“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24, ESV
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” – Tertullian, 197 A.D.
After experiencing such an incredible revival in Bolivia (see yesterday’s devotional), Julio Cesar Ruibal and his wife, Ruth, were called by God in 1978 to move north to Columbia. However, revival didn’t spring up so quickly like it had in Bolivia. Cali, Columbia, was one of the world’s largest exporters of cocaine, exporting roughly 500 million dollars worth of cocaine each month. The city was controlled by cartels, occultic practices were widespread, and on average fifteen people were murdered every day.
The church in the city wasn’t faring well in the midst of this darkness as it lacked any semblance of unity. Ruth Ruibal said that “There wasn’t really unity among the churches. You did your thing and I would say, ‘God bless you, brother, and have a wonderful time in your church, but this is my church and this is what I do.’” Another pastor later said that “The pastor’s association used to consist of nothing more than a box of files. Every pastor was working separately on his own; no one would join together.”
As Julio and Ruth got to work, Julio soon had a disagreement with another pastor in town and subsequently removed himself from the already weak pastor’s association. God spoke to Julio and said, “You don’t have the right to be offended. You have to forgive.” Julio realized that if he was going to reflect Jesus, he could not be offended in any way. Julio went back to the pastor’s association and begged for their forgiveness, citing the urgent need for unity in light of the incredible challenges facing their city. Against all odds, the Ruibal’s and their small team did the only thing they knew to do: fast and pray. In their prayers, they targeted the church’s lack of hunger for prayer, unity, and holiness.
In 1995 (17 years after they moved to Cali), the Ruibal’s attempted their first unity-based event with a small group of pastors, hosting it in the city’s civic auditorium. Many said it would fail, but they moved forward with it anyway. They expected only a few thousand to attend, but to their surprise, more than 25,000 people showed up! During the event, they spent much time in prayer, binding the principalities and darkness over the city. At one point, the mayor of Cali took the podium and publicly declared, “Cali belongs to Jesus Christ!” The auditorium was filled with such a surge of energy that the crowd stayed and prayed until 6 AM.
Two days after the all-night prayer event, the newspaper headlines read, “No Homicides!” For the first time that anyone could remember, Cali went an entire weekend without a single murder! Ten days later, the first drug lord was arrested. As the church fasted and prayed in unity, the darkness began to flee.
Filled with faith, the united church leaders rented the largest stadium in town, the 55,000-person Pascual Guerrero soccer stadium. More than 60,000 believers showed up, representing many different denominations. The church regained its power through fasting, prayer, and unity and had once again found its roar!
That summer of ‘95, the Columbian government declared all-out war on the drug cartels, dispatching 6,500 elite commandos to apprehend the cartel ringleaders. In the first nine months when the united church started praying together, six of the seven top drug lords were arrested. The seventh drug lord turned himself in another nine months later. Furthermore, 900 police officers with links to the cartel were fired. Julio Ruibal declared that “the whole spiritual atmosphere of Cali has changed!”
In the midst of this, Julio began to receive death threats from a neighboring drug lord who was in a dispute with Julio over property rights. In response to this, Julio set his face to fast and pray to seek understanding. On the third day of his fast, the Lord spoke to Julio and said, “He [your neighbor] will do you great damage, but from what he does the revival in Cali will spring forth.”
On December 13, 1995, Julio was on his way to an afternoon pastor’s meeting. As Julio set foot outside of his car, two gunmen were waiting for him. Julio was shot and killed.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” – Psalm 116:15
On the day he was martyred, Julio was on his sixth day of an extended fast, praying that God would strengthen the unity of Cali’s emerging church. Although progress had been made in the area of unity, Julio knew that unity was a fragile thing. Little did Julio know that his death would be the catalyst for the fruit of his prayers.
1,500 people gathered at Julio’s funeral, including many pastors who had not spoken to each other in months or years. After the memorial service, the pastors withdrew together and said, “Brothers, let us covenant to walk in unity from this day forward. Let Julio’s blood be the glue that binds us together in the Holy Spirit.” And so it was.
Over 200 pastors signed the covenant of unity. Together, these pastors strategically mapped out the city and began to target every area of the city in prayer and evangelism, with each church focusing on its own surrounding area. As the drug lords fell and salvation began to reach every level of society, Ruth Ruibal said, “God began changing the city because His people finally came together in prayer.”
By 1998, the citywide church was growing at an incredible rate. When asked about their church growth plan, one pastor said, “We don’t have time to plan. We’re too busy pulling the nets into the boat.” At Christian Centre of Love and Faith’s 35,000-person church, a church staff member was asked what their secret was. They immediately pointed to a 24-hour prayer room behind the stage and said, “That’s our secret.”
In reality, it isn’t a secret. It’s an invitation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
This is the pattern that God created before the beginning of time. As we continue this 40-day fast, let these stories fill you with faith for your nation, that prayer and fasting can turn your nation back to God. As George Otis Jr. said regarding Cali, Columbia, “The city that has long carried a reputation as an exporter of death is now looked upon as a model of community transformation. It has moved into the business of exporting hope.”