DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas -- On Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, the Nicaraguan government held a second hearing in its case against 11 Nicaraguan Mountain Gateway pastors and three U.S. citizen pastors. During the hearing, the pastors were not allowed to be physically present in the courtroom, they could only attend over a video livestream.
Prior to the hearing, the judge held all the pastors in prison to await a trial date. She did not allow the prisoners to have any visitors, nor their attorney to speak to them. The pastor's attorney again requested to have the charging documents presented in order to prepare a defense, but the request was again denied.
On Jan. 17, 2024, the Attorney General of Nicaragua announced it was moving forward in pursuing charges against three U.S. citizens (Jon Britton Hancock, Jacob Britton Hancock, and Cassandra Mae Hancock) associated with Mountain Gateway, and 11 Mountain Gateway Nicaraguan pastors for allegations of money laundering and organized crime.
Mountain Gateway publicly stated in a release on Jan. 19, 2024, that it denies these allegations, and it is saddened by this situation. Mountain Gateway has diligently followed all legal requirements in the U.S. and Nicaragua that apply to non-profit and faith-based organizations.
Mountain Gateway has documentation demonstrating that the Nicaraguan government viewed and approved all funds that entered the country, and the organization operated under the government's oversight to ensure that all funds were used and managed appropriately.
In 2023, Mountain Gateway held eight mass evangelistic gospel campaigns in the country, with the support and assistance of the Nicaraguan government. Mountain Gateway fiscally operated under strict accounting from Mountain Gateway staff and budget reviews by the Nicaraguan government to account for every dollar associated with the events. No members of Mountain Gateway have personally profited from funds sent to Nicaragua for ministry functions.
Nicaragua has revoked the registration of hundreds of non-profit and faith-based organizations in the last five years, including most recently, expelling numerous members of the Catholic Church and seizing church property. In these cases, the government often includes the charge of money laundering or other financial charges as the reason for revocation.
Mountain Gateway's U.S. pastors have nothing to hide and have requested to have an attorney appointed to represent them in this legal process. Mountain Gateway does not understand why this is happening in a country that it loves dearly and has worked steadfastly to abide by the government's regulations and laws.
Since 2013, Mountain Gateway has served the citizens of Nicaragua through discipleship, church planting, feeding and clothing those in need, providing food, water, equipment, and recovery assistance during natural disasters, and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in mass evangelistic campaigns. Mountain Gateway's motivation was solely to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with the people of Nicaragua.
While Mountain Gateway's attorney and legal team are advising Mountain Gateway to trust the legal system, it does have questions. It appears this could be more politically motivated than legally motivated.
The Nicaraguan government has imprisoned 11 Mountain Gateway evangelical pastors, Walner Omier Blandón Ochoa; Maricela de Fátima Mejía Ruiz; 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.
The Nicaraguan government says nine of the above-mentioned pastors are innocent, but claims they were under the control of the three U.S. citizens and two of the imprisoned Nicaraguan pastors, Walner Omier Blandón Ochoa and Maricela de Fátima Mejía Ruiz. Even with the government’s claim of innocence, the pastors have been imprisoned almost two months without contact with their families.
Mountain Gateway does not understand the complexity of what is happening with the allegations made by the Nicaraguan government. Mountain Gateway has always strived to be respectful to the Nicaraguan government and has operated under its legal policies. These charges are based on erroneous information, and Mountain Gateway will do everything in its power to resolve this through diplomatic channels.
About Mountain Gateway
Mountain Gateway Order, Inc. focuses on discipling national leaders through house churches and corporate worship and training national pastors to reach the lost in their nation. Mountain Gateway also runs a ministry training school in the United States to teach believers to take the gospel of Jesus Christ into any context or culture, giving them the tools they need to succeed anywhere God has placed them, under any conditions.