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Update from Colombia: Day 9

This week, 3 First Churchers have been in Colombia as part of a UCC delegation, witnessing to the peace and justice work of the churches there, and the missionary work of Michael Joseph, who is supported by our church.  Nora Marsh has been sending us regular updates from Colombia.  The group returns to DC tomorrow.


We arrived at Justapaz at 8:30am and prepared for a meeting at 9am with a member of the Colombia House of Representatives.  He is with the liberal party.  

These are the notes I took, however please note they are my notes through Michael Joseph’s interpretation, so there is a double layer of possible inaccuracy.

Joaquin arrived and we did intros.  He lives outside Bogota and said that he really had wanted to invite us to his house for this meeting.   Maybe next time.   

Here is what Joaquin shared:

I am a member of Congress, a follower of Christ, messenger of Christ.  I feel very attracted to the work you do.  We are in an historic time in Colombia.  After 63 years, both parties (FARC and the State) want to end the barbarism of the war.  It will be transcendentally important if we can have peace.  Hope we can add ELN and others groups.  What we are doing now is just the discussion process. If we get to implementation peace would not just mean ending violence, it would mean reconciling.  Your voices and commitment are hugely important.  

The country is not ready for a peace process. They are afraid, have doubts.  But we have a new generation that has new ideas but they are not very interested in church.  The majority of people don’t relate church to values.  The power of the Catholic Church has stifled the people’s understanding of Jesus as a radical peace  maker.  It won’t be enough to solve the socio-economic problems.  We need to solve the moral problems as well, the spiritual problems.  We need to call on peace leaders to help lead us through the peace process.  We don’t want to fall into political polarization.  Help us create a model for reconciliation, which must be built from the ground up.  We will also have to look at the other social conflicts, problems with health care, housing.  If we could get the churches to come together in a big coalition, that would help.  We would like Jenny Neme to host a dialogue of churches, perhaps using the pedagogy, working table group that brings together all the parties to talk along with some specialists.  It would be a huge help if the churches could be a model of unity.  They could provide a roadmap of hope for families, which would be a model for the State, encouraging the state to guarantee people’s rights.

Another component would be Colombians living abroad and we who are organizing the regional roundtables need to include the 10 million Colombians living abroad.  Maybe they will come back and bring some of their gifts. We recently did a tour of Europe and found that many Colombians were lonely and anguished and want to come back someday.  They struggle to survive abroad.  So now we are thinking of doing this in the US.  About a week ago we had a roundtable in NY with Skype and we were able to discuss the future of Colombians living abroad.  Skype broke down because there were so many that wanted to participate.  Lots of well educated as well as many struggling.

I believe the churches, NGOs and other groups in the US could be a part of the peace process as well.  These are my reflections on this process.


He had tears as he finished.


Peace won’t just come from a political process [he said].


In August/September of this year he is organizing a church roundtable to support the peace process.


There are a lot of Jonathan Vargas’s in Colombia (Jonathan is a conscientious objector and has been held prisoner by the military for the last 3 months).

We have had several opportunities for change but they have failed.  But the constitutional court has awakened another opportunity for change. We are going to have to discuss this again, even for soldiers now serving.  We hope that we can create political consensus but there is a lot of apathy to Conscientious objection.  I hope to send you updates through Jenny and Michael.  We have to reform the constitution because this country does business from war.  You have an important role to play to tell your Congress and President about this new view in Colombia to stop the business of war.

Now that I have met you and you have met my country, it would be good to have an action plan.  And that is why I believe that the church roundtable will be very important.

John Carlin, a conflict resolution expert, came recently.  He wants to offer his experience with Mandela and he wants to volunteer his time to help communities here.  Like him, there are others making this offer.  His proposal to the churches is to work together for something big.  But we need somebody to raise up the flag and we want the message to get to every household in Colombia.  


Allie [a member of the UCC delegation] asked him to share his story:


I asked my mother what I was like as a little kid. You kicked a lot.  As a child you were restless, wanted to change the world.  I learned this from my father and my mother. Father died when I was young.  He was a member of a military movement and he was a follower of Gaitan.  He lived through the first wave of La Violencia.  I confess that I was a very active student leader, the national high school leader organizing at that time.  I hope you understand that it changed my life.  I fell in love with a political project, like a Robin Hood,   with the M19 movement.  That wasn’t just any guerrilla movement. It was a sancocho, a stew, there was commitment to change Colombian society.  I chose not to take up arms, but I was at risk.  Staying close to Christ kept me strong. I thought of becoming a priest but with my political training, I didn’t want to be part of the Catholic Church. So I stayed with politics.  I wish I had met you then. Extraordinary men and women died, were tortured, or disappeared.

There is a book by Oigo Hermano, about a leader Jaime Bateman.  Jaime and his group gave out potatoes and rice to the poor, taken from the rich.  But the violence had them be fighters.  One day they stole weapons from the military.  They stole so many so they were handing them out to their friends.  A lot of these friends were captured and tortured. And that showed the human rights problem in Colombia.  

Another day an M19 commander landed a plane by the river in the south and took a lot of weapons there.  They committed other mistakes and they went to the supreme court and they thought they could communicate the injustice to the court.  The govt sent in tanks and there was a tragic confrontation.  They came together and talked about creating dialogue.  Bateman died and other M19 leaders helped negotiate the 1991 constitution.  This constitution has been modified since then and this has been why the FARC has wanted to negotiate a new constitution. 

Now I am a member of a traditional party but there aren’t any better options.  I try to be an example in my party. 

The church is an alternative to the government for change.  The church can wake the people up.  I have been in congress for 8 years.  When I was young, I got a scholarship to go to east Germany and I helped tear down the wall.  I finished my studies in Colombia.  I have two children, one is studying psychology, and my other daughter wants to study political science.  My wife is my other half and helps me in my work, is a partner.

I don’t want to run again for election.  It is hard to work in a hypocritical system.  I will probably run for governor in my home area.

I propose to you that in the church roundtable in the US that we create a big movement to educate the people on peace.  We need to advise them along the path to a dignified time in their lives.  The churches must do this.  The people need to know the word of God. The path is not easy.  If we can really get the churches behind us, the govt will realize their  importance to the peace process. It will create a movement for peace and people will want to be a part  of that.

There are a lot of organizations that want to participate.  

It will be important to sustain the change from war to peace.

In Spain at a round table meeting of sorts,  I met the daughter of a man who was killed by the FARC.  Sitting next to her was a member of FARC and he stood up and asked for forgiveness.  This changed the meeting.  the next day a lot of trust was built and everyone started to share and they found a lot of victims.  One of the pastors was run out of her region by the para militaries.  The table was like an X-ray of the country.  If we can repeat this the entire country would participate in the streets. 

I am also participating in a project for peace involving soccer players in Spain.


And so ends my notes from his point of view.


He said he has been holding back so much that he has wanted to say and he is just now finding these beings of light.

Jenny [from Justapaz] closed our meeting with a wonderful prayer and we were all very moved.

I (Nora) committed to explore the idea of having a roundtable at our church in DC with Colombian expat groups, the US peace institute, Global Ministries, NGO’s, faith groups, etc. He has contacts in Washington for me and will be in touch.  The rest of our delegation was very inspired by this idea.




Update from Colombia: Day 7, part II

This week, 3 First Churchers are in Colombia as part of a UCC delegation, witnessing to the work of UCC Missionary (and First Church member) Michael Joseph, and the peace and justice work of the churches.  Nora has been sending us regular updates. 


We changed our schedule for today and our final days here so that we could fit some meetings in with some people we want to see.  Our tourist/shopping day was today and it was supposed to be on Saturday to sort of start our transition back into the world we know, where we have enough or more than enough.  So it was kind of an interesting thing to be shopping and site seeing after just having walked around a slum yesterday facing a torrent of human misery.

There was also another interesting contrast that occurred.  If you read my earlier post, we met some beautiful young women yesterday with hopes and dreams that are likely to not be realized.  Well today at dinner in our retreat center a group of teenagers came in to eat their dinner and they came right up to our table and asked us where we were from and we engaged in a pleasant exchange.  They are middle to upper class kids from Medellin on a Catholic retreat of some sort.   One of the girls had been to London for a semester last year and another was going to Minnesota for a year as an exchange student.  They were bright and confident and happy and enjoying their lives and their dreams were very likely to be realized.  What a contrast!

Lucille and I talked about this later tonight and we agreed that all children should have the chance to realize their hopes and dreams, all people should have enough.  And yet the vast majority don’t.  So what do I do with this information?  Is it enough to just be aware of this?  I don’t think that feeling guilty does any good in and of itself, in fact it is in a practical sense very useless.  The only practical thing to do, in my opinion, is find a way to help, even if that help is a drop of water in an ocean.

Lucille and I could hear that another woman in our group was having a difficult time (in fact, many of those in our delegation had been overcome with emotion throughout the day).

I initially thought we should leave her alone but then our dear Dave knocked on our door and flat out told us that we needed to do something because he was very concerned.  So we did.  Lucille and I went and knocked on her door and asked if we could help and she said yes so we went in and spent some time with her and gave her some comfort.  Thanks Dave!  You helped me do the right thing.

Extend a hand, even if it seems impossible that it can make any difference.  Perhaps that is the lesson I learned today.

Love to you all,

Photos from Colombia from top to bottom: 1) First Church member and UCC missionary in Colombia Michael Joseph speaks with a TV reporter.  2) First Church member Dave in contemplation.  3) A view of Bogota from atop Montserrat.  3) Michael Joseph and his lovely lady Paula. 

Update from Colombia: Day 6



I must write of my experience today, our trip to Soacha, a suburb to the south of Bogota.  It has about 900,000 people although the official count is just over half that.  It is sprawled around and in a valley surrounded by hills.  This is a city of the most number of displaced people from all over Colombia, many who have fled here from violence.  It is also contains many people who are low income, many many in poverty.  Most people are unemployed and many are single mothers with children. It is a very violent area, with gangs and armed groups.  There are very few services such as police, health care, schools, or social services, and basically the people have been abandoned by the government.  Many people have lived this way for decades here.  It is growing every year in population.  There is no sewage infrastructure and all the sewage flows down a little stream that runs down into the valley.

We arrived at our first destination, a soup kitchen for children, which has been here for nine years and is ripun by the Mennonite church.  They serve lunch to about 60 children 5 days a week.  For most of these children, this is the only meal of the day.  Maria, the director spoke to us and described the services that she and her staff and a few volunteer mothers provide which include the meal, psychological recovery, rebuilding the social fabric of the families and community, and emergency humanitarian aid.



Most of the parents, primarily women are unemployed but some have cleaning jobs.  Most without work go to the markets to pick up scraps of food and/or beg.  The soup kitchen has a garden on the roof where they grow some herbs and veg and seedlings which they give to the families to grow in their own gardens.  They also tutor the children, many of whom go to the school across the street.  They also provide some recreation such as art projects and the children help plant seeds and tend the roof garden.  There are 3 main gangs in the area which recruit children as young as 10.  Many who don’t join are threatened and public fighting and violence is common.  The gangs make their own weapons, sort of slingshots or crossbows with which they shoot nails or rocks.  There were 5 young people killed in the last week alone.

The people there are viewed by many in Bogota as lazy or drug addicts so there is little to no support.  It takes 2 hours to get to Soacha by bus from main Bogota.  The soup kitchen also has a church service and monthly meetings of the women.  There are a couple of social work students who come and provide their services.  Some of the various volunteers have been robbed by the gangs, but the gangs do not enter the soup kitchen out of respect.  They are concerned now because one of the gangs has started social cleansing.  At this point in the talk the front door was closed for security.  The gang is targeting young people who do drugs, sex workers, HIV positive people, and thieves.  They make make fliers with a list of names of the targeted and they impose curfews after 6 or 7 pm, which is when many are coming home from work or school.  The government actually views the social cleansing as good for the community.  Families have had to flee again to other areas to protect themselves.

This is probably all I will write tonight as we are having dinner now and then are going to Michael Joseph’s apartment to have a little party.

Love to you all,


Update from Colombia: Day 5

Nora Marsh, one of 3 First Churchers in Colombia this week as part of a UCC delegation, sends the following update:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am picking up where I left off when we were in El Garzal which, actually was on Saturday.  Today is now Tuesday, so hopefully I will catch up.  Tomorrow we go to visit Soacha, which is a community of displaced people that has sprung up and continues to grow, numbering in the millions.  It will not be an easy day.

Back to El Garzal on Saturday.  when we finished lunch, we listened to Pastor Salvador tell his story.  He was in his early years a fisherman and also a tree cutter.  He was single and living in an area near El Garzal.  He received a request from a man named Baretto who wanted him to come and cut some trees down.  He had heard from a friend of his that Baretto was not to be trusted because he did not pay so he turned Baretto down.  Baretto was persistent so he finally agreed to meet with him and Baretto told him that this accusation was not true and that there had been a misunderstanding.  So he ended up agreeing to cut the trees the next day.  He went to Baretto’s property, on which there was an airstrip and he realized that this was a place where illegal drug traffic was occurring.  He finished as quickly as he could and left.  He spoke to Baretto again and told him that he could not do any more of this work for him as he was a pastor and could not participate in supporting such a business.  Baretto respected Salvador and they actually had some frank conversations over a period of time and came to like and respect each other.

Salvador went on to be trained by the Four Square Church (a Protestant denomination) and was  exploring places to serve as a pastor.  He was asked to spend some time in El Garzal and did so but found it very difficult to handle the conditions there as there was a terrible mosquito problem.  The pastor who trained him told him that God had told this pastor that Salvador should be the pastor of El Garzal but Salvador told him that he would rather go anywhere but there because of the Mosquitos and that he could not say yes to a request from someone other than God. Eventually, he did get a direct communication from God to serve there and try as he could, he finally acknowledged that he could not deny God.  He moved there and met his wife, built his house and the church and settled in.

At some point he was asked by Baretto to go and clear more trees at his property.  He did not want to but decided that he would go and talk to Baretto in person about it.  But because of the rains the road was impassable for a couple of weeks.  The day he was going to go he got very sick and had to put it off until the afternoon but was still so unwell that by 3 pm it was so late that he would not be able to get there before dark so arranged to go the next day.  When he travelled there the next day, he got near the property and saw that there were many helicopters flying around the property and realized it was being raided so he did not go near it.  It turned out that if he had gone the day before he would have been arrested along with Baretto and his gang and thrown in jail.  He feels that God had protected him by keeping him from going when he had planned.

Baretto was in jail for a long time and about ten years later he was released in 1998 and came back into the area.  By that time Salvador had grown the parish and the church was thriving.  He heard a rumor that Baretto was back in the area and was asserting that the property in El Garzal belonged to him and rumor was that all the people in the community had to leave by a certain date or he would kill them.  Salvador made inquiries and found out that Baretto was spending a lot of time in Barrancamebeja so he took a reluctant friend with him and they drove there and waited to try and spot him.  Eventually, he saw a car and spotted Baretto and told his friend to follow the car which stopped at the hospital and Baretto got out and was walking up the stairs.  Salvador got out and called Baretto’s name and he turned around and saw Salvador and seemed happy to see him.  He asked Baretto if he had made these threats and Baretto said he had and that he owned the property and told Salvador to tell the people of El Garzal that they had to leave.  Salvador said that he would not do this and that Baretto should come to El Garzal and tell the people himself and that they should try and work something out.  Baretto said no, that he did not want to be bothered and that it was Salvador’s responsibility to get the people out and that he had until a certain date to do so or they would all be killed.  Salvador tried to reason with him but Baretto got really angry and Salvador realized that Baretto had changed while he had been in prison and that he had no good left in him, that there was an evil in him and that his efforts were in vain so he turned around and started to walk away.  Baretto called to him and for a moment Salvador thought that Baretto had changed his mind but when he turned around, Baretto repeated his threat and in his eyes Salvador saw a hatred that chilled his heart.  He again told Baretto to just come and talk to the community but Baretto told Salvador that it was Salvador’s responsibility to save his community and tell them to leave.  So Salvador just turned away and left.

Salvador returned home and gathered the community leaders together and told them that they must stand strong and that God would protect them.  Salvador contacted the government and started working with the NGO’s and by God’s grace they were able to keep Baretto at bay.  Later they heard that Baretto had been killed.

He had to stop telling the story as we had to go to a meeting of the community so we all piled into the truck and went down the road to the soccer field where about 150 members of the community were gathered to meet us.  we sat down in plastic chairs under the trees andSalvador introduced us and we all said a few words about who we were and where we were from.  Then some of the leaders spoke and Michael translated.  They described how long they had been living there and farming and talked about the problems they were having getting their titles to their land formalized by the government.  They had bought the land in most cases and had proof of this but no title.  The process was slow and for some was taking years, even decades.  Meanwhile they were told that they would have to pay property taxes that had accrued to the tune of in some cases up to $3000 on some of the properties and that they did not have the money to pay it.  They also were struggling to get loans to help with this and to pay for tools that they needed to work their farms.  Many were worried that they would lose their land before they could get their titles.  Some had been working the land for 25 years and more.  I could see that they were all very strong and hard working and very proud of their farms.  It seems so unfair that they had worked so hard to just feed their families and make a life for themselves with so little only to have to face losing it all for a few thousand dollars.  I realized how much money I had by comparison and wanted to just give it to them.  My heart was just breaking.

One man said that he hoped that we could put a word in for them at some of the meetings we would be having with government officials.  He said he was so grateful that important people as we were had come to see them and that he was a just a little person who was not very deserving of our time or help.  This shocked us all and we told him that this was not true and that we were honored to be here and very grateful to be so warmly received.  It was a bit uncomfortable to say the least.  One handsome man joked that he would love to be taken back to the US by one of us ladies, or something along those lines and everyone laughed at this.


After the meeting most came up and shook our hands and greeted us and the children gathered around and we took pictures of them and they were delighted to look at the results.  Some were very shy and ran away from having their picture taken but kept coming back as if to get over their fear and try again.  On the way back we stopped at a farm and walked around and were given samples of some of the fruit, which was fruit we had never had and was delicious.  Many we’re growing plantain, grass, cocoa, and a variety of other fruits, chickens and some cattle.

On the way back to the house, the truck went too close to the edge of the burm when the driver was trying to let Salvador pass on his motorcycle and the front left wheel went off the road and the axle got stuck.  We had to carefully get off the listing truck and walk the short distance back and it scared many of us pretty badly.

Once again, I have written only a small part of the day and have to go to bed.  I will write again tomorrow.

Love to you all,


Update from Colombia: Day 4

Nora Marsh, one of 3 First Church members in Colombia as part of a UCC delegation, sends the following update on Day 4 of their mission trip:

Dear Family and Friends,

It is day 4 and yet I feel as though I have been here for a much longer period.  Each minute of each day seems an hour in length.  I am also very changed somehow in a core of my being kind of way.  Those of you who have shared time in the home of someone who lives in poverty is very aware of this feeling.  There is no going back, no waking up and realizing that it was just a dream.  I will write as long as I can but may have to go to sleep soon as I am quite tired, although I did finally sleep well last night after only getting about 5 hours of sleep in 72 hours!

We took a flight on Saturday morning at 5:30 am from Bogota north for about an hour to a city of about 200,000 called Barrancamereja on the river Magdalena, a wide and very long river that runs south to north through the middle of the country and empties into the Caribbean.  It was brown because it is one of 2 rainy seasons.  The temp is about 95 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.  Barrancamereja is an oil town and we were about the only Westerners there.  On this trip, the 9 of us including Michael Joseph were accompanied by Michael’s girlfriend, Paula, plus Angelica, Pablo, and another woman, whose name I have forgotten, so there are now 12 of us.

I had a chat with a man on the plane who was an oil engineer Carlos, a Colombian, who told me his story of almost being kidnapped by guerrillas about 10 years before.  It so shook him that He had to leave the country for a couple of years and went to live in Miami, FL with his son but he returned and is still working in the industry.


Photo from the air near Bogota, of the mighty Magdalena River

From the airport we took an air conditioned modern bus first to a store for bags of fresh water and some snacks and then to a dock where we piled into a covered but open air and low riding motor boat that carries about 15 people for approximately 2 hours south upriver.  Along the banks of the river were grasses, trees and jungle plants, most fairly low growing, most feet high or so.  There were herons and other water birds feeding along the banks and a couple of areas along the river that had oil derricks going up and down and pipes with flames coming out of the top burning oil.  The river was moving quite fast and was quite polluted I was told, with lots of toxins from oil processing, sewage and also gold, copper and other mines that were upstream.  We stopped at a small town where all eyes were on us, especially those of the children, many of whom had rarely, if ever seen white skinned, light haired people.  Michael Joseph told us to be careful about engaging with any of the children as it could cause hurt feelings if any were singled out and paid more attention than the others.  They are all incredibly beautiful.

We walked up the street to a radio station, the only one around for many miles.  They had requested that we come in for an interview on the air.  We were graciously served coffee and squeezed into the small studio built of scraps of wood, brick, and corrugated tin roofed, like all the other houses in the town.  Most of the floors were dirt, although the studio was cement.  Lively ethnic music was playing interspersed with announcements by the DJ’s, a family who ran the station.  Each of us, in turn introduced ourselves and said our names and where we were from and Michael Joseph translated into Spanish.  Charlie Pillsbury, one of the Connecticut UCC in our delegation gave a more extended introduction of our group in Spanish.  We took some pictures afterward outside of townspeople riding on motorcycles and horses and we made our way back to the dock.

Our baggage was loaded onto basically a 35 foot wooden dugout canoe fitted with plastic chairs for us to sit on.  To my great concern, unlike the first boat, this one had no lifejackets, despite the fact that the river was fast moving and had decent sized logs floating here and there in it!  The boat had a strong outboard motor and an experienced driver, however, and we quickly ferried across about 1/4 mile and into a smaller passageway that was actually a sort of swamp, not necessarily passable at lower water.  The higher water was a good thing, otherwise we would have had to walk for a few miles carrying our bags.

We arrived on the bank of the river near the small town of El Garzal, which is really a community, with no real town center to speak of.  We were met by Pastor Salvador, our host, and his son-in-law in the community’s 4 wheel drive truck that had wooden slatted sides and a wooden flat bed and two planks of wood set up in the back for us to sit on.  After loading the 12 of us in the back with our bags and a couple of us in the cab (I was in the back) we set off along a dirt/mud road atop a burm, which was a sort of dike that ran parallel to the river that kept it from flooding into the community.  Pastor Salvador followed behind on his motorcycle and his son-in-law drove the truck.  This burm was about 10 feet high and was not much wider than the truck.  It was a very bumpy ride and the truck swayed and lurched along  for a few miles past farms and houses on the right of us spaced a few hundred yards at the closest.

Finally, we dropped down to the right into the driveway of Salvador and stopped between his house on the right and what we would discover was the Four Square Church on the left.  We were greeted by his wife and his 3 daughters and fed a lunch of chicken, rice, plantain, and some sort of potato, along with a delicious homemade juice in the house on plastic tables and chairs.Salvador ate with us but his family, as is traditional, ate at a separate table.  For all the four meals we had them, this was repeated each time.  Most of the food, including the chickens were raised on the property.  The women cooked and served and washed all of the dishes.

It is getting very late now and I must sleep as we have to get up at 6pm for breakfast.  There is so much more to tell!

Love to you all,


Update from Colombia: Day 1

First Church member Nora Marsh, one of three First Church members in Colombia this week witnessing to the missionary peace work of UCC/DOC and First Church member Michael Joseph, sends this update after their first full day of activities:


A Bogota mode of transport!

It has been a busy day today on not too much sleep but I am feeling quite well.  We are eating well, homemade soup, meat, rice, plantains, etc.  We had a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and fruit, juice and coffee here in the Catholic retreat center in Bogota and then went over to the office of Justapaz and the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia and met with Michael Joseph and the staff there.  Michael is the missionary that our church supports over here and he works for Justapaz.  The two organizations are doing incredible work here to further peace and through training of pastors and lay people, running a women’s network, and documenting cases of violence, and supporting church communities in political advocacy work, to name a few of their projects.  They are dedicated and brave people, many of them volunteers.  It is truly an honor to be a part of this trip and a very humbling experience.

We also met with Felix Posada of the Latin American Popular Education Center , who gave us a very informative history of the political situation from the 1940’s until today.  It is overwhelming to hear the extent of suffering that the rural people have been through.  There are more than 5 million people who have been displaced and many people were killed in that time.  And yet there is a lot of hope for peace despite all the odds and the tremendous problems, economic and political that this country faces.

I have so many impressions to relay.  The city of Bogota is crowded and noisy and about as big in acreage as NY without the tall buildings.  8 million people live here. It is pretty run down in some places and modern in others.  It is at 8000 feet and we are all feeling it!  There are lovely tree covered mountains on at least one side and lots of colorful flowers.  The weather is cool and it is rainy season so the weather is rainy on and off with sun replacing clouds all the time.  There is about 12 hours of daylight starting at 6am and it is the same all year round.

Tomorrow we venture into the countryside first by plane and then by motor boat North on the Magdalena river to the small town of El Garzal, one of the communities that is struggling to keep their land.  There is very little danger of any violence and the Mosquitos are probably the more dangerous thing, so we will be using bug spray and netting. We will stay there one night in hammocks and then in a hotel in a larger town the next night.  We leave for the airport at 4am and will be flying in a prop plane, 40 seat plane, a Focker I am told.

There are 8 of us plus Michael in this delegation, the youngest is 36 and the oldest about 70, I would say, 6 women and 2 men, including one married couple.  Everyone has been very kind to us and very grateful for our visit.  I really like everyone in the group and am getting to know them and bond with them.

Our itinerary is a very busy one and every day has us waking at 6am and spending most of the day in meetings and being educated on the realities here.  Not an easy trip but a very rewarding one.

I will probably not be writing again until Sunday afternoon and need to go to bed now.  Much love to you all.


First Church Goes to Colombia!

3 First Church members traveled to Colombia this week to witness the work of Michael Joseph, First Church DC member and UCC/DOC missionary.  Michael supports the peace and human rights work of the Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL) — the umbrella organizing body of the Protestants in Colombia (who comprise about 10% of the population — both mainline and Pentecostal). 


Bogota at dusk

Nora, Lucille, and Dave are part of a larger UCC delegation there for the week, hosted by Michael and CEDECOL.  The group will visit survivors of the multiple forms of violence in Colombia, learn about the effects of U.S. policy on life in Colombia, and receive updates on the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC — the largest guerrilla group in the country.  They will worship with the Colombians.  They will share meals with them.  They will stay in their homes in Barrancabermeja.  Before leaving, they will meet with the U.S. Embassy to share their experiences and thoughts about how the U.S. Government can better support peace with justice in the country, and protect the vulnerable. 

Upon returning to DC, our 3 pilgrims will share their experiences with us, help First Church foster and deepen our relationship with those in Colombia, help us think through how we can leverage our position in DC to advocate for just US policy toward Colombia, and help us enrich our spiritual and faith life through these connections. 

Our prayers and hearts are with Lucille, Nora, and Dave as they travel in Colombia.  We will be posting their updates here on the blog.  Stay tuned!