Adventists in North Mexico Mourn
Loss of Slain Pastor and Deacon
Two killed in “mistaken identity” shooting, leaders say.

Inter-American Division
eventh-day Adventists in Juárez, Chihuahua, in north Mexico, are stunned by the deaths of Pastor Lenin Avila Cortez and deacon Javier Zavala Rodriguez. According to local authorities, the two men were shot to death on the evening of May 18, while sitting in Pastor Avila’s vehicle outside Zavala’s home.
PASTOR AND FAMILY: The late Pastor Lenin Avila Cortez, pictured with his wife and son during a special ceremony held in an Adventist church in Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, last year.

Investigators said that Avila, 28, was shot three times, and Zavala, 30, was shot 17 times. Local church leaders believe the two had been visiting church members’ homes earlier, and that the shootings were a case of mistaken identity. Police are still investigating the crime and have not announced if they have any suspects.

“We are very saddened by this loss,” said Jose Luis Jimenez, president of the North Mexican Mission.  “This is the first time that any of our pastors or members have been affected so tragically in this region.”

“Pastor Avila was a young pastor growing in his ministry, and did excellent work in his district,” said Jimenez, who traveled from Mexico City for the funeral service, which was held Friday, May 21. Avila, who had seven years of service for the church, pastored nine churches and congregations, with approximately 700 church members in one of six districts in the North Mission region. His pregnant wife, Joana Gomez, and a 3-year-old son survive him.

DEACON: Javier Rodriguez
Javier Zavala, who was head deacon at the Zaragoza Adventist Church, worked closely with Avila, ministering to the church families in the region. His funeral service was held May 20 in his hometown of Zacatecas. Laura Lares, his wife, survives.

Church leaders are expected to have more answers about the circumstances of their deaths in a few weeks.

“This tragedy has brought a lot of concern,” said Jimenez. “I am worried for the 17 pastors, elders, and deacons in our districts who may be exposed to violence as they minister to the membership.” Jimenez said church leaders are planning to hold a special meeting with all of its pastors to establish precautionary measures to follow in order to avoid a similar tragedy.

“We know that the work must go on in the good times and in the difficult times,” Jimenez said.

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