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Eighth Street Mennonite Church
Sunday, November 25, 2001
I'm returning from a ten day MCC study tour in Colombia, South America. I bring you greetings from our Mennonite brothers and sisters in Colombia. There are just under 1200 Mennonites in 15 congregations in Colombia (and an equal number of Mennonite Brethren), but both groups have a significant impact in the country and Mennonites in Colombia have thoroughly integrated justice and peace into their witness and service. In this often described violent culture, the peacemaking leadership of Mennonites is sought out.
Colombia is a country at war with itself and with others. The military is visibly present in the streets. Paramilitary groups hired by wealthy landowners and multinational corporations are present in parts of the country, as are guerilla groups. In the midst of kidnappings and violence, no one seems to have remembered the people. The official unemployment rate is 20% but that rate probably approaches 50% if you count the seriously underemployed.
Colombia is a lush, green country. In our travels across the Andes, we saw coffee, bananas, sugar cane, potatoes, pineapples, beans and other crops. Large cities connect the fertile fields. Mennonites are farmers and professionals, peasants and middle class. While the drug trade and international development has created a complex web of problems that cannot be quickly are easily fixed, without a doubt, though, solutions would be closer if our government stopped sending military aid and stopped fumigating coca fields. As long as there is drug demand in North America and as long as there are poor farmers in Colombia without a viable crop alternative, drug trafficing will continue. (Incidentally, coffee prices on the world market have now dipped well below the level to needed to sustain Colombian farmers; I urge you to buy fair trade coffee).
Two Sundays ago, I worshipped with the Juan Pablo Secundo Mennonite Church, a very poor congregation in the hills on the outskirts of Bogata. Most of the two dozen worshippers are unemployed but we could hear the celebration several blocks away. The celebration this week was tinged with sadness because the son-in-law of the pastor, Edith, had disappeared, presumably kidnapped by the paramilitaries. We were warmly welcomed and instructed to carry their hugs and prayers back to their brothers and sisters in the United States. We were urged to pray for them as well. "Pray for our country and community . . . we're concerned about our children and youth in our neighborhoods and we need to teach about peace."
Last Sunday, I worshipped with the Mennonite congregation in Armenia, more of a middle-class congregation about eight hours northwest and over the mountains from Bogota. This congregation, like all of the others we visited, is actively involved in ministering to displaced communities that have grown up on the edges of Colombia's towns and cities. Paramilitary and guerilla groups are chasing people off their land and the people are fleeing to where more resources may be available. Many have lost family members in this struggle.
Worship here was lively, with a keen awareness of God's presence in the midst of hardships. In one song we sang -
A new day is coming,
At the encouragement of the Colombian Mennonite Church, in Nashville, U.S. delegates passed a resolution calling our government to end Plan Colombia, primarily a plan of military aid and fumigation to stem the drug flow. I was pleased to be able to present this resolution to end Plan Colombia to leaders of the Colombian Mennonite Church in person. They, in tern, expressed their condolences to me for the tragedies of Sept. 11 and urged us to continue to follow a path of peacemaking. Ricardo Esquivia told us we had sowed many seeds of justice and peace and now was the time for harvest.
I'm impressed with the Colombia Mennonite Church's commitment to integrate faith and action. I'm impressed with their multitude of ministries to share God's love with the poor and displaced in their communities. I'm impressed with the solid Bible teaching from Mennonite pastors I experienced wherever we traveled. I'm impressed with the number of women in pastoral roles. But most of all, I'm impressed with the determination of the Colombian Mennonite Church to follow the Prince of Peace, Christ the King!
I hope you'll join me in continuing to pray for our brothers and sisters in Colombia, that God may be near to them, protect them and bless their faithfulness. I also hope you'll join me in urging our government to stop its interference in Colombia and I'll be giving you tangible suggestions for how to do this in the weeks ahead.