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2014 – Colombia

A Colombian Awakening

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I was excited for this trip to Colombia because it was a great opportunity to return to a country that is close to my heart and the heart of my family. I knew about the culture, the smells, the sights and these were the driving force behind any effort that I put into fundraising or research. Looking back on the past two weeks, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the richness of this experience has exceeded any expectation that I had for what this trip held for me.

Early on, we received a brief overview of the history of the conflict here between the military, guerilla armies and the paramilitaries. This brief overview gave us a framework and timeline to place in our minds the stories that we would hear from across the country. One of these stories is that of Narcico.

Narcico was targeted by the paramilitary 5 years ago. They broke into his house at 7pm and fired three shots. The last of them went through his mouth and out his neck. His wife cried for help but no one came. With only the clothes on their backs, they and their 5 year old granddaughter fled the farm. With an incredible amount of prayer, Narcico survived. Even with nothing to his name and no land to call his own, he was able to contact an acquaintance in the city of Sincelejo in the district of Sucre. The church of this man helped Narcico to survive and become healthy. In his broken state, he longed for purpose and told us that he felt entrapped by his helplessness.

The department of Sucre has been a dramatic area of the Colombian conflict. The conflict was over the good land so the farmers were abused and displaced. Uribre, the former Colombian president, ended the official conflict in the region but the aftermath is still filled with violence. Narcico was given the opportunity to farm a plot of land that had been deforested for cattle grazing. As a result, it was viewed as undesirable land. It had been mistreated. Narcico made it his goal to do for the land what God had done for him. He started to rejuvenate the farm through “Farming God’s Way,” which I found inspiring. He planted fruit trees and gardens, there where livestock walk around freely, and by the way he talked about the land, it was clear that he cared about it deeply.

I was raised in the city and don’t know the first thing about farming. However, I have always had a love and a close connection with nature. While we walked through the land that Narcico has helped come back to life, I had an awakening to the reality that this non-industrial, non-commercial partnership that Narcico had with the land that God had blessed him with was the most respectable lifestyle that I had ever witnessed. This walk came at a time in my life when every seemingly important question revolves around my “calling” or my “purpose”. As I’ve looked at the lifestyles of those around me, those I respect, I can’t help but see a rebukable sense of ownership over the land and the materials that we claim from it. Walking with Narcico was incredibly reassuring to the effect that I couldn’t find a lie that he was working to prove as truth. His purpose made sense through his suffering.

The inspiration that came from Narcico’s life was inspiring as were the many other stories that we heard along our journey. When people now ask me how fun Colombia was, or to tell them all about it, its staggering to just talk about the sights and the smells, how the food was, or how bad my sunburn is (although that’s a fair topic). I came back with a longing to change our sense of purpose and am so thankful to have met some people and organizations that are building peace through peace.

Prophesy as Advocacy

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The other day in church at SCV, the first Sunday being back after our trip to Colombia, Peter Fitch talked about scripture and speech.

James 3:1-12 “Taming the Tongue”

Proverbs 10:19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues

As Peter continued his talk about scripture and speech I could not help but think about all the stories I had heard in Colombia. The people whose lives are being destroyed because of economic international interests, Canadian mining companies and armed groups who continue to displace and massacre rural communities throughout Colombia. I remember what it felt like to hear the people’s stories of suffering, a sort of suffering that I will truly never really know.

However, although their stories were of the suffering that had been afflicted on them I could not turn away from the fact that the grace of God was in every story. There was more faith in God than I will ever know, because in many situations God is all these people have to turn to. James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. I believe that these people, the people who shared their stories are alive because of their faith in God. The hope they hold onto even in the midst of the continued conflicts and tensions. In Walter Wink’s newest book, “Just Jesus,” he writes: “Consequently, people who have difficulty believing in prayer, or spiritual healing, or the life or the spirit, or God, are, in my experience suffering far more from a worldview problem than a theological problem” (pg.51). I can not help but agree with Walter. Sometimes I wonder where God is in North America, but then I don’t have to rely on God; I already have everything… (sarcastically said).

Yet Romans 3, as Peter shared, demonstrates that people need saving from God. All people need saving from God.–The ones who suffer, and the ones who inflict suffering. Other scriptures that Peter highlighted in relation to scripture and speech:

Luke 6:45  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Ephesians 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

I couldn’t help but think about what Peter was saying in relation to everything I had learned about in Colombia. The word Prophesy in relation to scripture and speech is about speaking on behalf of another, just as the disciples did for Jesus. It was here that I thought: Prophesy as Advocacy.

Over the last few years here at SSU, traveling and studying around the world I believe that part of my duty as a Christian and someone who has become more educated on global issues, is to retell and share the stories that I have heard. To be an advocate for the people whose voice often goes unheard. The 3 most important things we were told, as Canadians, that we can do for advocacy are:

doing an inventory of the CAD mining companies that are present in Colombia, many of them facilitate guerrilla groups.

history of those who have suffered, we often become very comfortable in the present moment and forget about the suffering.

engaging in dialogue with refugees who have come to Canada, help them influence our Nation, let their stories be heard.

My blog about my time in Colombia is not a reflection of what I experienced, because I do not know if words can express what I felt at times. People often ask me what my favourite places are, they ask me about the beautiful scenery of the places I have been to. But, how can I truly answer that?

Every place holds a beauty of their own if you are willing to open your eyes and see, but it is not just to see the beauty through your own eyes but, to see the beauty of each place through the eyes of the people who call it home. The people are the ones who make each place I travel to so beautifully unique, it was what makes every place I visit a deep and enriching experience.

My blog, therefore, is Prophesy as Advocacy. To speak on behalf of those whose suffering is forgotten. For the poor who truly know the grace of God. I write this post as a reminder, as an advocator, for the individuals and communities who, despite their suffering, continue to have hope for the peace in the future of their country.

 

God is in the Poor 

by Nicole Leger 2014

 

In the end we will all go home

We will forget the faces of those who have suffered,

Those who have been displaced and

We will forget what we saw when we looked into their eyes.

 

We will go back to a life where we allow an emptiness to be filled with false images,

Relying on a system, which only seeks capital gain.

The people will be forgotten because we are caught up in a world, which uses violence to gain progress; and it is the poor who suffer more while the rest of the world remains blind.

 

Where is God in all of this?

God is not in the corporations, the mining companies, or the armed groups…

God is in the poor.

 

The poor who remain to have hope and those whose faith calls out to the land.

God is in each of us, but we must become the poor to truly know who He is and what He is capable of.

 

Way Up on The Mountain

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This journey began crossing borders and time zones; re-establishing the value of human-appointed currency while greetings pass through handshakes and kisses on cheeks. Seeing this all for the first time I am speechless in the face of poverty yet awed by the smiling faces that greet me through every door . There is a bond between the people and their land; one that desires identity through community and relationship.

We spent three peaceful nights at a farm run by Sambrandopaz where we learnt about the hardships of peasant farmers in an environment where armed conflict threatens their lives. We visited the village of Pichelyn, a community that has experienced massacres and displacement. They spoke about the mind of a community as they work together to make their town beautiful again.

I have  not seen complacency here, no idleness, no wasted days.

Speaking as an outsider to Colombia, a third party if you will, a tendency of mine is to see one party as good and the other as evil (the average colombian citizen and farmers vs arms groups and corporations). Being faced with the reality of  these two sides makes the humanization of both parties possible encouraging more empathy and understanding than there was previously. I’ve been caught in a mindset of solutions yet quickly realizing that I can solve nothing.. and perhaps I’m not meant to.

It has been the mission of MCC and their partners in the region to combat the cycle of violence that has interrupted this country for decades. Many of the leaders we encountered had the same hope of reconciliation, crafting ideas and ways in which forgiveness can be made possible and communities can begin healing themselves. Miroslav Volf captures the vicious cycle of violence perfectly when he says, “In addition to infliction harm, the practice of evil keeps re-creating a world without innocence. Evil generates new evil as evildoers fashion victims in their own ugly image.”

Our group was taught that a community needs two wings and two feet, like a bird, before it can fly. Organizations like Sambrandopaz are in place to bridge the gaps between communities, finding opportunities for them and their leaders to grow through networking and team-building. There will be struggles and there will be successes both existing to braid the fabric of a future built on hard work, perseverance and unity.

This image of hope is painted beautiful with a thousand strokes of the brush held by a thousand different hands. I don’t understand how it is all possible yet but I am inspired by the possibility of hope for the Colombian nation and also for my country.

 

The Metaphor of Metamorphosis

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Colombia is a country that might best be described as “complicado.”

Having a population only slightly larger than Canada, it has a history that is criss-crossed by violent upheavals, an armed conflict that has lasted for almost a century and comprised of enough players to make your head spin.

Having coordinated with Mennonite Central Committee, our team of students and teachers have been almost two full weeks in the country, connecting with various partners of MCC who work in areas of aid, agriculture, psychosocial support, politics, and more.

Out of the many impactful experiences our crew has had on this trip, I want to highlight one of the days we spent with MCC’s partner, Sembrandopaz.

 

Sembrandopaz, which means “sowing peace,” works with four different communities in the Monterria and high mountain region.

We heard first from Ricardo Esquivia.

He unfolded for us a beautiful vision of supporting and strengthening communities, and he challenged us also, saying that the academic world was not created to deliberate amongst its own members, isolated, but that it was created to serve the community.

He talked about the history of the armed conflict, beginning with a period in the 1800s known as La Violencia and leading up to today. It is a hard road. There are many setbacks. At times it can seem hopeless to be an advocate for non-violence and justice. What is a human in the face of senseless violence? What is a mere body against the violent tide, a fragile body thrown against the rocks by a surging tide of power and elitism and violence.

He says that justice is a long endeavour, and that change does not happen overnight.

“We have visions, but we must have patience; we are dreaming of butterflies, but working with caterpillars”.

 

Later, we heard from Narciso, a campesino, or peasant farmer, who runs the Sembrandopaz farm outside Sincelejo.

He stood in front of a table covered in various fruits and vegetables that were produced on the farm, and proceeded to tell us his story.

He was a farmer and community leader in a town in another region of Colombia, and was targeted by a paramilitary group. He was attacked in his home and shot through the face and left for dead. Despite having to find a way to a hospital and losing immense amounts of blood from the wound in his jaw and throat, he managed to survive. He had a friend who happened to work for Sembrandopaz, and was offered a place to stay and work, and eventually became the farm manager.

As Narciso shared his story, talking about feeling helpless in a new place, useless without work, and hopeless as a result, he praised God and expressed his immense gratitude in being allowed to resume a life of dignity and meaning. For the campesino, working the land is their joy and their privilege.

As he spoke and shared his passion and his journey, the room seemed to change, in a way. I really felt that I was seeing the table of fruit in a completely different light; this was not just a pile of root vegetables; this was an altar of first fruits, the harvest of a holy profession.

Narciso held up a cluster of mangos and shared his appreciation for the simple fact of having grown them with his own two hands, something that cannot be measured or substituted. The land is his identity, and his connection to it was life-giving in a powerful way. and his belief is that tomorrow, or the very next day, he himself may be eating mangoes grown by someone else. We all need food, and he explained, saddened, that in the end, the campesinos are the true victims of the conflict and warring over drugs and land and politics, and this is a tragedy that affects the whole nation. Every Colombian needs to eat, and yet the campesino is often degraded and disregarded. His passion, resilient faith, and persistent hope were striking and beautiful to witness.

As he finished speaking, a butterfly came right into the cabana we were seated under, and flew around for the next fifteen minutes. It was a huge specimen, and we were all surprised and captivated by it’s graceful, unpredicable movement and curiously dull exterior, only catching glimpses of a brilliantly coloured interior wing pattern between wingbeats. We hadn’t seen any on the trip yet, and I felt that this was a beautiful symbol. This was one of the few people whose growth and restabilization have progressed enough over the time of their relationship with Sembrandopaz in which we were able to witness a more “butterfly moment” than we had yet seen.  As Ricardo said, we work with Caterpillars, but dream of butterflies.

I have high hopes for MCC and its partners as they continue to dedicate much time and heart to bringing new life and new possibility to communities that have been severely hurt by violence of the military groups, both systemic and chaotic.

Alan Sears managed to snap a photo, so I thought I’d include it.