Navigating the interface of faith and politics

This week Ottawa Notebook features a book review by Justine F. Foxall of MCC Alberta. Justine has worked with numerous NGOs and served in various capacities with MCC including as assistant director of the MCC Ottawa Office. She has lived in Tanzania, Rwanda, Serbia, Chad, as well as Israel and Palestine. 

Preston Manning, Faith, Leadership and Public Life: Leadership Lessons from Moses to Jesus (Burlington, ON: Castle Quay Books, 2017), 360 pages.

“Politics at the highest level is ultimately about the reconciliation of conflicting interests.”

Preston Manning, former Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament, returns frequently to this phrase—the reconciliation of conflicting interests—in his thoughtful and passionate book, Faith, Leadership and Public Life.

Preston Manning book on faith and public life

This book is divided into four parts, with lessons from: 1) the public life of Jesus, 2) the life of Moses, 3) the life of David, and 4) the lives of the exiles. In each section, Manning relates how these lessons have informed and inspired him in his own life as a practicing Christian, business consultant and sometime mediator, politician, and Member of Parliament. Furthermore, he offers guidance about how to live our lives at the interface of faith and politics with excellence and integrity.

In the first part, my attention was captured by Manning’s profound observations of how William Wilberforce and his co-strategists followed the way of Jesus in their campaign to abolish the slave trade and slavery. Manning relates these lessons first through a discussion of Jesus’s temptations; then illustrates how Wilberforce strategically and pragmatically practiced the wisdom and grace of Jesus who said “… I send you forth not to be vicious as snakes but gracious as doves, gracious as the spirit of God himself.”

Based on the Wilberforce story, Manning recommends that contemporary activists conducting a modern issue campaign:

  • legitimate the discussion, graciously;
  • do the necessary research thoroughly and well;
  • make maximum use of the tools of democracy.

He asks, “Out of whose mouth will our message(s) be most credible?” and advises, “Wisely and graciously manage the middle.”

Hence he arrives at the theme of reconciliation. Manning declares that Jesus shows us the way of reconciliation through self-sacrificial mediation motivated by love and, using examples from the New Testament, offers these principles of Jesus’s approach to the reconciliation of conflicting interests:

  • Love is the motivation.
  • A new and better relationship is the objective.
  • The approach is non-coercive.
  • The mediator is willing to pay the price of reconciliation.

Following Jesus in the public arena means looking to Jesus himself, resisting the temptation to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth by seizing authority or by compelling obedience to the Christian agenda.

Parts two and three of the book—on Moses and David—are not merely re-hashed Sunday school lessons. Manning digs into these characters and relates them to the rough and tumble of political life today.

The last part examines the lives of several people from the Hebrew Bible who became leaders in societies and political systems that were, for the most part, hostile to their values and beliefs. Manning outlines the stories of Joseph, Daniel and Esther, connecting their stories pointedly to the present context where, he says, our materialistic, humanistic and secular society prefers to purge the expression of religious faith from the public square.

Preston_Manning_February_2014

Preston Manning, February 2014

Manning challenges the follower of Jesus today to live faithfully in this kind of exile. Believe in the sovereignty of God. Be a constructive influence in your constituency. Pray. Seek the enlightenment and peace of the political community—serving as truth tellers and reconcilers of conflicting interests.

Finally, my attention was particularly held by Manning’s discussion of the good and evil of bureaucracies, for this is the ‘public space’ (large or small, governmental or non-governmental) in which most of us find ourselves. He urges Christians that we “are there to protect that bureaucracy from its dark side and ensure that it functions as an instrument for good rather than as a source of unintended harms.”

Again Manning provides some practical guidelines for how to do this. Whether we are then called to act on a micro or macro level, Manning reiterates how important it is to nurture a disciplined and diligent inner life of solitude, prayer, lectio divina, physical self-care, examen of consciousness and conscience, spiritual discernment and Sabbath observance. Differing distinctly from the rhythm of contemporary public life, these resources in Christ are crucial to living with integrity in the arena of the faith-political interface.

Faith, Leadership and Public Life is long and sometimes pedantic; yet there is an authenticity to Manning’s perspective that I found engaging. I enjoyed his evident wide reading as he draws from great literature, political and military history, contemplative Christian authors, and, of course, the Bible. The last part, Lessons from the Lives of the Exiles, brilliantly prevented me from tossing the book aside with an “irrelevant to my life” shrug. We do live in a pluralist and secular society. How we live our faith in the public square matters.

My assessment of Preston Manning’s book: I commend it as an excellent read for issue campaigners, policy change advocates, aspiring and acting parliamentarians and everyday citizens who care about the well-being of our country.

 

God as advocate

Our MCC Ottawa Office has been engaged in advocacy since it was founded in 1975, but we still occasionally are asked why we are involved in speaking to government as a church-based relief, development and peacebuilding agency.  After all, the question often goes, doesn’t scripture admonish us to simply feed the hungry, clothe the naked or give water to those who thirst?

We as staff have developed a response to this question.  We have many reasons for justifying the work we are mandated to do, not the least of which is the role that advocacy plays in the Bible.  We point out how biblical characters like Moses, Esther, Daniel and John the Baptist spoke to the powers of their time, sometimes with a divine call to do so.  We lift up the words of prophets like Amos and Isaiah who denounced the evil practices of kings. We point to Jesus and how he challenged the religious authorities of his day.

Advocacy for justiceA new book gives us a deeper way of responding to the skeptics who believe that advocacy is beyond the realm of a Christian humanitarian agency.

The book is Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures, written by Stephen Offutt and four other U.S. church leaders (one of them, Robb Davis, was executive director of Mennonite Central Committee for a short period of time). The book speaks to evangelicals suspicious of advocacy and seeks to persuade them that advocacy is as important as any other form of Christian ministry, whether evangelism, relief, service or development.

The book accepts – as would our Ottawa Office – that reasons to engage in advocacy include:  1) the fact that partners call for it, 2) that it can address root causes of suffering, and 3) that it can have a much more sweeping and lasting impact than, say, relief distribution. But the authors’ key argument is a theological one – namely, we are advocates because God is an advocate.

God advocates by speaking creation into being and regularly calling that creation to care for the poor and weak, the widows and orphans. God advocates through the “vivid brilliance” of Jesus, whose proclamation of the “kingdom” (a political term indeed!), and whose healing, teaching and sacrificing ministry reconciles the world to Godself.  God advocates through the Holy Spirit who is present with the believers and who empowers them to “bear witness to the life of Jesus applied to all facets of society, whether education, economics, or even politics” (70).  Advocate is a metaphor for God’s very triune nature.

Bev Shipley

L-R: Ted and Katherine Oswald (MCC Reps in Haiti), Member of Parliament Bev Shipley, Clare Maier (former Ottawa Office intern), Rebekah Sears (MCC Ottawa Office policy analyst).

Not only that! The authors argue that for Christians, as “image-bearers” of Christ, advocating to “the powers” is an essential part of being faithful disciples.  They also caution that any all such advocacy must reflect the basic Christian principles of humility, integrity and love for the other.

There is much more to commend this book.  For example, it identifies the important roles of local congregation, denomination, church-based NGOs and para-church organizations in advocacy. It also analyzes key Christian advocacy initiatives and their strengths and weaknesses.  More importantly, it identifies and challenges that which makes many evangelicals skeptical of advocacy: a highly individualistic view of the gospel.

What I found particularly interesting was the chapter that addresses challenges and tensions in faith-based advocacy.  Many of the issues addressed are ones that our office is confronted with regularly, such as, for example, the tension between integrating a faithful response to the advocacy request of our partners with the approval of our donors and supporters. Or, to get more specific,  how do we call for bold action on climate change (because that is our partners’ plea), when some of our donors resist the notion that climate change is human-induced?

For Christians who already embrace the notion of faith-based advocacy, the book will not be necessary. But for evangelicals and others who are still wary of the place of advocacy in the life of faith, it is a major contribution.

And for us in MCC’s Ottawa Office, it gives us new language to communicate why we do what we do. We advocate because God advocates.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office. 

 

Canada 150 – Two rivers

by Kerry Saner-Harvey, Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba Program Coordinator – Indigenous Neighbours. This is the second in a series of reflections on Canada 150.

For many it’s a time for celebration. Others lean towards lament. Either way, perhaps “Canada 150” can be for us an invitation to “re-imagine” our nation going forward in the next 150 years.

Historian and political scientist Benedict Anderson has suggested that nations are “imagined political communities” in which we hold in our minds a mental image of ourselves in kinship with a large number of people whom we have mostly never met. This mental image frames our identity in relation to each other, and thus we also make certain assumptions about how others in “our nation” see that relationship as well. In the case of a nation state like Canada, this also includes assumptions about our political history and relationship to the Land on which we reside.

RCAP_Logo_rev2016At a conference marking the 20th Anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Mark Dockstator from the First Nations University of Canada shared a provocative image of how European Settlers and Indigenous peoples have each imagined our histories.

Drawing upon the Two-Row Wampum from the Haudenosaunee legal tradition, he illustrated how each of us have imagined our history differently. In the almost universal Euro-Canadian paradigm up until 50 years ago, Indigenous peoples either didn’t exist at all or were imagined as “Indians” that needed to be assimilated into our historical stream or erased—essentially as “citizens minus.”

So, if I were to elaborate, while Indigenous peoples may have imagined themselves rowing their own canoe in their own river, if we Settlers perceived them at all it was to be brought aboard our steamship of civilization—or else tied on behind in some small broken-down canoe, pulled along in the wake of our river, if not already lost and forgotten somewhere downstream.

canoe on river

Unfortunately, we know that in many ways we are still taking away their paddles (or outboard motors) and dragging them along behind us.

Northern Stores and our welfare practices continue to create economic dependency. And northern mining and hydro development often care less about their consent than their compliance. I often hear that autonomy over Land remains one of the most important concerns for Indigenous communities today. Colonization is about taking away control and autonomy of a people, in whatever form that takes.

Around 1970, Dockstator suggests a significant number of Euro-Canadians began to perceive a diverging stream, as Canadian Settlers finally began to hear Indigenous claims to land and constitutional rights. Since then self-government and Nation-to-Nation negotiations not only emerged into our realm of possibilities, they began to slowly happen. We’ve begun to imagine a shift from “citizens minus” to “citizens plus” as we recognize much of the harms done and seek alternatives.

So, in our evolving Settler view of history, we look back on the last decades and see a new stream that has begun to diverge from our river. We now more broadly acknowledge that Indigenous peoples deserve to row in their own canoes. And this is significant.

But, as I think on this, I wonder if perhaps the Sepik Siawireal challenge for us Settler Canadians, looking back on the past 150 years, is to alter our perspective enough to re-imagine that Indigenous peoples have never really been traveling on our river in the first place.

Dockstator suggested that Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island have more or less always imagined themselves as sovereign. As far back as 1613, the original Two-Row Wampum (Tawagonshi) Treaty, the Haudenosaunee confederacy asserted that their Indigenous River should remain separate and parallel. Thomas King, in The Inconvenient Indian, reminds us that Aboriginal sovereignty is “a given”—and in fact has even been recognized in the U.S. and Canadian constitutions and Supreme Court decisions (194).

Perhaps we could look back across the field and see that the stream we thought has been branching from our river, has really been their own river all along. In other words, it never has been and still is not up to us to grant Indigenous peoples rights or sovereignty. To think this way is to recolonize history by assuming that we’ve been the ones to define the relationship since European contact. Rather, Indigenous Sovereignty is a continuous reality that we need to re-imagine for ourselves and to begin to act upon.

Perhaps we might even consider that our right to paddle in our river here actually emerged from the graciousness offered to us through the sacred Indigenous legal tradition of the treaties.

Of course, this is just about shifting our own Canadian Settler imaginations. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) reminds us it is Indigenous peoples’ right to journey their own river in whatever canoe or speedboat or cruise-liner they wish to travel in.

In an ever shifting political landscape, we all need to navigate carefully, but if we are willing to be intentional and creative in recognizing the two rivers flowing independently, we will hopefully find a way to reconciliation and peace in the generations to come.

Refugees and Rights: A Compassionate Response

This week’s guest blog is written by Amy Matychuk, law student at the University of Calgary.

From February 18-20, I was part of a group of 30 students and MCC staff from across Canada who met in Ottawa to learn about refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons at the annual MCC Student Seminar. We heard from United Nations staff, from Members of Parliament, from civil servants, from MCC staff who work with refugees, and from volunteers with newcomers to Canada.Thomas' selfie photo

For two and a half days, we learned about displaced persons, Canada’s response to their needs, and ways in which we can help. Those who work intimately with refugees were able to provide our group with insights into the steep set of challenges that refugees face. I learned many details both about the Syrian refugee crisis and about refugees worldwide that helped to inform my perspective on how Canadians and Canadian Christians should respond.

Firstly, I was shocked to learn how few refugees have the opportunity to resettle in places like Canada and how many remain in refugee camps for indefinite lengths of time. I assumed that refugee camps were places of transition, but many people stay there long enough to have children and grandchildren. I found this fact heartbreaking, but also valuable to know as I respond to those around me who are upset or suspicious about the refugees the Canadian government is accepting.

So much of what news stories seem to focus on are things like security risks or the difficulty of integrating refugees or the amount of money spent on re-settlinmccstudentseminar-8g Syrians that could be used to benefit the lives of Canadians. In responding to these suspicion-filled narratives about refugee resettlement, I think it is helpful to focus on the humanity of people who have no choice but to spend huge portions of their lives with no opportunity to work, no access to education, and sometimes very little hope for their futures. Elizabeth May, one of the speakers, described the many years refugees spend in camps as “a waste of human potential.”

As Christians, we should be less concerned about our own wealth or safety than about being God’s hands and feet and participating in God’s work of, as Jeremiah 29:11 puts it, giving others the chance to prosper and to have a hope and a future.

Secondly, I learned about the difficulties refugees face once they reach Canada. As though being displaced from their home countries because of threats of violence wasn’t enough shock and upheaval for a lifetime, they often struggle with some aspects of integration.

For this new influx of Syrian refugees in particular, the government infrastructure for receiving refugees is sparse and disorganized. Because of linguistic and cultural barriers, they don’t know where to go grocery shopping, how to use public transit, or how to manage the very small living stipend that the government provides them (the same amount as a Canadian on social assistance).mccstudentseminar-9

These facts underscored for me how important it is to be on the lookout for those who need my help, as a Canadian and an English speaker but also as a friend, advocate, and listening ear. As a student, I can’t give much financially, but I realized that I still have time and skills that could dramatically change someone’s life for the better.

Thirdly, the presenters at the seminar challenged me to reconsider the way I view my rights as a Canadian. I can guard my rights jealously; I can protest that it is not my fault that I was born in a country that guarantees my rights to movement, expression, and religion, and that I should not be responsible for the well-being of people I have never met because I happened to be born in a wealthy country.

On their face, these statements are logical. Nothing legally forces me to be concerned for Syrian children in refugee camps, and there is no code that sets out my obligation to ensure their rights are respected. However, if I consider my rights as a Canadian alongside the values Jesus exemplified, I should instead be humbled that I did nothing to earn my good fortune. I should consider it the greatest and most significant expression of my rights as a Canadian that I seek to include others in the same freedom and opportunity that I enjoy.

In seeking to extend these rights as far as I can, I should avoid the temptation to fear that my own wealth or safety will be compromised. However compelling as these arguments may be, they are distractions that prey on my own greed and self-interest rather than enabling me to live as Jesus would have.

I hope that in the years ahead, Canadians will be able to look back and be proud of the welcome we extended when the vulnerable needed our help the most.

 

Sacred space, sacred journey

Upon entering, I was asked to remove my shoes, as this was now considered sacred ground.

I had gone to Carleton University’s Art Gallery to see a commemorative art installation meant to draw attention to the thousands of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women an01walkingposter-225x300d the injustice of residential schools. Entitled “Walking with Our Sisters,” I quickly realized this exhibit was something to be experienced, rather than simply seen. As the title suggested, I was invited on a journey to recognize and remember victims of violence and injustice.

Burning sweet grass filled the air as visitors were invited to smudge while audio recordings of over 60 traditional, honour, grieving, and ceremonial songs played softly in the background. The floors were covered with red cloth as well as the traditional medicine of cedars, on top of which were placed over 1,700 moccasin tops, or “vamps,” each pair created in memory of missing or murdered Indigenous women. An additional 108 vamps for children’s moccasins stood as reminders of those who did not return from residential schools.

Tissue boxes were strategically placed along the path, and I was thankful, as I found it hard not to be overwhelmed by the losses represented by so many unfinished moccasins.

Beside each box of tissue was a paper bag marked “tear collector” for used tissues. These tear collectors, along with small pouches of tobacco people could carry with them in their left hand near their heart to gather their prayers, would be burned in a sacred fire when the exhibit left Ottawa.

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Photo courtesy of Walking With Our Sisters

Each pair of vamps was incredibly beautiful and unique—just like the lives they were meant to honour. Some were obviously created by skilled hands, while others appeared to have been done by the less experienced. Yet all reflected a tremendous sense of love. The various designs and materials represented many cultures, experiences, beliefs, and dreams.

On viewing each vamp, I felt a mixture of sadness for the loss, celebration of the life that was, and hope that the awareness raised by this work would bring justice for those lost and those left waiting.

Perhaps the government’s promise for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will be one more way Canadians can walk with our sisters and move the journey forward.

drum

Photo courtesy of Walking With Our Sisters

My feeling of being in a sacred space grew as I prepared to leave. But I stopped at the sound of live drumming. A small group of women who gathered in the center of the room began singing and praying as a new pair of vamps was “welcomed” and added to the installation.

At the end of this brief but moving ceremony, strawberries were distributed, and each of us in the room was invited to wait and to share this symbol of life together. Serving as a form of communion, it was a powerful reminder that while all these mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, wives, and friends may be missing, they are not forgotten.

As I moved with the line of people slowly winding their way around the room, I found myself offering brief prayers for this sacred journey.

For those whose journeys were interrupted,
We take a step.
For those whose journeys ended violently,

We take a step.
For those who are lost, for those who are missing,

We take a step.
For those left behind to grieve,

We take a step.
For those with visible and invisible wounds that make their journey more difficult,

We take a step.
For those with nowhere to go,

We take a step.
For those filled with pain, despair, and anger,

We take a step.
For lost traditions and cultures,

We take a step.
For damaged relationships,

We take a step
For understanding and healing,

We take a step.

Creator God,
We ask you to guide our steps.
To bring meaning to our journey
That our steps may lead to healing
And our journey be one of reconciliation.

Amen.

By Monica Scheifele, MCC Ottawa Office Program Assistant

Seeking alternatives: Are nonviolent responses to terrorism possible?

We live in a context of growing fear—fear about terrorism.

Few terms have so furtively made their way into our daily discourse. Yet while the specter of terrorism has gained a sense of urgency in our homes, churches, and communities, most of us have only a vague impression of what it is.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Courtesy of Conflict & Security: Thoughts on conflict, security, and international relations

The word “terrorism” has been used in distinct ways throughout the centuries to describe a wide range of actions and actors. First popularized during the French Revolution (1793-94) when it was used (rather positively, I might add!) to describe the methods wielded by the revolutionary state, the term “terrorism” has since shifted to describe actions against the government (such as the anti-colonial movements of the 1950s and 1960s), and, more recently, nebulous movements that have political causes and networks beyond national borders (such as al Qaeda and ISIS).

Despite decades of formal attempts through the United Nations and other bodies, the international community has failed to come to a consensus on a universal definition for the word “terrorism.” Indeed, shifting terminology—such as “insurgency,” “terrorism,” and “violent extremism”—identifies the complex challenge of violence today.[1]

While there is no consensus definition, however, virtually all experts point to two identifying components of “terrorism:” the targeting of civilians and the cultivation of fear. One basic definition suggests that terrorism is violence motivated by political, social or religious ideology and used to invoke fear and bring about change.[2]

What can people of peace do to respond?

MCC has once again produced a resource intended to assist Anabaptist-Mennonite congregations across Canada as they plan for Peace Sunday on November 8, 2015. Entitled “Crossing to the other side: Living as people of peace in a time of fear and terror,” this year’s Peace Sunday Packet does not provide easy answers to the co0adb8e09d02a0ad9cff4cc16d79f3916mplex questions of our time. But it does invite congregations and other groups engage in worship, reflection, and conversation about what a hopeful peace church response in a time of fear and terror might look like.

But are nonviolent responses to terrorism possible?

Beyond the worship resources and stories provided in the Peace Sunday Packet itself, we are also offering some suggestions for alternatives to violence. While not constituting an exhaustive list, these suggestions may provide a starting place for individuals, organizations, and churches to start thinking about nonviolent responses to the fear that terrorism creates:

  • Understand the root causes of terrorism: Seriously examining what terrorist groups are saying and doing—their histories, motivations, how they interpret and apply their ideas, what tools they use for recruitment, etc.—is vitally important work. Understanding the causes of violent extremism is the first step towards effective intervention, and critical to ensuring we do not respond in ways that make matters worse in the long-term. Read more (see p. 2)…
  • Support initiatives that restrict the flow of weapons: Given the ways in which widespread availability of arms serves to multiply the force of terrorist organizations, it is crucial that the international community stop flooding conflict zones with cheap weapons that only serve to fuel violence and prolong human suffering. Read more (see p. 3)…
  • Encourage inclusive political dialogue: Understandably, governments often are hesitant to engage in dialogue with terrorist groups for fear that doing so will serve to condone extremist positions and legitimize their tactics. As many experts are recognizing, however, talking to insurgent groups or terrorist organizations is not the same thing as agreeing with their aims. More to the point, dialogue is often necessary for achieving long-term peace. Read more (see p. 4)…
  • Invest in local peacebuilding initiatives: At a grassroots level, preventing violent extremism and building local peace requires addressing the push-pull factors that drive individuals to participate. In addition, community-based initiatives that mitigate and resolve inter-religious conflict, increase social cohesion, and enhance ethnic and religious tolerance are also vital for countering extremist ideology and fostering long-term peace. Read more (see. p. 5)…
  • Build relationships with the “Other” here at home: People concerned with peacebuilding can reach out in friendship to Muslim neighbours and other newcomers, contact local associations to learn more about their work; create forums for inter-religious dialogue our own communities; visit local mosques to learn about their faith practices; and work in partnership for common goals. Read more (see p. 6)…

For the full Peace Sunday Packet, related stories, and this full supplementary analysis, check out MCC Canada’s Peace Sunday 2015 page.

Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office director. 


[1]
Lisa Schirch—Research Professor at Eastern Mennonite University, and Director of Human Security at the Alliance for Peacebuilding—describes these terms as follows: “insurgency” is an armed rebellion against a state or international authority such as the UN; “terrorism” is a tactic used by non-state insurgent groups or by states themselves; and “violent extremism” is a contagious, global movement that may have insurgent and terrorist characteristics. Schirch, Lisa, “Peacebuilding Approaches to Violent Extremism,” (2015 Draft). Forthcoming publication.

[2] Hoffman, Bruce, “Chapter 1: Defining Terrorism,” Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press, New York: 1998).

Peace is not achieved by saying, “We want peace,” but by working for it

This blog was written by Amy Eanes, who lives and works in Istmina, Choco (Colombia) as part of the MCC Seed program. This blog was first posted on the Seed Blog

Peace building in the context of the armed conflict, government neglect, and poverty is an enormous and multifaceted challenge, but in my role as a Seeder with the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Chocó, Colombia, I interact with many who are diligently laboring to that end, often far from the spotlight. I sat down with Arosa Palacio, a member of the Jerusalem Mennonite Brethren Church in Istmina, Chocó, to talk about her life and experiences as a person who has been displaced by the armed conflict and has worked for justice in her community.

Originally from Chocó, Arosa and her family were living in another part of img_2332-web-editColombia when intense violence forced them to flee their home and return to the department in the mid-1990s. “Chocó was our refuge of peace,” she says, adding that illegal armed groups had not yet arrived.

Protecting their children and removing them from a violent context was their top priority. Upon arriving in Istmina, Arosa and her family sustained themselves through mining and agriculture, traveling down the San Juan River to work in various communities.

Three years after their displacement, she joined a group of displaced persons that had begun organizing, led by a local teacher. Under Law 387 of 1997, displaced persons were recognized and guaranteed assistance and protection in their process of resettlement. But, as Arosa explains, when the people went to claim their status at the level of local government, “they didn’t want to respond or accept the responsibility because they saw us as beggars. They rejected any formal declarations if the people arrived dirty or without shoes, but if you arrived well-groomed, they asked how you could really be displaced if you were clean.” As a result, the group organized trainings on human rights and a trip to Bogotá to meet with government entities to advocate for their situation as victims who had not received legal recognition.

The group’s advocacy efforts enabled them to gain official status as displaced persons but did not achieve the financial reparations that were their right. “They didn’t collaborate with us, economically,” she says, “but with recognition of our status.”

img_9278-editWith backing by the Catholic diocese, the association of displaced persons started an agricultural initiative of raising fish, pigs, and chickens. Though it did provide employment for many people during its time, the initiative ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Arosa continued to work with the organization’s leadership and was later selected as its vice president. “They liked my way of working in respect and solidarity with the people,” she says.

Despite decades of work with the association, roadblocks remain: “I don’t have answers to respond to the needs of the communities…. I’m watching how things are going, but I also see that the government isn’t responding and isn’t fulfilling its responsibilities. The same people who wrote the law are violating it. We have been victims of violence, and now we are victims of the government.”

img_1559-editAcknowledging the power of prayer and the hope that she has for God to intervene in their situation, she states, “Peace is not achieved by saying ‘We want peace,’ but by working for it.” Just as Jesus preached and fed the multitudes, so too the work of the church should preoccupy itself with both spiritual and physical needs. “Jesus, with the little that he had, fed the five thousand and had baskets of leftovers. The disciples who were with Jesus, when they saw the hunger of the people, told Jesus to send them away, but Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, was able to meet their physical needs. This is the Christian life,” she says, “to see reality through the eyes of Jesus.”

In addition to accompanying displaced persons in her community, participating actively in the Mennonite Brethren Church, and her role as a mother and grandmother, over the past twenty years Arosa has served as foster mother to approximately fifty children who have arrived at her door in a state of malnutrition and neglect. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to feed the multitude, her passion to meet the needs of the people in her community and work towards justice is real and breathing despite the years of struggle and injustice.

Please pray for the Mennonite Brethren Churches in Chocó, their regional projects, and the women and men who work for peace in the midst of such difficult circumstances.