Honduran Pastor Says Robberies Target Ministries
Church leader believes criminals infiltrating congregations to thwart social programs.
by Kenneth D. MacHarg
1/4/08 SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Compass Direct News) - The pastor of a large church here who was beaten and robbed last month for the second time in three years says organized criminals opposed to his stand against violence are behind the attacks.
Highway robbers on December 8 stopped Misael Argeñal, beat him, held him for an hour and robbed him of electronic equipment and the clothes he was wearing.
"It was an act of intimidation to stop my work," the pastor said, pointing out that the thieves did not take his car, though automobile highjackings are common along Honduran highways, especially late at night. The thieves stopped him at about 11:45 p.m. between the capital city of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
A week before the attack, Argeñal told Spanish-language TV network Univision, two men dressed as policemen on a motorcycle followed him as he left his 25,000-member, La Cosecha (The Harvest) church.
"They told me that if I didn't stop (my ministry) they would kill me," he said.
Argeñal said that he has contracted a security firm to provide protection for himself and his family. "There is something against the church," he told the television network. "It is intimidation and not just a coincidence."
Although the robbers did not take his car, they did take a computer, a cell phone, and television cameras, along with his clothes and those of two other church members traveling with him. They managed to reach a farm house where they were able to borrow some clothes.
The pastor said that if the attackers' only motive were robbery, they would have taken the car, which would resell at a high price. Instead, they shot out one of the tires and damaged the radiator as they tried to stop him.
Argeñal said he begged the thieves not to kill him or his passengers. When he told them, "We are Christians," he said, one robber replied that they would not kill him because perhaps "tomorrow (Sunday) I will be among those in your church."
Infiltrating the Church
The pastor said he believes that his and other churches are being infiltrated by criminals who want to track the movements and operations of church leaders.
"Three years ago when I was attacked, the delinquents came out of the church," he said. "They were probably looking for information."
The activities of youth gangs and organized criminals increasingly overlap in the country, and Christians leaders believe the church's ministries pose an economic, political and spiritual threat to both sets of outlaws.
"They (the criminals) want to stop the work that we are doing," Argeñal said.
The Harvest operates several ministries, including a children's home, a shelter for alcoholics and drug addicts, a radio and television station, youth ministries, a free health clinic, an elementary and high school, a Christian university, a technical school, a Bible institute, a book store and a cafeteria.
In addition to the San Pedro Sula mother church, the ministry includes 70 other churches in Honduras, one in el Salvador, and three in the Atlanta area in the United States.
On September 11 of last year, pastors of San Pedro Sula announced a 40-day period of prayer for peace in the country. Argeñal was one of the prominent leaders. The program was designed to bring positive change to San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city and location of the highest incidence of violent crime, and to the rest of the country.
Christians of all faiths were asked to unite in prayer for calm in the country.
Argeñal said that acts of violence have created in the church. A member of one of Harvest's sister churches, the Ebenezer Church, was murdered while leaving a recent service, he said.
"We need to be more careful and protect ourselves," he said.
Pleas for Help
Honduras is one of the most violent countries in Central America. Highway robbery, automobile highjackings and murder are rife, and the government is considering militarizing the cities to cut down on the criminal activities.
The murder rate in Honduras is 53 per 100,000 population, compared with 5.6 per 100,000 in the United States. As of October 2007, more than 3,000 people had been killed in criminal violence, often during a simple robbery such as taking a cell phone. Much of the crime is related to gang activity.
Honduran church leaders are speaking out about the runaway crime and asking for help. The Auxiliar Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Pedro Sula, Monsignor Romulo Emiliani, said the violence was "irrational and diabolical."
"It ought to be eradicated using all means within our reach," he said.
The bishop called for a unity of purpose among churches, schools, clubs and associations to address the problem.
"We are living in a society with a lack of values, as well as economic problems and impunity for those who commit the crimes," he said.