The Pentecostal pastor was one of the first to come down from the mountains to the government camp here.

Other refugees who followed him tell of turning themselves in to the Army out of fear and desperation after government forces burned them out of their village and for four months hunted them in the rough hills of Quiche province.

But Tomas Gusaro Gallego of the Pentecostal Church of God in the hamlet of Salchil gives another reason for his decision and that of his flock.

"The guerrillas told us there is no God, there is no Devil, that there is no Hell and that time has no end," said the fundamentalist preacher. "But we saw that on the part of the government there is God, there is a Devil and there is Hell."

Many Guatemalans say that under the born-again Christian president, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who states that his current power and position represent the will of God, the campaign against leftist guerrillas has become a fight not just for the hearts and minds of the Indian peasant majority but for their souls.

Faith has become a crucial weapon in this country where the Roman Catholic Church traditionally has predominated, while many Indians in rural villages still worship ancient animistic spirits and each act of life is invested with mystical significance.

The Rios Montt government has openly encouraged, worked with, and enjoyed the support of a new wave of fervent Protestant evangelism that has swept much of the nation and the region.

Rios Montt "accepted the gospel" four years ago and is an elder of the Christian Church of the Word, a branch of the Evangelical Gospel Outreach begun in Eureka, Cal., in 1970. Many of his closest advisers, Guatemalan and American, also are church elders.

Much of the "civic action" in areas of conflict such as Nebaj, including the construction of the refugee camp here, is assisted by a new Foundation for Aid to the Indian People tied to the president's church.

The guerrillas often have found valuable allies in, and sometimes have grown out of, a Catholic Church imbued since the late 1960s with determination to help the poor and oppressed in a country where the military and a wealthy minority reigned.

In the last few years, the Army's all-out war on the rebels, which antedated the March 23 coup that brought Rios Montt to power but intensified afterward, has often been directed against clerics and lay Catholic workers.

There is now some effort to mend fences with the Catholics, particularly as a visit by the pope is expected by early March. But senior military commanders still blame priests for organizing and radicalizing the Indians.

A top Army commander in Quiche, tracing the origins of the Guatemalan insurrection, blames "religious groups" who supplied aid to the devastated countryside after the 1976 earthquake and priests who in some cases, he said, were teaching their parishioners how to build man-traps and mines.

Some priests did join the guerrillas as combatants. Others were forced to flee the country, and still others--at least 10, including one American--were killed under circumstances that suggested government responsibility. The remainder were largely compelled to maintain a fearful neutrality in the face of menace by the authorities. In the last year, many Catholic rectories and churches in Quiche have been turned into Army barracks.

Such persistent pressures have atomized many Indian communities, breaking down traditional organizational and hierarchical structures such as a form of village council, intimately tied to the Catholic Church, that has its roots in pre-Columbian Mayan culture.

After years of relatively slow growth, evangelicals now claim to have converted 22 percent of Guatemala's almost 7 million people.

In some Quiche villages, according to Paul Townsend of the evangelical Wycliffe Bible Translators, who has lived in the area on and off since 1974, "in order to survive, many of the Indians had to to change religion or disassociate themselves" from the Catholic Church and some of its more militant organizations, such as Catholic Action.

Evangelical churches in many villages, founded on personal revelation rather than any institutionalized theology, have shown a marked tendency to split up into bitterly jealous factions, which then form new churches.

As community organizations have broken down, of course, the chance of united opposition to the government has been greatly reduced. In Chimaltenango, capital of one of the most heavily contested provinces in the war, there are 30 separate evangelical churches.

Santiago Atitlan, where American priest Stanley Rother was killed, is particularly divided. Rother, described by friends as a "good ole boy" from Oklahoma who came in 1968, was murdered on July 28, 1981.

The government of then-president Romeo Lucas Garcia charged some of Rother's Guatemalan helpers with killing him in the act of robbing the church. But Rother was known to be on a death list as a possible subversive because some of his parishioners were suspect and a radio he managed broadcast in the local Tzutujil language, unintelligible to soldiers stationed in the region.

The "suspects" in the case have since been released for lack of evidence and no further investigation is under way, according to officials in the area.

Since Rother's death there has been no resident priest in Santiago, but there are at least 12 separate evangelical denominations with resident pastors and yet another new temple is currently being built just a block from the old white-walled Catholic church.

The pastor of the new church, who asked not to be named lest he have problems with his neighbors, said he was with the Assembly of God, but about a year ago "I felt the desire on the part of God for me to form another church."

Critics say many such decisions come less from God than from a desire for a bigger share of the collection plate or the simple egoistic boost of controlling the microphone in the services.

A group of Mormon elders proselytizing in Santiago--none was older than 21----laughed when asked about the evangelicals. "They're always fighting," one explained. The Mormons, one of Guatemala's fastest growing religious groups, said they have baptized 80 Santiago residents. Some priests suggest that the rise of divisive religious influences is the result of government policy.

"What we were basically trying to do was strengthen the communities, lift the cloak of poverty but leave the basic structure," said one Catholic priest steeped in the post-1968 theology and practice of his church. "With this, I think we became a threat to the government. This had to be broken down and the best way to do that was with evangelicalism."

But some progressive Catholic clergy say the crisis in the church here lies more in themselves than in some kind of religious covert action.

One foreign priest with almost 20 years in Guatemala wondered about the value of basing a ministry on "liberation theology," tied to eminently post-industrial ideas of social justice, in a world that is essentially pre-Columbian.

Another, once suspected by the government of ties to the rebels and still leery of being quoted by name, said wearily after a long round of Christmas services in some of Guatemala's embattled mountain villages, "I think both sides are bad.

"I think the people should have real, true social change. But the guerrillas can offer no way for the Indians to be what they want to be. If they are Marxist, what can they offer to a culture based on the spirit?"

Many conscientious evangelical missionaries were in remote villages long before the new wave of priests arrived, the priest said, and "I keep asking myself, why should the Catholic Church be so resentful if it is losing people to the evangelicals? What's wrong with the Catholic Church? That should be the question. And what about the Spanish conquest, if you want to talk about the church destroying culture?"

The priest recalled giving a midnight mass--actually at 7 p.m. so the faithful return home in relative safety. "Some soldiers came in. They've got their machine guns and grenades and they take off their hats and there they are praying like any other Indians. One of them was a charismatic Catholic. He had his Bible in his hand and afterwards he told me, 'Father, this is my other weapon.' I didn't know what to think.

"One of the things we keep trying to do is stop the killings. On both sides, stop the killings. Is that going to bring about the deep social change that is needed or not? Probably not. But the gospel tells you to love and forgive. It tells you," he concluded, "that violence begets more violence."