“In the early 1980’s, there was a war. Our three cities of the Ixil triangle were the most affected area of Guatemala. Before the war, I lived in a village just past Belen with my father. We were very poor. I would go with my Dad to the farms to work, but I remember always being barefoot because we had no money for shoes.”
“I got married when I was 20 years old. My bride was eighteen, and we got married just as the war was starting to heat up. We were married without a ceremony, far from the village in the mountains as we hid from the troops. Usually weddings are a happy event, but our wedding was not happy because we were terrified of the violence that surrounded us.”
“We were eight months pregnant with our first son when we finally left our home and went into hiding. Earlier in the day, the forces began to burn the houses in our village with the people still in them.”
“My Dad was tortured to death because he was an evangelistic pastor. The Guerillas liked the Catholics and they hated Protestants. The Guerillas hated my Dad because he preached and didn’t seem to fear them. They would force both of us to the ground at gun point and laugh at us. Once they took Dad’s Bible and burned it in front of him.”
“They made my Dad go to his house and get his pick and hoe. They marched him out of the village and into the mountains, and they made him dig a hole. When he was done, they shot my Daddy and pushed him in the hole as he fell. In those days the Guerillas refused to bury the dead, and so they threw only several shovels of dirt over his body. It was a month before I was brave enough to return to my Dad’s grave. Wild animals and dogs had eaten the body, as they did to all the bodies the Guerillas left lying around the mountains. I collected the bones and took them back to my village.
” Ana, Nicolás’s wife, said, “When we were pregnant with our first baby, I prayed for God to protect us. The night my baby was born, there was much gun fire. So Nicolás and I…we ran away to the woods and hid in the darkness. The Guerillas were burning houses and killing people so we had to leave even though I could hardly walk. I remember it was raining. We were walking in the darkness when my baby fell out below me. I had no pain. Nicolás picked up the baby and wrapped him in a piece of plastic to keep him warm. It was the only thing we had. ”
So we fled the mountains and were heading to Cotzal when the baby died. He died of coldness. He was never well. But we couldn’t keep him warm because we had only the plastic.” Ana wept as she related this story. Nicolás added, “After my Dad was murdered, the Guerillas started asking my friends where I was. I could no longer trust anyone, so I hid. But I didn’t fear the Guerillas, like my Dad hadn’t feared them, because I knew God was alive and would save me even if I did die. In the woods, late at night, my wife and I would pray, and I started to preach in the villages as my father had done.
Once we were at the village of Oleguana and the Guerillas were closing in on us. I was warned by others to not go to Cotzal because they were telling everyone they were looking for me and wanted me dead. It was raining hard. I wore a plastic bag that covered my face. The road curved so I could not see who was coming towards me, and I met the Guerillas on the curve in the road. But they didn’t recognize me. To this day I’m sure it was the prayers my wife and I did daily, for God to save us. To protect us.
In the woods we had nothing. We ate green corn where we could find it. Sometimes we went several weeks without eating. I don’t know how we survived. Only God knows.” Nicolás was chased both by the leftist Guerillas and the opposing Guatemalan Army soldiers.
“The soldiers, they would kill anyone. If they accused you of being a Guerilla, they would kill you even if you were not a Guerilla. If they didn’t like you for any reason, they would kill you. Sometimes they just killed for no reason.”
“The soldiers were worse than the Guerillas, so one night I decided to go back to our village above Belen. But the Guerillas, when they saw me, shot me in the shoulder as I fled for my life.”
“I could not work for a year after that.” “After the war finally ended, I got as job with the government to teach people how to farm. But I was illiterate. And yet…they still hired me. It was God. God saved me. He is stronger than any war, or any soldier, or any Guerilla.
After the war I went to school, and studied at the primary school and graduated to the Basico level. Then I went on to the next level. When I was studying, my contract with the government ran out. There was no high school I could go to. And then…Agros hired me. On the last day of my government job, Agros hired me.”
David Carlson of Agros recalled, “One day, not long after being promoted to the role of a village development specialist working directly alongside the members of a new Agros village, Nicolás was shocked to come face to face with two of the men who had killed his father. He’d burned their faces into his mind from that horrible day.
Confronted with a choice of revenge or forgiveness, Nicolás said, “I knew I had only one choice because of all I’d been forgiven by Jesus, even though everything within me cried out for justice…for revenge…because of the horror that had traumatized us all. So, I looked at these men, asking God for strength as I did, extending them the same grace given to me, telling them who I was and that I forgave them for murdering my father, inviting them to help me lead their village.”
David added, “Neither Nicolás nor the men were the same after that, making significant strides, emerging as leaders in their community, with the story of Nicolás’s self-denying, grace-filled act spreading encouragement for others to do likewise throughout the entire region, just as his ever ready smile did to all those fortunate to meet him.”
Nicolás will be greatly missed by us all, by Agros staff, but most particularly by his wife of thirty years, Ana Sajic Perez, and his six surviving children.