Marked by three parallel Andean mountain ranges in the west and plains and Amazon rainforests in the east, Colombia is rich with beautiful scenery and diverse ecosystems. The fourth largest nation in South America and the only one with coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, it also enjoys a diverse population. Mestizos, those with both European and indigenous ethnic roots, comprise the largest group (over 50%). Three quarters of the population live in urban areas and are mostly Spanish speaking. Unfortunately, violence in Columbia has garnered more international attention in the last few decades than its natural beauty and diversity.
Since its freedom from Spain in 1813 and its formation as a country in 1831, Colombia has had a turbulent political history. In the 20th century, newly formed guerrilla and paramilitary groups began using violence to enact their political agendas. Many aligned themselves with profitable drug cartels, as Colombia is one of the world’s largest exporters of illegal drugs. The increased violence has caused significant economic and political instability, though a new constitution and governmental reforms in the last two decades have begun to loosen the cartels’ grip on Colombia. The economy is slowly growing as the country has begun to take advantage of the large oil and natural gas deposits as well as other rich natural resources within its borders. Regrettably, poverty (37%), unemployment (over 10%), and drug trafficking-related problems, including fear, continue to overwhelm Colombia’s population.
Roman Catholicism has long been a part of Colombian culture, and more than ninety percent of Colombians identify themselves as Catholic, though far fewer are practicing. Since the 1991 constitution, other denominations have been given religious freedom, and the evangelical church has grown significantly. The extremist paramilitary groups view this growth as a threat, and many have reacted with violence against the evangelical leadership. In the midst of the violence and great political changes, a growing number of national Christians are reaching out to those in their own country, and a small number are serving in other parts of the world.