Three U.S. citizens serving as missionaries with Mountain Gateway and 11 Nicaraguan pastors through the same organization have been indicted by the Nicaraguan government on charges of money laundering and organized crime. Texas-based Mountain Gateway, which seeks to disciple national leaders and train pastors in unchurched countries, denied the allegations in a statement in mid-January.
"These charges are based on erroneous information, and Mountain Gateway will do everything in its power to resolve this through diplomatic channels," Mountain Gateway stated.
The three missionaries – Britt Hancock, the group's founder and director; his son (Jacob Hancock); and daughter-in-law (Cassandra Hancock) – have also denied all charges.
Founder Britt Hancock appeared on Washington Watch Thursday afternoon. "We go into places where the gospel doesn't have native roots, then we raise up local leadership and see a self-replicating congregation develop," he explained.
All 11 pastors remain jailed in spite of the fact the government has said nine are innocent but were under control of the Americans, according to CBN News.
"Our lawyer saw them the other day. They're in a high-security place in shackles. They won't show us the charging documents, and they won't give our lawyer time with the clients," Hancock shared.
Mountain Gateway is not the only religious organization struggling with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Last week three priests were expelled, the Catholic News Agency reported. The Red Cross has been kicked out too.
Hancock told show host Tony Perkins the government's interest in the finances of Mountain Gateway came after the group's overwhelming success with mass evangelism – a revival that first came with the government's blessing.
"We got permission to do 20 mass evangelism crusades throughout the country. Every space that we got for a campaign, God filled it up with extremely desperate people. We had 200,000 people the second night. There was just a massive response. We had hundreds of thousands of people respond," he said.
Soon the focus for Hancock and his team shifted from reaching the lost to defending themselves.
Scrutiny from the Nicaraguan government
Mountain Gateway lived with the incredible pressure of constant government inspection and questions.
"We had government auditors in our office, unannounced sometimes in the beginning twice a month. They were looking at our books. We had to turn in a budget with a line item and tell them what we planned to do with every dollar," the ministry founder described.
"And then at the end of the month, they would come in and say, 'Okay, you said you were going to do this. Now show me the proof and the receipts that that's what you did.' And we did that for every single month, all year," he added.
Mountain Gateway has retained Nicaraguan legal counsel, but Hancock is hoping the U.S. will get involved.
"We're starting to get traction with some congressmen. We need more. We need the State Department to weigh in. We need Congress to do what they can to put pressure on the Nicaraguan government, so that they'll release our pastors who are innocent," he said.
The imprisoned pastors are: Marcos Sergio Hernández Jirón; Harry Lening Rios Bravo; Manuel de Jesús Ríos Flores; José Luis Orozco Urrutia; Álvaro Daniel Escobar Caldera; Juan Carlos Chavarría Zapata; Juan Luis Moncada; Orvin Alexis Moncada Castellano; César Facundo Burgalin Miranda; Walner Omier Blandón Ochoa; and Maricela de Fátima Mejía Ruiz.