Welcome as a prelude to peace in Colombia

Alix Lozano is a Colombian  Pastor and Theologian and the Co-founder of the Ecumenical
Women’s Group of Peace-Builders (GemPaz). This piece was originally published on the MCC LACA Advocacy blog on June 21, 2017. This reflection is taken from the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia worship packet.

All people at different stages and different moments of life seek spaces of welcome, healing spaces, spaces of acceptance, inclusion, and transformation. Political violence, delinquency, invisibility, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poverty are some of the sources of stress, isolation, and trauma present in the realities of the Colombian people.

At this time, Colombia is experiencing a peace process, where the reintegration of ex-combatants in civil society is fiat accompli. The role of spaces, circles, and groups as instruments of the welcoming and transforming love of God is very pertinent, both in times of peace and in times of peace-building. We remember the biblical text of 2 Corinthians 1:4 which says: He consoles us in our suffering that we may console those who suffer, giving them the same comfort that he has give us.

Hospitality is an essential practice and value in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as a lifestyle and as teaching. Hospitality, understood as unconditional welcome of the most needy, is an act of unconditional love.

In fact, throughout the New Testament, much emphasis is given to the Greek concept of philoxenia, defined as love of the stranger. Philoxenia is more than just tolerating the other, without loving her or him; it is desiring his or her good. Xenos, which means “strange” as well as “stranger,” refers to the foreigner, the immigrant, and the exiled. It can be attributed to any human being who is a stranger, who needs welcoming in a strange land. This word is also the root of the term Xenophobia, which means rejection of the stranger, the foreigner. In diverse parables and teachings of Jesus, one finds reference to the responsibility to welcome others and offer them a home.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is on the road and is received in a home, the home of his friends. He rests and is served and welcomed. He takes advantage of the friendly atmosphere to teach with love. The women, Martha and Mary, have a special moment with the Teacher which gives us much to reflect on. In that home, Mary and Martha experience conviction and special strength.

Martha and Mary each have a distinctive way of welcoming and showing hospitality to Jesus. Martha does this through her concrete responsibilities as lady of the house, from the starting point of what is “normal,” that is, the norms of hospitality and welcome; she is a symbol of those in society who believe that everything is solved by fulfilling one’s duty. Thus the criteria for judging the behavior of others is simply to determine whether or not they have done their duty.

Mary also fulfills the custom of welcome and hospitality, but she does it in a very different way, with a novel attitude born from her heart. She is attentive to the presence of the other, in this case Jesus, by sitting by his side, listening to him, and offering him a personal relationship; but she does this outside of the social norm, what is legal or cultural. In doing so, Mary chooses “the better way,” breaking with tradition. She acts from what is human, from what is closeness, from what is a posture of listening and seeing the needs of the other, which were also her own needs.

It is important to note that Jesus does not judge Martha, as sometimes is believed, but rather invites her to see, hear, and listen for new ways of relating – a welcome that humanizes, where BEING is more important than DOING.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

The call of the Spirit, the Ruah, is to be welcomed, to give welcome, and to offer peace to people who come from different spaces as a prelude to the path of reconciliation in Colombia, which has taken on this peace process, where government and guerrillas have decided to put an end to the armed conflict.

PRAYER FOR PEACE

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
God of peace,
Our voices today unite in one cry,
A cry born from the depths of the heart
Of a humanity and creation wounded by war
That asks you to accompany our history
And knock down barriers that separate us so
that
Dialogues may come about that take us to
peace.

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
Our hands, our emotions
And all that we are
Unites in one dream of love
To walk with all those
Who suffer in our world and who,
Through processes of
Resistance, create peace.
Come Lord, fill us with your strength and
Carry us in your arms when
Our feet can no longer walk.
Come Lord.

– Inter-faith Dialogue for Peace, Peacebuilders in Prayer Liturgy.

We invite you and your congregation to join in with MCC partner organization, Justapaz, in celebrating Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia this summer. A packet of resource and worship materials is available here.

This post is also available in Spanish

Being salt and light: advocacy with those risking their lives for peace

Adapted from Bonnie Klassen’s presentation to MCC Canada.

Will we be ready? Ready to back our sisters and brothers in Colombia as they lay their lives on the line for peace, justice and reconciliation?

Last Friday – the International Day of Peace – Anabaptist churches across Colombia gathered in public places to celebrate the annual Bread and Peace Campaign. Sharing both bread and their daily commitment to nonviolence, they sang and spoke in public, thus demonstrating the every-day implications of peace-building in contexts of violence and hunger.

This yearly campaign began in 2002 when the United Nations asked the Colombian Mennonite Church to lead a public celebration for the new International Day for Ceasefire and Nonviolence. The Church had already gained recognition for her commitment to nonviolence through campaigns for including conscientious objection to obligatory military service in the 1991 Constitution.

This was a time when the government was pressuring all Colombians to become active collaborators of the State Armed Forces, and those who refused were labeled traitors and guerrilla supporters. All three Anabaptist denominations in Colombia – Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite, and Brethren in Christ – felt significant pressures, and decided to make visible their position for nonviolence by publishing a bold statement in the national newspaper. They declared that

as followers of Christ … we affirm our biblical and historical commitment to walk the path of peace, nonviolence…. We refuse to participate in any armed group, and we refuse to pay so that others do so on our behalf….

They went on to declare that seeking peace with justice involved “conversations and actions with whomever is willing to consider non-violent, negotiated solutions,” thus rejecting the Government’s framing of who is friend and who is traitor. Indeed, they called on “the government, the armed groups and the media to give up their war like attitudes and begin genuine peace talks with real concessions towards the building of a new country…”

This and other public statements have played a fundamental role in protecting the lives of Anabaptist church leaders in Colombia.

Pastor Rutilio

For example, when heavily armed paramilitary groups pressured the Mennonite Brethren churches in Chocó to pay them a “war contribution” from the community rice-processing plant the church administered, church president Rutilio Rivas responded firmly:

“Mennonite churches have been committed to nonviolence and peace-building for centuries.  We will not support any armed groups, not even the State Armed Forces.… We will not support you, even if it costs us our lives.”

Surprised by this boldness, and aware that Mennonites in Colombia have held this position throughout time, the paramilitary commander promised to respect this position.

These church-based advocacy actions and positions arise out of years of prayer and discernment.

In the early 2000s, an increasing number of partners told MCC that advocacy work was a priority for them. As churches became increasingly involved in providing humanitarian assistance and accompaniment to internally displaced people (IDP), leaders began to realise that offering food baskets was not enough. With 5 million IPDs, Colombia desperately needed policies and practice that put an end to the blood-shedding.

Growing rice, not coca

Local churches have also become increasingly involved in community food security projects whose explicit purpose is to help families overcome hunger along with helping communities stop growing illicit crops used for cocaine. Yet these attempts at creating alternatives become almost impossible when the small-scale producers have to compete with highly-subsidized, imported products, or when the land and water they have to cultivate is contaminated by the ever-expanding mining business in Colombia.

Again, their “life projects” hit up against the wall of policies: Free Trade Agreements, the government’s focus on attracting foreign mining companies at all cost, and more. Thus, Mennonite churches find themselves forced to take positions in response to public policy.

Indeed, in 2006 80% of Anabaptist church leaders surveyed asked MCC to support their churches in advocacy work.

Subsequently, MCC organized two National Anabaptist Encounters on Advocacy, with around 50 church leaders from the three denominations participating each time. The participants affirmed three main conclusions:

  1. The church is called to impact society…. Simply affirming God’s Kingship has profound political implications.
  2. The churches’ advocacy comes of out radical obedience to Jesus,… not a political agenda. 
  3. Advocacy is inseparable from the churches’ actions to alleviate human suffering, to develop sustainable communities and to build peace.

Participants also located themselves in the following options for engagement in social-economic-political realities – where they thought the church could and should be involved:

The vast majority of Anabaptist church leaders stood in the outer-most circle, meaning that they believe all four levels of engagement and risk are important.

Last week MCC Colombia’s partners again highlighted the need for advocacy.  Responding to MCC’s strategic plan towards the future, they said very clearly:

“We don’t want a relationship with MCC that only revolves around money.  We want to know that when we take risks in advocating for life, for peace and for dignity, MCC and the Anabaptist churches in the North will back us.  We want your political support.” 

They believe that this kind of theological and political backing will not cost MCC much at all.  However, lack of our support can cost them everything, for they have experienced how the voices of North American churches can make a difference.

In 1997, the Colombia Mennonite Biblical Seminary was being threatened with closure due to its program of Peace studies that allowed many students to declare themselves as conscientious objectors to military service. North American churches sent hundreds of letters to top government authorities. The Seminary remained open.

And then in 2004, Colombian Mennonite church leader and human rights lawyer, Ricardo Esquivia was being threatened with detainment on serious but false charges. Again, the international Christian community responded with a thousand faxes and letters sent to the Colombia government. Then, when country’s Vice President called Ricardo in for a conversation, he greeted Ricardo with a huge stack of letters and the words “Mr. Esquivia, you have A LOT of friends.” Ricardo was not detained or imprisoned.

Colombia is at historical cross-roads right now, with possibilities for new peace dialogues, under the best conditions seen in decades for reaching a peace agreement. At the same time, there are profound obstacles, and there are also significant enemies of the peace process.

The Anabaptist churches in Colombia will lay their lives on the line for peace, justice and reconciliation.  When they ask for MCC’s support – when they ask the Anabaptist churches in Canada and the U.S. to weigh in with their voices – will we be ready?

Are we ready for full partnership?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”  — Jesus

By Bonnie Klassen, MCC Area Director for Latin America. Adapted from her presentation to MCC Canada’s annual delegate assembly and board meeting.