Communist Nicaragua Launches Mass Arrests of Evangelicals Before Christmas

Daniel Ortega
INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images

The communist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua arrested 11 Evangelical leaders and launched an investigation into three Americans on Wednesday, accusing them of money laundering and inappropriate business dealings.

The 11 people detained are reportedly Nicaraguan leaders with Mountain Gateway Ministry, an Evangelical organization founded by Americans Britt and Audrey Hancock that, before the arrests, claimed to be attracting hundreds of thousands of people — possibly up to one million — to its events. The Hancocks also operate a coffee farm in Nicaragua that sells its product in America under the brand Rootline. Some reports prior to the arrests indicated that the Ortega regime was tolerant of Mountain Gateway, and some communist officials even attended the group’s events.

In remarks published by CBN in November, Britt Hancock said that God called him to bring Evangelical services to Nicaragua and confirmed ambitious plans for expansion in the country.

“In Jesus’s Name, by the end of next year, we will have evangelized an entire country,” Hancock declared.

Nicaragua is already evangelized. It is a majority Christian nation — about 85 percent of Nicaraguans identify as Christian, and about 50 percent of the total population is Catholic.

Mountain Gateway did not explicitly promote the Ortega regime’s agenda, but it had not faced any known prior repression and appeared to have the approval of the communist regime, as several high-ranking regime officials attended a massive event by the group in November, according to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa. The newspaper also reported the not-uncommon presence of repressive police forces praying alongside leaders of Mountain Gateway.

Mountain Gateway claimed to attract as many as 200,000 people per event as recently as late November.

“On Saturday, a multitude flooded the field, marking our biggest campaign yet,” the group wrote on its Facebook page on November 30. “An estimated 200,000 people were in attendance, but it’s not about the numbers. What matters most is that Emmanuel was there — God with us. And the crowd lifted Him up in worship.”

The group claimed to be preparing 13 Gospel campaigns for remote Nicaragua in that message:

A few weeks ago, Audrey and I were in Managua, Nicaragua, with Shake the Nations and Evangelist Nathan Morris for our…

Posted by Mountain Gateway on Thursday, November 30, 2023

Evangelical news outlets in the region reported on Wednesday that Nicaraguan police had detained 11 people associated with Mountain Gateway, believed to be imprisoned in Tipitapa, Managua, the central metropolitan area. In addition to the Hancocks, the Nicaraguan government is reportedly opening an investigation into a third American, Bruce Wagner, the owner of the Christian organization Shaking the Nations.

The Argentine outlet Infobae reported on Thursday that the crackdown on Mountain Gateway was one of several police actions on Wednesday. The Ortega regime also reportedly dissolved the corporate existence of ten NGOs operating in the country, including Mountain Gateway. Nicaraguan police also abducted Monsignor Isidro del Carmen Mora Ortega, the second bishop arrested, following his delivery of a homily in which he prayed for Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, the first Catholic bishop arrested by the Sandinista regime.

Nicaraguan Catholic bishop Rolando Alvarez speaks to the press at the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas church in Managua, on May 20, 2022. - Alvarez, a strong critic of Daniel Ortega's government, started on Thursday a hunger strike in protest against what he considers a persecution and police siege against him. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez speaks to the press at the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas church in Managua on May 20, 2022. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Ortega has waged war against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua since 2018, when student protesters organized an anti-communist movement in the country that he repressed with an eruption of state violence, killing hundreds of people. Church leaders offered sanctuary to the peaceful protesters and condemned Ortega’s repression, leading to Ortega arresting clergy members, shutting down churches, outlawing the Jesuit order, and seizing the bank assets of the Catholic Church in the country. Ortega has also severely repressed Catholic events in the country, reportedly threatening believers into not publicly engaging in common Catholic traditions of worship. Nicaragua sentenced Álvarez to 26 years in prison and rendered him a stateless person for publicly opposing communism. Álvarez was convicted of “treason” for publicly opposing communism.

Nicaragua Catholic

People wait for the arrival of the students of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), who hid overnight in a church during an attack by government forces at the Cathedral in Managua on July 14, 2018. (MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)

Mora, the bishop arrested on Wednesday, presided over an event celebrating the ninety-ninth anniversary of Álvarez’s diocese in his stead the day before, declaring that the leadership of the Church in Nicaragua was standing in solidarity with Álvarez.

“We are always united, praying for this beloved Diocese of Matagalpa, praying for Monsignor Rolando, praying for the paths of every one of you. We are united in prayer, in communion, in faith, in love, in tenderness,” Mora was quoted as saying. Mora cited a parable by Jesus in which he said a good shepherd would leave 99 safe sheep to find one that goes missing.

“We live in times, brothers, where we have to leave one to save the other 99,” he lamented, stating that this leaves sheep to find the shepherd on their own and “assume their missions.”

Evangelical groups have been largely silent in the face of the Catholic crackdown. Some have vocally supported the Ortega regime, which claims to be Christian, against the alleged encroachment of “Rome” on Nicaragua. The Vatican has done little for Álvarez, expressing “concern” and claiming to attempt to negotiate with Ortega.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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