug lords was arrested.
___Energized by what they perceived to be results from their prayer vigil, the Christians organized another event in August 1995, this time in the soccer stadium, the largest venue in the city. When the 55,000-seat stadium was filled to capacity and security guards began turning others away, an overflow crowd of about 15,000 stayed outside and held a prayer march around the stadium, Ruibal reported.
___Over the course of the summer of 1995, the remaining six drug lords in the city fell, an event that made international headlines.
___Ruibal feels certain this series of events occurred in direct response to the focused prayers of Cali's united Christian community.
___Throughout the fall of 1995, other prayer vigils and special events were held. At one point, intercessors got on buses at 4 a.m. every morning for seven days and circled the city while praying for community transformation, Ruibal said.
___Though unity was emerging among Cali's diverse and once-bickering Christian community, divisions still existed. And those who opposed the spiritual transformation emerging in the city intensified their attacks on the Christian leaders, Ruibal reported.
___Things came to head Dec. 13, 1995, when Julio Ruibal was gunned down outside a church where he was going to a meeting. As president of the Cali pastors' association, he had been the most visible figure associated with the spiritual renewal.
___At the time he was murdered, Julio Ruibal had been fasting for six days, seeking God's direction for how to deal with threats made against him and his family and praying for Christian unity, his widow said.
___At the pastor's funeral, leaders of other evangelical churches in Cali came to Ruth Ruibal and said they wanted to sign a covenant of unity among all the churches. "That, to me, was the most historic day in the city of Cali," she explained.
___Subsequently, the city has experienced continued spiritual growth that has increased attendance at all churches and seen thousands of people profess faith in Jesus Christ, Ruibal said.
___"We don't understand how important unity is," she admonished.
___The Cali story is just one of dozens of cases of community transformation researched and documented by the Sentinel Group and its founder, George Otis Jr. Four of these stories are documented in an hour-long video produced by the Sentinel Group called "Transformations."
___Another transformed community featured on the video is Almolonga, Guatemala.
___The video shows Otis visiting this agricultural community and interviewing civic and church leaders. They report that problems such as rampant alcoholism and domestic violence have been all but stopped by an intensive prayer focus begun by a handful of Christians.
___Only three of the city's 36 bars remain open, and all four of the city's jails have been closed. A civic leader interviewed by Otis on the video confirms the jails were closed because no one is being arrested any more.
___Further, farmers in the community have begun reaping a greater harvest than before, civic leaders report. The video shows an abundance of giant-sized crops being piled into trucks for export. Whereas the city formerly produced four truckloads of produce a month, it now produces 40 truckloads a week.
___What is happening in these communities transcends the lesser issues that divide Christians in most communities, Otis said at the Houston conference.
___That's why he draws a clear distinction between church growth and community transformation. Church growth, he said, usually focuses on one church. A focus on community transformation, however, encompasses a concern for the entire city and grows all churches.
___Editor's note: Copies of the "Transformations" video may be purchased from the Sentinel Group by calling (800) 668-5657 or sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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