Visiting the Displaced in Colombia
Scripture: Psalm 119:105-112
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O God, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O God,
and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end.
Tierra Alta, Colombia, July 6, 2008: We met with twenty-seven families who had to flee their lands and their village on June 23rd. One man had been disappeared (the phrase Colombians use when guerrilla or paramilitary death squads take someone) and, in the course of looking for him, the villagers had discovered that eleven other men of the village were also on the hit list. So, they gathered up what they could and left, knowing that none of them were safe. Now they were living in a school temporarily, scared, determined to stay together as a community, and distressed because this is the third time they have been displaced from their village since 1996, with little support or response from the government.
“I hold my life in my hand continually… The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts… they are the joy of my heart.”
There are close to 4 million people in Colombia living in displacement, internal refugees. Most of them have been farmers or had small family businesses in their villages. Now, living on the mountain hillsides outside major and minor cities in “zones of despair,” their future is bleak; yet often, they are resilient and full of faith, trusting that God will guide them and bring them out. They are not living there out of choice. Their homes are made of whatever wood, plastic, corrugated, or block they can find. Hillsides subject to landslides; no potable water; little electricity; no sanitary facilities and no ground to till.
There are signs of hope: in the work of Justapaz and Sembrandopaz, our Mennonite partners there, who have raised the money and worked with international non-government organizations (NGOs) and the government to acquire land to resettle families on farms. They are documenting the human rights abuses among the 10% of Colombians who are Protestant and whose abuse is disproportionate to others. They provide microloans to displaced people who show potential for starting a small business grinding corn or selling at a tienda. Teaching and empowering in the name of Jesus Christ, giving people hope and love in the name of God, weaving them together into strong communities by the power of the Spirit.
Every time I go to Colombia, I am struck by the powerful faith of the people I meet. Their resiliency and their praise of God astounds me. Even under the conditions I’ve described, they build churches, make music, create beauty, and care for one another. A faithful and faith-filled people, trying to live by God’s statutes, thankful for whatever they can be thankful for. So Allie Perry, Charlie Pillsbury and I (the three of us from CT on this trip) are committed to tell their story and to return again to Colombia. I invite you to pray for the people of Colombia, especially the villagers from Murmullo Medio, so recently displaced, and for the widow and four children who grieve, and for our Justapaz and Sembrandopaz partners. And I invite you to consider going with us next time, for a life-changing, faith-increasing experience.
O Keeper of all the peoples of the earth, we ask your blessing of genuine peace, justice and reconciliation for the people of Colombia. In the course of their lives, they have known so much violence and so much abuse! Hear their cries, and grant them the power they need to restore their lives and their dignity. We give you thanks for all those who work in civil society there, for faithful churches and NGOs, for human rights advocates and peace-builders, for faithful Christians who persist in your ways despite the precariousness of life and the intention of the wicked. Let your precepts be their guide and your joy the habitation of their hearts! In the name of Christ, Amen.