I Want to Be More like Jhonatan
He just took on the Colombian Armed Forces and won. He used only nonviolence grounded in faith. He didn’t seek to take on the Colombian Army – they picked a fight with him. He just sought to keep the faith. He had right on his side and he knew it.
I want to be more like Jhonatan.
Earlier this year I asked for your support to help us #freeJhonatan. He had been forcibly recruited by the Colombian Army in March 2013. The Colombian Armed Forces believed that because Colombia has mandatory military service for all young men (with a few exceptions) that they had the right to take Jhonatan against his will. But Jhonatan told them something else… that fighting wars and taking lives was against God’s will. Jhonatan said that he was a Christian and that Jesus said we should love our enemies, not kill them, so he refused to serve. At this point, Jhonatan didn’t know that international law and the Colombian constitution both guarantee any individual’s right to freedom of conscience.
The Colombian Army shipped him off to a remote outpost in Colombia’s eastern plains, near the border with Venezuela, a region where leftist guerrillas and rightwing neo-paramilitary armies control territory and regularly skirmish with the Colombian Army. Jhonatan was ridiculed for his faith. He was told that he must be confused because other Christians happily took up arms. Jhonatan kept saying no.
Eventually Jhonatan and his fellow recruits were given a brief home-leave. He decided not return to the base. In the eyes of the army he had gone AWOL. In Jhonatan’s eyes this was the only way to keep the army from continuing to violate his freedom of conscience. By now Jhonatan understood that he was a C.O. and he had rights in Colombia.
Jhonatan once again enrolled in his hometown university and began studying mechanical engineering. Then on September 4th he was stopped by police outside the university and asked for his I.D. The army had put out a warrant for his arrest and the police detained him on the spot. What the army didn’t know was that in the interim, with the help of the CO project at Justapaz – a Mennonite peacebuilding and advocacy organization and Global Ministries partner- Jhonatan had appealed for his release and his case had made it all the way to the Constitutional Court.
The following day the police turned Jhonatan over to the Army and he was held at the Nueva Granada Battalion in Barrancabermeja. Two weeks later, the Constitutional Court ruled that the army was in fact violating his inalienable right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom, ordering his immediate release. Shortly thereafter, Jhonatan walked out of the military prison into his mother’s embrace and into a spotlight that he had never sought. TV cameras from all the major stations in Colombia were there to record his story.
Jhonatan’s case came about at a crucial time. Just as the Colombian government and Colombia’s largest guerrilla group are nearing the completion of a second year of negotiations and the country is seriously contemplating the possibility of ending this armed conflict, Jhonatan and many other Colombian COs, both Christian and secular, are saying they want nothing to do with the fighting.
Jhonatan reminds me that Micah’s encouragement “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” in war zones such as Colombia and the streets of the United States, can be truly revolutionary. I want to be more like Jhonatan.
Michael Joseph serves with the Restoration, Life and Peace Commission of the Council of Evangelical Churches (CEDECOL) in Colombia, South America. He provides a pastoral critical presence to church leaders and lay people who are living in life-threatening situations. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciple’s Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.