On July 30, 2014, I received an email from the Consulate stating: “We have received authorization and your visa can be issued at the Swiss Consulate General in San Francisco.” At that moment, I was so excited and began jumping for joy in my small apartment in Denver. Within no time I was ready to travel abroad and study for a Complementary Certificate of Ecumenical Studies at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey/University of Geneva. “Switzerland, here I come!” was my exclamation.
On September 7, the day of departure, I made my way to Denver International Airport full of emotions and expectations. On September 8, I arrived on time in Geneva. I waited for some minutes outside of customs area before I saw a gentleman walking with a sign that said “Ecumenical Institute.” He drove me and a person from Madagascar to the institute where we were welcomed by staff and faculty. I was fascinated with the facilities and with the incredible view of the Jura Mountains and Geneva Lake!
During the Ecumenical Institute orientation of my first week in Bogis-Bossey, the coordinator, Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca, emphasized the importance of “diversity in unity and unity in diversity.” We were 34 students from more than 20 different countries and several Christian traditions and denominations including Methodist, Baptist, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, and others. I was there as a representative of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). What could I say? There I was living a "real" ecumenism. I had read many books and articles about what the director mentioned to us and had also participated in ecumenical meetings in Bogotá, Cali and Denver. However, what made this experience unique was that I was living an authentic and daily experience of ecumenism, sharing with people from different Christian denominations and cultures. I was there face-to-face with people from many places and the only language that connected us was English. Later, I would learn that there was another language that would not connect us, but would relate us: the language of the Spirit.
We were foreigners in the midst of strangers! Now the reality for most travelers was very different. Wasn’t it much easier and safer to stay home sharing with people whom I know for years and eating my favorite meals in Denver? It is difficult to move from our comfort zone. But I have to confess to my readers that I am an adventurer. I enjoy knowing people and learning from other cultures. In this sense, I observed myself through the eyes of the others, and many of those whom I called “strangers” were transformed as “friends” within a couple of months. This transformation best sums up the whole experience! We lived in the same three floor-dormitory building called Petit Bossey; we met together for having breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at the Chateau; we studied together in the library; we saw each other in the morning, afternoon and evening, even on weekends. The Petit Bossey and the Château of Bossey became a home for me. My room number was 85 in the first floor (ground floor in Swiss context). The staff here was equally great! They were so hospitable and kind with us! Today I have to say, paraphrasing Jesus’ words in John 15. 15, “I will not call them more ‘strangers,’ but friends.”
I also had some incredible educational opportunities. The institute provided me with advance learning of courses such as Ecumenical Social Ethics and History of the Ecumenical Movement. The interreligious ethics and ecumenical perspective that characterizes the institution was vital for shaping and deepening my knowledge of ecumenicism and also of my dissertation research interest. I also went on field trips to a Taizé community, the Vatican and Parish sites. Throughout the studies and field trips, one of the ideas that came to my mind was how the ecumenical world could be integrated as part of a Pentecostal social ethics framework which contributes to the development and liberation of marginalized communities, as well as open new possibilities for human flourishing. I had the chance to share these ideas with young students of theology and Bible in the Think Tank Theology event in October,* in which I was invited to be an expositor in Leysin, Switzerland. In addition, I was interviewed in January** for the WCC by Sandra Cox, a freelance writer and photographer. Through each of these experiences, I gained valuable insights and skills necessary for ecumenical work. They also served to help me deepen my analysis and discover the logics of power, injustice, and domination. I am indebted to all the professors who contributed with their knowledge and experience to advance my learning of ecumenicism!
The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace was our common call to join all churches and Christians in the ecumenical movement. It was a call “From ‘staying together to ‘moving together,’ ” as stated by the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC. I made a decision to embark on this pilgrimage for unity “not in theology, not in belief, not in practice; but unity seeking oneness in Christ [in love and service],” as we have lived and practiced in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Through my spiritual pilgrimage in Switzerland, I re-confirmed God’s call on my vocation to serve Jesus, the Church and the community. I was and am aware that the ecumenical world is in crisis; but without crisis, there is no opportunity! Now I understand clearly that nothing is going to change if we do not make it happen; nothing is going to be transformed if we first do not transform ourselves by the renewal forces of the Holy Spirit. This is the language that unites us: the language of love of the Spirit! In this sense, let’s be together, pray together, and move together towards that unity that God has called us!
While compiling this short report, I am observing in detail many photos of my great experience in Switzerland. Many pictures of the people who I shared with; photos of the cities and places I visited in Germany, Italy, Austria, France and Switzerland. Looking back I am already filled with the ups and downs of nostalgia. Good memories which will remain for a long time in my mind and my spirit!
Today, as a former student of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, I offer this advice: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."*** At the thought of this, my heart quickens and I happily jump in my small apartment in Denver. “!Buen viento y buena marea!” (Good wind and good tide!), we use to say in Colombia for those who travel far away. What do you hope to venture?
*** Quotation attributed to Mark Twain.
P/S I would like to express words of gratitude to those persons who helped my dream came true. Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, President of the Council on Christian Unity, for his support before, during and after my stay at Bossey (May God bless you in his retirement!); Dr. Catherine Nichols, Executive of Mission Personnel at Global Ministries, for providing a financial aid for my expenses; and third, to those great folks in the Rocky Mountain Region who have believed and trusted in me since I began to work with, by and for them many years ago (I am not sure why they have supported this crazy Colombian guy).
As a part of the ministry of the Council on Christian Unity, on alternating years a student from a Disciple of Christ background is supported with a scholarship to study ecumenicism at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland. For more information, please contact Rev. Dr Robert Welsh, President of the CCU.