GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA (Worthy News)-- Christians in Guatemala were mourning Monday, January 30, a pastor who was shot and killed by suspected drug traffickers on his way to a regional meeting of church leaders in a violent border area near Mexico.
'Church of God' Pastor Neftali Leiva, a father of five daughters, was gunned down last week near the gathering, said his denomination's territorial administrative bishop, Jose Clara Vela.
He added that the shooting was witnessed by another pastor.
The witnessing pastor was quoted as saying that an unknown assailant walked up to the victim without a word and shot him point blank several times. When the shooter saw the witness a short way down the street, he reportedly also fired three times in his direction.
“The assassin shouted, ‘I’ll kill you,[also]’” the elderly pastor was quoted as saying.
It is the practice in the violent area to leave no witnesses, Christians said.
The pastor apparently felt the bullets go by and impact the trees behind him, but was unhurt."God’s hand of protection covered me, and the man ran away,” added the unidentified pastor, who is reportedly involved in a new Church of God church just across the border in Mexico.
World Missions, a mission group supporting indigenous Christians, said it has set up a relief fund to help care for the murdered pastor's widow and children.
The border territory where the attack took place is only about 48 kilometers (30 miles) long, but is home to 73 Church of God congregations, Christians said.
Clara explained that 20 new churches were "planted" in the region in the last two years.
However he stressed that the latest killing underscores that the church is growing in an area suffering of violence caused by drug distribution and transit. “When we travel in the area, we go with the car windows down so people will see who we are and not confuse us with their enemies,” the overseer said in published remarks.
Christians said that the murdered pastor had been on leave for nearly a year because he had been severely injured when hit by a car. He and his family had been cared for by the territorial church office.
The church leaders meeting was to mark "his return to full-time ministry," Christians said.
It was not clear what prompted the killing and local authorities could not be reached for comment.