"The good thing is, the Lord has protected and sustained us"
LIMA, Peru (Nov. 20, 2003) - Colonel David de Vinatea, a decorated officer in the Peruvian army and an evangelical Christian, regained his freedom Wednesday after serving eight years and 10 days in prison for alleged drug trafficking.
De Vinatea walked out of the gates of Lima's Lurigancho Prison at 4:15 p.m., accompanied by his wife Chely, his sister, Mrs. Maria Elena Mazzerini, and his three adult children, David, Daniel and Pamela.
Later, friends and family members greeted the de Vinateas at their Lima home with a surprise homecoming celebration, complete with confetti and yellow balloons.
"Right now, I feel kind of strange," de Vinatea said, commenting on his long-awaited freedom. "Everything looks so new, so lovely, because when you lose your liberty, you lose everything.
"The good thing is, the Lord has protected and sustained us. My wife and my children have been strengthened and I was able to survive. Thank God, all that is over now."
Arrested on Nov. 9, 1995, while commanding an army base in the Amazon jungle, de Vinatea was sentenced in December 1997 to 16 years in prison for alleged involvement in cocaine trafficking.
Observers who closely followed the case became convinced that de Vinatea was not only innocent of the charges, but that high-ranking officials in the government of former president Alberto Fujimori falsely accused the respected army officer of wrongdoing in order to cover up their own illicit activities.
An international coalition of Christian organizations lobbied the Peruvian government to undertake a judicial review of the case. Largely due to their efforts, President Alejandro Toledo decided last year to commute de Vinatea's sentence, opening the way for his release today.
"We have seen a lot of cases of Christians going to jail for believing in Christ," said Open Doors Latin America director Richard Luna. "In David's case, he went to jail for obeying Christ. I think that we are going to see more of this kind of thing in the future."
During his incarceration, de Vinatea maintained a strong Christian witness, leading Bible studies for inmates and pastoring a small church inside Lurigancho.
"The most emotional moment for me today came as we were leaving David's cell block," Chely de Vinatea told Open Doors. "The inmates formed themselves into two lines on either side of the passageway, in a type of farewell salute to my husband. They said so many nice things to David as he walked out between them."
When asked what he plans to do over the next few days, David de Vinatea responded, "Rest. Maybe after eight years I will be able to sleep through an entire night. In prison, you don't sleep very well.
"Of course, after a few days' rest, I'm going to get in touch with Open Doors. I owe the Lord so much. I plan to dedicate myself as much as I can to the Lord's work."
De Vinatea had one final word for Christians around the world who supported him and his family with prayers and letters during their long ordeal.
"I once said that those letters were like oxygen for us. Every letter that arrived was a tremendous joy for me, because I knew there were brothers and sisters around the world praying.
"I used to tell the brothers in the church in there that we enjoyed a real luxury, the luxury of knowing that 24 hours a day, Christians in different continents and countries and time zones were praying for us. Praise the Lord!"
An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors, founded almost 50 years ago by Brother Andrew, author of the best-selling book "God's Smuggler," serves and strengthens the Persecuted Church in the world's most difficult areas through training, Bible and literature distribution, community development and personal encouragement. To partner with Open Doors call 949-752-6600 or go to our USA web site at www.odusa.org. To request a complimentary six-month subscription to our monthly newsletter Frontline Faith and prayer bulletin Prayer Force Alert call 888-5-BIBLE-5 or register on-line.