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05/27/2024 Nicaragua (International Christian Concern) – After more than two decades of missionary work in Mexico and Central America, U.S. citizen Jon Britton Hancock stands accused of unsubstantiated crimes of money laundering and organized crime by the Nicaraguan government. The accusation, made in late 2023, is an often-used falsehood hurled at anyone deemed a threat by the authoritarian regime governing that nation.

Hancock is not alone in his charges. His son, daughter-in-law, and 11 pastors associated with Hancock’s ministry, Mountain Gateway, have also been charged with, and in some cases imprisoned for, the alleged crimes while being denied basic due process. According to the ministry, they have not been allowed to read their official charging documents.

Today, the 11 pastors remain imprisoned, and Hancock and his family will be tried in absentia.

“Our people say that the church is encouraged and unified and sort of not duped,” Hancock said. “They understand all the charges are bogus, and they’re trying to get us to plead guilty and all the things that they do, which we’re not going to do.”

U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., in February condemned the arrests and spurious charges in a press release.

“In December 2023, eleven Nicaraguan pastors and other individuals associated with Mountain Gateway, a Christian organization based in Texas with missionary presence in North and Central America, were arrested and imprisoned by the Nicaraguan government without access to legal counsel, understanding of the allegations against them, or documentation of their alleged criminal charges,” the statement declared.

A bipartisan letter was sent in February to the Ambassador of Nicaragua, signed by 58 members of the U.S. Congress, expressing alarm over Nicaragua’s violations of religious freedom. Additionally, House Resolution 1019, also introduced in February, expresses concern “that United States citizens affiliated with the Mountain Gateway ministry are being targeted for arrest and extradition by the Nicaraguan government.”

In a statement released by the ministry, the missionary group denied all wrongdoing.

It stated that “Mountain Gateway has documentation demonstrating that the Nicaraguan government viewed and approved all funds that entered the country, and the organization operated under the government’s oversight to ensure that all funds were used and managed appropriately.”

A LONG HISTORY OF SERVICE

Hancock, who runs Mountain Gateway, has been involved in missionary service since 1996 and expanded his work into Nicaragua in 2013.

According to its website, Mountain Gateway “served the citizens of Nicaragua through discipleship, church planting, feeding and clothing those in need, providing food, water, equipment, and recovery assistance during natural disasters, and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in mass evangelistic campaigns.”

Initially, the Nicaraguan government allowed Hancock’s ministry to remain in the country, likely because of the aid it provided to victims of natural disasters and the calming effect it had on the people.

However, the attitudes of those in power shifted drastically after the Christian missionaries hosted events that brought together large numbers of Christians and Christ-seekers from many different backgrounds.

A NATION-WIDE REVIVAL

In 2023, Hancock worked with dozens of pastors and evangelical Christians who organized a massive evangelism campaign in Managua, the capital city and heart of Nicaragua. An estimated 1 million people attended eight events during that year, where they heard the message of Jesus Christ.

Churches from every major and independent Christian denomination joined together and represented 6,000 churches at the events, bringing about a coalescence of many like-minded individuals.

In an interview with ICC, Hancock expressed that those in power in Nicaragua “don’t like … such a massive, unified movement.”

A REGIME THREATENED BY THE GOSPEL

After the evangelism campaigns of 2023, Nicaraguan authorities revoked the license of Mountain Gateway, which operated as Puerta de la Montaña within the nation, to work in the country. Additionally, according to Hancock, authorities “seized all of [their] assets, 47 vehicles, four pieces of real estate … [and] put 11 of [their] personnel in prison.”

Hancock also explained that the Nicaraguan government put out an international notice on him and his family requesting their detainment. According to Hancock, “six countries have said, okay, if they come here, we’ll arrest them and extradite them to Nicaragua for you.” Those countries, he stated, are “Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Honduras, and Mexico.”

ICC President Jeff King offered words of encouragement to Hancock as he continues to endure persecution at the hands of the Nicaraguan government.

“We’re in a battle, so you can’t not get shot … but this is the battle and not the war,” King said.

King’s reference speaks to Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

A TROUBLING TREND

The recent escalation of Christian persecution in the Central American country comes as no surprise to many who have, for years, endured the authoritarian rule of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose roots are in the Marxist-inspired Sandinista political party.

As is often the case in authoritarian or Marxist rule, leaders do not relinquish their power voluntarily and are easily threatened by the unification of any group, including religious ones, as they are considered a potential threat. To retain power, authoritarian regimes forcibly deny intrinsic human rights to individuals, thereby quelling any dissent that may arise, through violence or any other means necessary.

Saddled by what is quickly becoming a police state, a litany of public anti-government protests has taken place since Ortega came to power for the second time in 2007. Citizens have become progressively dissatisfied with the increasingly repressive governmental policies of the Ortega regime.

STANDING UP TO AN OPPRESSIVE REGIME

Throughout the years, Ortega absorbed a sense of dictatorial paranoia, prompting him and his inner circle to jail, exile, or intimidate anyone viewed as a potential threat to his power, including journalists, opposition leaders, members of the Catholic clergy, or anyone who holds dissenting opinions to his rule.

One such case is that of Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who was detained by Nicaraguan authorities in 2022 for preaching that human beings have God-given rights and expressing opposition to the Ortega regime. After learning of his sermons, Nicaraguan authorities detained Alvarez from August 19, 2022, to January 14, 2024. The bishop was convicted of “undermining national integrity, propagation of false news through information and communication technologies, aggravated obstruction of functions, and disobedience of contempt for authority.”

In 2024, Alvarez was released from detention and exiled to the Vatican after Vatican officials and Nicaraguan authorities reached an agreement. In similar fashion, the bishop’s fellow clergy were also exiled to the Vatican.

According to Open Doors’ World Watch List of 2024, “President Ortega continues to see Christians as enemies of the government, and recent changes to the law have been used to label church leaders as terrorists. They have been harassed and arrested, and churches are fiercely monitored.”

Additionally, in 2018, protests erupted after Ortega proposed a change to the country’s social security program that would have made workers pay more while receiving fewer benefits, which was the final straw for many Nicaraguan citizens. After 11 years of coping with the injustices of the Ortega regime, many individuals reached a boiling point.

According to the U.S. State Department, “the ensuing conflict left at least 325 persons dead, more than 2,000 injured, hundreds illegally detained and tortured, and more than 52,000 exiled in neighboring countries. Beginning in August [2018] the Ortega government instituted a policy of ‘exile, jail, or death’ for anyone perceived as opposition, amended terrorism laws to include pro-democracy activities, and used the justice system to characterize civil society actors as terrorists, assassins, and coup-mongers.”

Amnesty International stated that “the government of President Daniel Ortega has committed crimes against humanity in the context of the crisis … with the intention to kill and persecute those who opposed their policies.”

THE GOSPEL PERSEVERES

As our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nicaragua, including Hancock and others associated with Mountain Gateway, continue to endure persecution for their faithful Christian witness, may we stand with them in prayer and make their struggles known. May we also pray that the gospel continues to spread in Nicaragua, despite Ortega’s leadership.

“There is a move of God that really started in 2023, and they can’t stop that,” Hancock said. “I know God literally shook the entire nation, and I’m satisfied that it’s continuing.”

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