Motive for Murder of Evangelist in Colombia Remains Mystery in Spite of Confession

Indigenous tribal brothers admit killing outspoken Christian but won’t say why.

Pabel A. Losada Trujillo with son Israel David, 5. (Morning Star News)

Pabel A. Losada Trujillo with son Israel David, 5. (Morning Star News)

AUSTIN, Texas (Morning Star News) – Two brothers have confessed to the murder in a west Colombian mountainside jungle of a lay evangelist whom a local Roman Catholic priest had threatened, sources said.

The brothers of the indigenous Nasa tribe, also called Paez, have refused to tell investigators why they killed Pabel A. Losada Trujillo, a 33-year-old married father of two young children, on Nov. 23. After a searcher found Trujillo’s body strangled by the strap of his messenger bag containing Christian literature, the priest who had threatened him went on a short-term mission to Cuba and was then transferred to a different parish, area sources said.

“The only threats of violence against Pabel were made by the local Catholic parish priest,” said one source who requested anonymity for security reasons. “He was upset with Pabel because Pabel told the people the people in the town that the priest couldn’t get the souls of their loved ones out of purgatory by selling indulgences, and he caused the priest a huge financial problem.”

The indigenous Nasa were resistant to the gospel that Losada Trujillo, of La Plata in the embattled western Colombian department of Huila, boldly proclaimed. He and his cousin and evangelism partner, Jimeno Serrato, had offended the local priest. Serrato said the priest had punched and threatened Losada Trujillo because they challenged the priest’s practice of charging money in exchange for getting loved ones out of purgatory.

Losada Trujillo in 2013 wrote of his objections to the practices of local Catholic authorities in a testimony he sent to Alethia Stendal, daughter of Russ Stendal, founder of Colombia for Christ, an outreach to every party in the South American nation’s 50-year civil war.

The transferred priest could not be reached for comment.

“Pabel was one of our dearest friends and a valiant evangelist,” said Russ Stendal.

Losada Trujillo and Serrato routinely traveled the region by motorcycle taxi, passing out Bibles and Christian literature and sharing the gospel in volatile Huila and Cauca departments through the Peace Force Campaign, a ministry of Colombia for Christ.

The discovery of Losada Trujillos’ death occurred after his wife, Kelly, called her husband’s taxi company employer to report that he’d not returned home after his Nov. 23 rounds. The employer said that a client who called himself “Robinson” for whom her husband had had been delivering packages for five months had asked him to deliver a parcel to a community called La China, located in an indigenous reservation near the border of the neighboring department (state) of Cauca.

On Nov. 25, Kelly, Serrato and four others traveled five hours to the Nasa indigenous reserve to search for him. The group connected with the tribe’s chief, Lisandro Tenorio, to ask his help in finding Losada Trujillo before returning to La Plata.

Soon after the group returned to La Plata, the chief phoned her to say that tribal authorities in La China had recovered the motorcycle registered to Losada Trujillo and had detained two men, whom the authorities were interrogating. Kelly and Serrato returned with others to the reservation, where they witnessed the trial for Sebastian Tenorio and Emiliano Tenorio, the chief’s nephews who had been found in possession of the motorcycle.

Kelly and her search party arrived at the trial just as the tribal chief presiding over it was about to start proceedings.

“Sadly, they told me that my husband is dead,” Kelly said. “I didn’t ask anything further.”

She added that she told the murderers that she had forgiven them.

“He was incredible, a true man of God,” she told Morning Star News.

The brothers confessed on Nov. 26 but gave no motive for the murder, Kelly said. She and others involved in the ministry believe that during the five months that Losada Trujillo delivered packages to “Robinson” in La China, the murderers were plotting against him.

“They were studying Pabel in order to kill him,” said Sammy Hernandez of Colombia for Christ. “Nobody studies somebody for five months just to rob a cheap, used motorcycle, even less to torture and kill him with the weight of Christian literature in his knapsack. It’s obvious that they held a grudge against him, or hate, and the devil used this. He had many enemies in the region.”

As Colombia’s indigenous reservations operate autonomously, each having its own laws and justice systems, the tribal chief presided over a trial for his nephews on the spot, witnessed by Kelly, Serrato and others who had accompanied them as part of a search team. The chief pronounced his nephews guilty of murder. They have not yet been sentenced.

The unusual circumstances of the tribal chief cooperating with the search resulted in the otherwise unlikely recovery of the body in the steep, remote jungle. 

“Under normal conditions, the murderers would have never been forced to confess and the body would have never been found,” Russ Stendal said. “Let us hope and pray that the rest of the truth will come out…. There’s undoubtedly more to the motivation.”

Losada Trujillo spoke on camera to filmmaker Alethia Stendal at a showing of her film La Montaña about a peace accord her father brokered in Colombia between two illegal armed groups controlling a mountain, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and rightist paramilitaries of the United Self-defenses of Colombia (UAC). 

“We need more people who will lay down their lives for the Lord,” he said. “I am willing to do the same as Russ [Stendal] has, to lay down my life for my friends, for there is no greater love than one who gives his life for his friends….The Lord needs our weapons to be different, so we can do good.”

Kelly told Morning Star News that she plans to continue her husband’s ministry. Russ Stendal requested prayer for her and the couple’s children, Israel David, 5, and Linda Estefania, 3.

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