Mexican Pastor Leobard “Chito” Aguilar wasn’t always in the Kingdom-building business. In a recent interview with Open Doors USA, the Christian leader described how he went from being a terrorist, communist rebel, and drug trafficker, to leading a congregation in one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities.
Aguilar’s unlikely story begins in 1968, when a young “Chito” joined the communist rebel forces in the wake of the Tlatelolco massacre that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of students and civilians.
In a 2012 interview, Aguilar explained that he was attracted to the idea of being a part of a subversive, anti-government political group. It wasn’t until later, however, that Chito was exposed to the rebels’ agenda.
“After I joined, one of the members of the group came to me and said that the mission was not just a political one, it was to be an armed movement, a guerrilla group,” he said.
Pretty soon, Aguilar found himself mixed up with a host of terrorist activities that including robbery, kidnapping, and bombing. He also became involved in organized crime, including drug trafficking. Eventually, he was arrested for drug possession, and sent to jail.
Aguilar largely credits his wife Lidia for the story that followed. After Aguilar’s arrest, the devout Catholic prayed unceasingly for her husband’s release.
When Aguilar was finally released from prison, the couple attended church together that same day, thanking God. But Aguilar wasn’t quite ready to give up the life that had landed him in jail; at the time, he was more concerned with retrieving his drug money.
Lidia continued to pray for her husband, and eventually, by the grace of God, Aguilar became a Christian.
Today, Aguilar pastors the Centro Familiar Aposento Alto church in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. But his new life is far from devoid of struggle. Speaking to Open Doors, he shared that his church and many others face regular threats from the criminal group he once belonged to.
Because Aguilar is familiar with how the criminal gangs and drug cartels operate, the pastor said his church has not had to give in to attempts of extortion and coercion. Other congregations, however, are not so fortunate, and many have surrendered all of their funds and possessions to the cartels. Countless church leaders and parishioners have been kidnapped or killed by the criminal groups.
As life for civilians becomes less and less safe, Aguilar has encouraged his fellow faith leaders to remain in the city with their congregations. He recently arranged a meeting with 170 pastors in Ciudad Juarez, many of whom were preparing to flee to the United States.
“They all thought their lives were more important, but I kept telling them we couldn’t just leave our city and our congregations in the hands of criminals, that we needed to trust God was there to protect us,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar estimates that 100 of the pastors still left the country, but the rest cancelled their plans and stayed. Though things are far from stable, the courageous pastor is determined to follow his calling to shepherd the people he once oppressed.
“Things are better now for the church in Ciudad Juarez, but we have to keep an eye on what goes on,” he said. “We seem to be experiencing an increase in violence again in the city, but so far the church has not been affected.”
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