Colombia_-_Joseph_Spring_2016_pic1.jpgSpring conjures up the image of coming out of the cold darkness of winter into the warmth and light of spring that brings new life. This image resonates well with how 2016 is going so far for me and for our partners in Colombia.

I have been on home assignment since early January, which brought the challenge of facing a (thankfully mild) New England winter as I itinerated in Connecticut. As of this writing I am very much looking forward to itinerating in the Central Atlantic through the end of winter and into spring.

Meanwhile our partners in Colombia continue to plan for a springtime of peace as the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla near signing a peace accord. During the past several months much of my and our partners work has focused on working with the Interchurch Dialog for Peace – DiPaz to support the peace dialogs.

Colombia_-_Joseph_Spring_2016_pic2.jpgLast June the FARC guerrilla asked churches and civil society in Colombia to monitor their unilateral ceasefire. Understanding that this could pay tremendous dividends in peace for average Colombians, DiPaz responded positively and set out to develop a methodology for monitoring a ceasefire. Ultimately DiPaz joined with other churches and civil society organizations to create the Social Verification Group and publish monthly updates on the FARC’s ceasefire and the Colombian military’s commitment to no longer aerially bomb FARC camps.

DiPaz relied heavily on the methodologies and network that had been established during over ten years of joint human rights documentation work between the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia and Mennonite peace organization Justapaz (both Global Ministries partners). In conjunction with other churches we carried out a survey of pastors in rural regions of Colombia and many answered that the first months of the ceasefire were the most peaceful months that they had ever experienced. Praise be to God!

As of the writing of this newsletter the Colombian government and FARC guerrilla have reached agreements on four (rural development, political participation, illicit drug trade and victims) of the five topics that they agreed to negotiate, and seemingly good progress is being made on the fifth point (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration).

While hopeful of the fruits that may come from a peace accord, our partners in Colombia know that serious challenges to a lasting peace with justice still exist. Furthermore churches and faith-based organizations will be called upon to play many roles in a post-conflict (or post-accords) Colombia. So they continue to organize and plan on how best to meet the challenges of this historic moment.

Four faith-based organizations including our Global Ministries partner Justapaz have decided to create a new Peace Studies Center, to deepen their roles in human rights documentation, restorative justice, reconciliation and peacebuilding. They have asked that my next assignment to Colombia, starting in July 2016, be to support this new initiative.

I am looking forward to accompanying our partners in this new challenge and I am counting on your support!

Blessings and peace,

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.