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When the Bolivian Ex-President Hernando Siles Reyes Accepted Christ
By Walter Manuel Montaño
…the Roman Catholic Church has been in a most favored position in Latin America for over four hundred years, and yet during these centuries has produced so very little in the way of morality and social uplift. What Latin America needs is the Gospel of Christ in all its power and beauty, the Gospel which presents Christ as the only Savior and Mediator.
This is the reason that Protestant Missions have gone into Latin America to make the Savior Himself known, to preach Christ to the multitudes, who, like the great President of Bolivia, Hernando Siles Reyes, have waited so long to hear of Him.
"If anybody with greater strength than I should try to force me to take an interest in religion,” said Dr. Siles, "I would rather jump from the tower of the church and kill myself.” Was this the language of an agnostic or the expression of an atheist? No! It was only the cry from a distorted heart – the voice of a great soul in anguish. Dr. Siles, the patriot who loved his country as very few did, who sacrificed everything, even his life and the security of his family, trying to bring happiness to his nation, was not a coward or a weakling to speak this way. It was only his natural reaction when I mentioned to him the singular value of Christianity, and was just beginning to tell him that the real happiness could only be attained in Christ as the only Savior of men.
On one occasion, Dr. Siles wanted to spend the day with us in a country town outside of Lima, Peru, where he was sent as Bolivian Ambassador after he finished his presidency. Again, when I approached him with a spiritual message, his reaction was the same – that "religion” had been the greatest deception in his life.
"As president of universities,” he said, "I used to advise the students to take religion seriously. When I was elected President of the nation, the religious leaders were visiting me all the time – I knew all the bishops and archbishops. Document after document of their procedure would come to my presidential desk; through their actions I saw their hearts … no honest citizen would become a tool in their hands
The Church did not receive special favors from me, and when some of their unjust requests were not granted, at their instigation fanatical mobs were prepared to burn my house; furious as wild beasts, they attempted even to pluck out the eyes of one of my children.
The high Roman Catholic authority who spoke to the people: ‘God’s destiny is immutable. This man is a curse to the nation. He must be put out!’ was the same ecclesiastical authority who during my presidency spoke to the same people using the same words: ‘God’s destiny is immutable. This man is God’s choice for the nation. Let us follow and keep him.’ ”
As Dr. Siles finished telling us his experiences, he reiterated: "If anybody should force me to be interested in religion, I would prefer to commit suicide.”
God used us to bring that great man, not merely to religion, but to the loving arms of the living Christ, who came to this world to heal the brokenhearted. For the first time, Dr. Siles discovered the message of Christianity. From that day on, many times he telephoned us from the palace of the embassy: "Will you come to visit me? Bring your wife and your children. I just finished having my diplomatic reception. I am tired. Let’s have another talk. Do not forget to bring the Book (the Bible).”
Our visits would invariable end with the reading of the Scriptures. While Catholic religion brought to Dr. Siles’ heart that bitter spirit, the Gospel that works a transformation brought him peace.
In my study there is a photograph showing Dr. Siles standing between my daughter and me. This picture was taken soon after this wonderful experience came to him and produced such happiness. This man of Universities who was so familiar with the American legislation that he wrote over fifteen volumes of Latin American Legislation, is smilingly expressing in his wondering eyes the joy of being a different man.
What a change would have come to Bolivia, humanly speaking, if Dr. Siles had lived longer. One day a letter came from General Enrique Peñaranda del Castillo, President of Bolivia (Peñaranda's cousin, Nestor Peñaranda, was a well-known Methodist Evangelical missionary who worked among the Indians of La Paz), in which he said that Dr. Siles was the only man who could bring peace to a nation in unrest and asked him to go to Bolivia for that purpose. Dr. Siles called me and some of his friends for consultation. He knew that my interest were not political, but he wanted to have advice from a Christian man in this case of emergency. At a sacrifice to himself, but in imperative service to the nation, he accepted the leadership of the government, while thousands of people were waiting in Bolivia to give him a great reception. But… on his way back to La Paz, at Arequipa, Peru, he took ill and was sent back to Lima by plane. Just before his plane landed, Dr. Siles passed away. A Mr. Sanjinés, who accompanied him all this time, said to us and to others: "The calm, the peace that Dr. Siles showed up to the last moment indicated that he was not afraid of leaving this earth, because a better world beyond was prepared for him.”
At the request of Mrs. Siles, we spent the following days before the burial service at the palace of the embassy receiving visitors and doing everything possible to make things easier for her. The body of Dr. Siles was lying in state in one of the reception rooms of the embassy. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru and his wife came to present their condolence to the family. As they entered the room, the Foreign Minister’s wife, of the strongest supporters of the Roman Catholic Church, said in a loud voice heard by all present, "Well, there lies an atheist. Too bad that he was a renegade to the faith.” A little later, we brought her aside and explained to her the meaning of true Christianity. She said: "But I heard that he never wanted to recite the rosary, that he used to say: ‘While it takes you years to contact God with the rosary, it takes me one second to come to God.’ What an heresy!”, she said. We answered the Foreign Minister’s wife, "That was the language of true Christianity; Dr. Siles was a real follower of Christ.”
At a time like this, when Mrs. Siles was suffering the greatest sorrow of her life, there was also comfort for her. When many times she would ask us: "Do you think that I can ever see him again in eternity?” we answered with the fourteen chapter of John. Dr. Siles trusted in Christ, we told her, and by the grace of God and the forgiveness of his sins he was saved. If you do the same thing, the same faith will make you heir of the promise: "Where I am, there ye may be also.”
Yes, there is hope beyond the Purple Curtain. As long as men and women open their hearts to the love of God, there will be transformation, power, and life to make them new creatures!
Reference: Montaño, W. M. Behind the Purple Curtain. Chapter XIII – Blood in the Curtain. Cowman Publications, Inc., Los Angeles, pp. 189-193. 1950.
Regarding his offspring: "Hernando Siles’ older son, Hernan Siles Zuazo, became himself Constitutional President of Bolivia, ruling from 1956 to 1960, and again from 1982 to 1985 (Siles Zuazo is the one that brought to justice the prominent Nazi Klaus Barbie). Siles Reyes’ younger son Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas was acting President of Bolivia for a few months in 1969 (Siles Salinas was respected for his steadfast stance in defense of democratic principles).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hernando_Siles_Reyes