On July 13, 2010 a 16 year-old kid killed a pastor in Cali, Colombia. Pastor Francisco Valencia was closing the meeting when the kid shot three bullets into his chest. The police got the kid and he confessed that he was paid $500 for the job, but he botched it. He shot the wrong guy. He was paid to kill the Senior Pastor, Jorge Villavicencio, a dear friend of mine, but Jorge was out of town and had delegated the meeting to Francisco. It seems someone in a legal dispute with Jorge hired the gun. Since killers are cheaper than lawyers, Francisco died at the feet of his wife, his brother and about 1,500 church members.
Ten years ago another dear friend, Pastor Basilio, tried to get home for the Sunday evening service, but his flight from Bucuramanga was canceled. He called his home in Medellin to delegate the service to the visiting pastor. The guest pastor used Basilio’s car, arrived in Basilio’s church and preached from Basilio’s pulpit on The Joy of Heaven. In the sermon he said heaven would be a culture shock for grumpy Christians. Minutes later a man on a motorcycle gunned him down and into heaven. The killer shot the wrong guy and got away. Pastor Basilio now lives in the US.
We hate it when a “mistaken identity” hits us with a false charge on our credit card, but getting shot for mistaken identity is another thing. You would think that killers would be careful to kill the right guy, but most of these Colombian hit-men are not tough gangsters sitting around card tables and drinking whiskey. They are skinny scared kids. Usually some lady buys a few motorcycles and guns, and sets up a killing business, recruiting the neighborhood teenagers. Some “businesses” are more sophisticated. They do research, study the victims and use two or three motorcycles for the get away. These usually kill the “right” guy.
Diego [his name has been changed for the sake of this article] from the age of 13, worked for such a group and killed about 500 people. Somehow the love of Jesus was deep enough to reach his calloused heart. During a church service, he was just one of many who came forward to the altar to say yes to the Murdered One on the cross. Two years later, he was sitting in my living room between my two sons on the couch and I asked him about his story.
He worked for Pablo Escobar for about $200 an assassination and now he volunteers under my sons in the video ministry. With an angelic smile, sitting between my sons, Diego told us about his encounter with Jesus and how one by one he remembers the victims and cries. He told us how he attempted to confess to the police but they shrugged him off telling him it was a different time. When the tears dry, he finds another layer of forgiveness. He said if he had felt the conviction for all his sins at once, it would kill him.
I did not lose my family members to this killer. It is easy for me to forgive him, so my forgiveness is cheap. I just stared into this boyish 23-year-old face sitting between my sons and the blood of 500 people scream for vengeance, but the Bible says the blood of Jesus speaks of better things than the screaming blood of Abel.
Recently Diego came to me to confess that he had backslidden and he was sick with guilt. I wondered if he had “slipped” and killed a few people but he confessed he slept with his fiancé. How could this man, who shot face-to-face 500 people, be so troubled over this? He felt horrible that he betrayed her and His God. He thought if the blood of Jesus could pull him out of 500 counts of murder, he owed Him something.
All this mercy makes me dizzy. Heights will do that and should do that. The good news is that we let Jesus take the rap. When the accuser comes to condemn us for the past, just smile and say, “You got the wrong guy.”
– Andrew McMillan