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.