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President of Mountain Gateway: “The abuses are clear. There is no religious freedom, nor justice in Nicaragua”

In this interview with LA PRENSA, John Britton Hancock explained how they organized evangelistic crusades with the Government and rejected the accusations and condemnations against the pastors of his ministry

John Britton Hancock, the international president of the Mountain Gateway evangelical ministry, left Nicaragua for the United States on December 1, 2023, 20 days after concluding the national evangelization crusades “Good News Nicaragua,” which were approved and promoted by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. He has no doubt that if he hadn’t left, he would be in prison.

In an interview with LA PRENSA, Hancock admitted that he witnessed firsthand that there is no religious freedom, much less justice, in Nicaragua.

The president of the ministry left the country 11 days before a brutal persecution began against the members of the ministry, leaving 13 people detained, now convicted of money laundering. “We thought everything was going well, but on December 12, 2023, suddenly, without warning, without asking for anything, the Police arrived at our base in Managua, and they took Walner Blandón Ochoa, our legal representative, and then arrested his wife Maricela Mejía, she was our administrator; our pastors, and crusade coordinators were detained as of December 16,” said Hancock.

It was the police officers, for whom he himself prayed, who embarked on the hunt against their 13 members, including pastors and two lawyers, who have had no communication with either family members or their lawyers since the day they were detained.

“The families have no communication with them, nor does the lawyers have communication with them, we have not seen any documents from the Government’s accusation. They canceled our legal status, seized all our properties, without any explanation. The accusation of money laundering and organized crime is insane. They say we laundered money, but every month government accountants were there reviewing our books, conducting an audit,” Hancock asserted.

Although he said he is unaware if the ministry members have already been convicted, he acknowledged that “we have heard that the trial has ended, but they (the members) do not have their freedom, now we are preparing an appeal. We have no communication with them, you can imagine how difficult it is to progress in official and legal matters when everything is happening in secret, we have no access to anything.”

The abuses are clear, there is no religious freedom

The president of the evangelical ministry said that when the police raided the offices, they took everything, from cell phones, computers, physical files, to all the documents stored there.

The pastor responded that the accusation against him and the ministry members is “completely fabricated, without a doubt,” emphasizing that “we have evidence, the government reviewed every dollar entering the country from people in the United States who made donations.”

When asked how it was possible for the Ortega government to allow him to carry out the national crusades amidst the brutal persecution of religious freedom, especially against the Catholic Church, the president of the ministry initially argued that he never had any connection with the regime and that his mission was based on proclaiming the Gospel.

John Britton Hancock during a press conference on the evangelistic crusades in Nicaragua. To his right is his wife Cassie Mae Hancock. Photo: Official Channel 2.

“What we talked about was the Gospel, not political matters, and one of the reasons they gave us when they granted us permission was that I was not a politician, that I didn’t get involved in politics, and that I was helping people. There was no connection with the Government, we were simply advancing the mission of Jesus Christ,” he stated.

Hancock confessed that they were aware of the persecution the Catholic Church was facing and were praying fervently. “We saw that the Catholic Church was being persecuted, we were praying a lot, the Government was expelling thousands of NGOs, and we were trying to do things right to avoid problems with the law, to be in good standing with the Government, and to allow us to work with the poor,” he emphasized.

When asked to assess the Ortega-Murillo Administration, he affirmed, “there is no justice, the abuses are clear, they persecute. There is no religious freedom.” Furthermore, he confessed that he has learned from sources in the US State Department that there are around a hundred evangelical pastors imprisoned in Nicaragua of whom no one is aware.

Evangelistic crusade at Plaza, Managua. Photo: El 19 Digital.

“Besides our own, there are a hundred more pastors in jail. What the government did and continues to do against Catholics is not fair; there is no religious freedom. In 2023, hundreds of pastors told me that there are informants within their churches, so they have to be very careful about what they say in their sermons, that they cannot speak against the government. That is not religious freedom; there is no freedom. Fear is everywhere,” he asserted.

He acknowledged that he never said there was religious freedom in the country, especially in 2023 when the evangelistic crusades were held. “I never said there was religious freedom in 2023. I say that God performed a miracle and used this government to say ‘yes.’ What we saw was a miracle because they were allowing the crusades to take place, but at the same time, they were persecuting the Catholic Church. There was no freedom; there was a window of miracle when God did something supernatural,” he emphasized.

Mountain Gateway conducted eight evangelistic campaigns with government support. From left to right, John Britton Hancock and his wife. LA PRENSA/Social media.

When asked if they ever publicly spoke out about the situation in the country under the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, he affirmed, “we were praying for peace and tranquility.” He also recounted that he had the opportunity to preach in the Congress (National Assembly) in 2019, and he did so with a verse that speaks about practicing justice, loving mercy, and humbling oneself before God.

“We were praying for them, I prayed to the Lord to give those offices, to the rulers, police, and officials, divine wisdom to administer justice, so that they would make good decisions to promote justice, peace, and to end all violence and crime. I was strongly proclaiming the Gospel. Also, I had the opportunity to pray for the Police, and I told them ‘be very careful,’ there is a God and what he wants is for you to be princes of peace, to protect the peace of the people. They called me pastor and bishop, I was telling them that they must fear God,” he asserted.

Efforts in Washington

Facing the panorama of brutal persecution, the pastor stated that he is in Washington DC making direct requests to the Biden administration through congressmen.

“I am in Washington DC petitioning my government to draw attention; the State Department is raising two resolutions in Congress condemning Nicaragua for these human rights abuses because they are clearly happening,” he pointed out.

Hancock revealed that he, his wife, and son are among the accused and that the dictatorship issued an international arrest warrant to the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).

“My son Jacob, my wife, and I were accused, and Nicaragua is using Interpol (International Police) to ask other Latin American countries to arrest us and send us to Nicaragua. They are persecuting us,” he stated.

“We have people helping us to involve and communicate with the Department of Justice and thus communicate with other countries and Interpol to cancel that order,” added the religious leader.

He also asserted that the imprisonment of Blandón and Mejía represents a serious violation of human rights because their children, one aged two months and the other two years, are American citizens who “are being deprived of the right to be together as a family because they were separated; the children are with their grandmother.”

On March 14th, four congressmen sent a new letter to President Biden expressing their deep concern about what happened in Nicaragua and urging him to “use additional specific sanctions and all available authorities to hold this repressive regime accountable,” all to support the Nicaraguan people and pressure the Ortega regime until “religious freedom and human rights are restored, democracy is maintained, and the release of all political prisoners is ensured.” Earlier, on February 17th, a total of 52 congressmen had requested the same.

Present in Nicaragua since 2013

Since 1997, Hancock and his wife Cassie (Cassandra Mae Hancock) left the United States to begin spreading the message of God as missionaries in Mexico, in remote communities where nobody attended. Their beginnings remind him of how they arrived in Nicaragua in 2013, but he never imagined that preaching the word of God and doing charity work would put him in an “unfair” situation as he describes it.

In this interview with LA PRENSA, the pastor detailed the work carried out by the Mountain Gateway ministry to help communities in Jinotega after the devastating passage of hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020. “We went there in 2013 and started working in the same way in rural areas, among farmers and communities in the rivers, mountains, in the northern region of Nicaragua,” Hancock recalled. Two years later, in 2015, he officially registered the organization and began to expand.

“We had legal representation and a full committee, and we started working harder. In 2017, we acquired a coffee farm and began operating there to expand. We worked for the communities around our farm in the Sierra de Jinotega, especially when hurricanes Eta and Iota hit,” he explained.

He added that at that time, members of his ministry began working for the most vulnerable, responding to storms and natural disasters.

“We had good success in rescuing thousands of Nicaraguan families on the Prinzapolka River. We provided food, zinc sheets for their roofs, water filters, tools, and seeds for replanting their crops. All while preaching the Gospel among farmers and in the mountains. In 2022, God touched my heart to ask the government for permission to hold a series of evangelistic crusades, and my idea was to have large outdoor events in different locations so that everyone, including farmers, could attend. We approached the government,” Hancock recalled.

On December 20, 2023, the Ministry of Governance (Migob), now the Ministry of the Interior, through ministerial agreement 117-2023, published in La Gaceta, ordered the cancellation of the legal status of ten non-profit organizations (NPOs), including Mountain Gate Order, Inc., through which the Mountain Gate Ministry operated.

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