Alexander Puerta has seen more than his share of tragedy. Raised on a small farm in the Urabá region of northern Colombia, he was 17 when his father was murdered by an angry neighbor.
At 19, Alex nearly died of malaria. He called on a Christian evangelist to pray for him and experienced a miraculous recovery. That convinced him to accept Christ. He soon became a fervent evangelist himself and took a job at the Rancho Amelia banana plantation in Urabá.
A guerrilla army operating in the area mistakenly believed Rancho Amelia harbored a paramilitary squad. One morning in September 1995, they ambushed a bus carrying plantation employees, tied them up and threw them face down into a gully. The guerrillas then opened fire with machine guns on the helpless workers.
In the midst of the shooting, a bullet struck Alex Puerta at the base of his left eye, fractured his skull from the inside and exited, destroying his right eye and cheekbone. Amazingly, Alex did not lose consciousness, despite the excruciating pain and nearly suffocating in his own blood.
“The guerrillas came down the rows to find those who were still moving, finishing them off with a machete blow to the neck,” he recalls. “They reached me and I told them that Christ loved them. ‘This one’s alive!’ they said, and hit me twice very hard. They broke two teeth and cut off an ear lobe, but the machete did not penetrate my neck. Then they left.
“At that moment I heard a voice say, ‘Fight for your life.’ I felt such a strength and vitality that I succeeded in breaking my bonds. It hurt, but God gave me strength. When help arrived, they found me sitting up.” Alex was the only victim to survive the massacre. Twenty-five of his Rancho Amelia co-workers, including several women, lay dead in the gully.
Survival has been difficult. Alex underwent five surgeries to rebuild his shattered face. Doctors told him that he would never see again. He remembers the long months of convalescence with nothing to do but sit at home with only the family dog.
Today Alex serves as a voluntary chaplain of Prison Fellowship, preaching in chapel services at the Bellavista National Penitentiary and counseling inmates. Some of the prisoners with whom he has shared the gospel are former guerrillas. At least one, he has learned, was involved in the massacre at Rancho Amelia.
Alex let it be known that he has forgiven each of the assailants who blinded him and killed his friends. “If one decides to follow Jesus, the foundation is forgiveness,” he says. “Without it, there is no real Christian life.”
Alex accepted an invitation from Open Doors to become a regular trainer for Standing Strong Through the Storm seminars offered throughout Colombia. Feedback from seminar participants indicates that Alex is particularly effective in teaching about forgiveness.
Today I will obey the Lord and forgive everyone who has hurt me.
Pray for Alex as he teaches SSTS seminars in Colombia. Pray that his students will also forgive.