Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dreaming of the World As it Should Be

This last weekend, 19th and 20th of May, the Human Rights program of IELCO invited members from all around the country to come together and dream of how they want the future of the church's defense of human rights to look. We were pastors, coordinators of national ministries, project leaders, and lay people, all interested in living out the call to protect the vulnerable and liberate the oppressed. Gathering at a retreat center just outside of Bogota, we dreamt of the world as it should be. 

The group working on some team-building activities. Photo by Pastor Nelson Celis. 
Identifying the realities of the difficult conditions in many communities in Colombia, we identified how the Human Rights program can help IELCO face those challenges. We dreamt together of a country without violence, of vibrant communities that seek to protect the most vulnerable in their midst, and a national church that advocates for peace and justice.

We left the retreat having formed a national advising committee to help offer direction to the Human Rights program, to make sure that the program responds to the needs of the local communities as well as the vision that we have identified during the retreat. The committee is an equal number of men and women from every region of IELCO in the country and will now take the vision developed in this retreat and put into action.

Angelica Oquendo and Carlos Parra, two young leaders in IELCO, sharing with the group some of their experience in Palestine, where they participated in the Lutheran World Federation's program called "Peace Messengers". Photo by Curtis

Sara Lara (coordinator of the Human Rights program) leading a conversation about the current state of the Human Rights program. Photo by Pastor Nelson Celis.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Path of Hope

Saturday, May 12th, the House of Peace and Reconciliation from the Emmaus Lutheran Church in the city of Medellin led a public event called “Path of Hope”. We went to a nearby public library, where we had attained permission to use the entire entrance area to hold the event.

The “Path of Hope” is a historical timeline of important events and people that have been examples of nonviolent action and resistance throughout the world, (The idea was motivated by the Lutheran Peace Fellowship).

Members of the House of Peace and Reconciliation setting up their timleine at the local public library. Photo by Curtis.
The House of Peace and Reconciliation is currently holding a course called “Peace-builders” and the students of the course were each given the responsibility of a section of the timeline. They then studied the events and people in their section, so they would be able to tell interested passersby about the history of nonviolence in the world. The goal is to develop a consciousness of the possible and a hope that we can build a different world.

Pastor John Hernández with a group of interested library-goers, discussing some of the earlier examples in history of non violent resistance. Photo by Curtis.
They explained the well-known like Gandhi , Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela; as well as less well known history like in 1845 when the Lutheran Franckean Synod in New York, declared themselves abolitionists in no uncertain terms, arguing “with courage and clarity against this great and heinous national sin”. They declared that communion was impossible with any “ecclesiastical body that tolerates, apologizes for or remains silent on the subject of slavery”. Or, the Indigenous Nasa People of Colombia and their Indigenous Guard, a non-violent force trained to protect their communities from the different armed actors in Colombia’s conflict.

Members of the House of Peace and Reconciliation explaining the origins of Mother's Day as an anti-war protest by mothers who refused to send their children to war. Photo by Curtis

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Nonviolent Action in Colombia

The ecumenical advocacy platform DIPAZ (Inter-church Dialogue for Peace), which IELCO is a founding member, has been developing this year what will be called the “School for Nonviolent Action”. One of the three areas of focus for the work of DIPAZ is Anti-militarism and Nonviolent Action, and the School is being developed as a way to offer society other means of social struggle.

As Colombia is in a process of implementing the peace agreement it signed at the end of 2016 with the FARC guerrilla group (now a legal political party), and is in the process of negotiating with the ELN (National Liberation Army), it has been identified that the time is now for developing different methods.

As part of the process of developing the School, DIPAZ held a public forum on Monday, April 23rd. Invited speakers and panelists from around Colombia as well as other parts of Latin America and the world shared their thoughts around the question: “What are the challenges and the opportunities for nonviolent action in the Colombian context of post-accords”? We also listened to examples and 
experiences from Colombian communities around nonviolence and efforts they have already begun.

During one of the panels representatives of CONPAZ (communities building peace
in the territories) sang their movement hymn, before they shared their experience
of nonviolent resistance in Colombia. Photo from DIPAZ.
Thanks to the Colombian Seeds of Freedom Network, after the forum we handed out a plant and/or a
small package of native and organic seeds. On each bag of seeds and each plant was written the name
of one of the more than 280 community leaders and human rights defenders that have been
killed in Colombia since the signing of the peace agreements. Photo by Katie.
A very special highlight of the forum was world-renowned singer Anthony Brown (www.anthonybrownbaritone.net) ho told stories and sang songs of peacebuilding around the world.

Anthony Brown singing a song about the experience of the nonviolent movement
of Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Katie
We were fortunate to spend some time with Anthony while he was in Colombia. It was very inspiring to listen to stories of his peacebuilding work all over the world.
One of the songs Anthony sang is titled "Make Them Hear You", here are the powerful lyrics:

Go out and tell our story
Let it echo far and wide
Make them hear you
Make them hear you

How that justice was our battle
And how justice was denied
Make them hear you
Make them hear you

And I say to those who blame us
For the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles
That are more than black or white

And I could not put down my sword
When justice was my right
Make them hear you
Make them hear you

Go out and tell our story
To your daughters and your sons
Make them hear you
Make them hear you

And tell them in our struggles
We were not the only ones
Make them hear you
Make them hear you

Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen
Teach every child to raise their voice
And then my brothers, then

Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men
When they hear you

I’ll be near you, again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Foundation Camino de Emmaus

This past weekend I kicked off my work with the Foundation "Camino de Emaus" (Emmaus Road). Since I have been in Colombia, every year I have lead a workshop with the students in elementary school who receive scholarships from the foundation.

The group of elementary students from Los Llanos

This year is part two of the 10 Life Skills. Last year we looked at self-awareness, emotions, and assertive communication. This year we are looking at the next three skills: stress management, inter-personal relations, and creative thinking. IELCO is also beginning to implement "Safe Church" policy, called the Child Protection Policy. Last weekend was the first of these retreats and we started in The Plains (Los Llanos). As you can see from the photos, I had a great groups of kiddos.

This girls in this photo were in one of the activities about inter-personal relationships. They had to draw each of their favorite animals while both using the same marker at the same time. 

Each of the children received a little container of play-dough to play with practicing creative thinking as well as stress management. 

The children are studying the booklets about the Child Protection Policies. We then played jeopardy to see how well they understood (they did a great job). 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Armed Conflict

In Colombia, April 9th has been declared The National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Armed Conflict. On this day in 1948, Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, one of the most charismatic leaders of Colombia, a lawyer and ex-mayor of Bogota committed to social justice, and a presidential hopeful, was assassinated on the streets of Bogota. The violence that Colombia is still suffering today can be traced back to the consequences of this tragic event of 1948.

Yesterday (April 9th), we attended an ecumenical commemoration, to remember the victims of the conflict, to ask for forgiveness as churches for involvement (consciously or unconsciously) in the violence, and to look forward to the challenges in building peace in Colombia.

Gloria Gaitán (daughter of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán) is distributing the communion bread.

Listening to one of Gaitán's famous speeches with the family was a moment of raw emotion.

Pastor Nelson Celis of the IELCO was invited to offer the opening prayer at the event:

Let us pray:

In the love that brings us together today, God the Father/Mother,
We make of our prophetic voice, a permanent prayer:
the historical claim that, even though hidden and silenced,
Truth seeks light, and memory longs for reconciliation.

This is the time, caring and near God, to rejoice,
from our diversity, and in the coming together of sincere spirits,
to strive in the search and the finding of justice,
in the communal construction of a stable and lasting peace,
in the inclusive design of the pillars of a new generation.

Our heart is ready for selfless service:
to the cause of the helpless, the poor and the marginalized,
to be a challenging presence that remembers the struggles of the martyrs,
for much is the blood poured into this earth that screams: Never again!
We remain motivated by the rising hope,
Working on all fronts in compassionate harmony,
to put into action the curtailed longings of those who,
like Gaitán, had the certainty that “the people are superior to their leaders”,
and they reaffirmed it with their dedication. This certainty comes now to our days as a
powerful and lasting inspiration.

God of mercy,
Our prayer is addressed to you with a voice that, although calm,
is not uneasy, because we trust in the change that is happening.
It is a reality, and today, it is symbolically represented here:
in the diverse sectors and expressions of society that don’t get tired
of demanding justice, of keeping memory as a bulwark,
of taking their just claims and shaking up the corrupt establishment.
You, you listen to all, You, you are a God who draws near to everyone,
that's why we cry out to You, that's why we come before You,
stripped of hatreds and vindictive intentions,
to ask for Your support, in the cause of those, while forgotten by the State,
are always present in the voice of those who speak on their behalf.

Accompany us in our cause, which is none other than that of the Kingdom,
which Christ himself proclaimed! Kingdom of Justice, peace and reconciliation.
To find the power of your Word, loving God Mother/Father,
we can help restore those who have been harmed
and, with our transforming actions, we accept as our own,
the slogan of Father Camilo, that blessed prophet who taught us
that “Love’s effectiveness is not achieved but with revolution.”
In your hands we are a renewed strength, in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter (Pascua)

On Friday we wrote about living into the reality of this broken world as we remembered the death of Jesus. Today, Easter Sunday, we remember that death does not have the final word. God's project of LIFE continues to flourish and struggle against death in this world.

This photo of Pastor Angelica Bernate during her Easter sermon this morning. 

Thank you for journeying with us this Lenten season.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

This is a picture from a vigil held to remember and honor the victims of Colombia's armed conflict. We sang: "Our Father of the Poor and Marginalized." On this Good Friday, we remember Jesus; who was also a victim of hatred, violence, and fear. Today we live into the reality of the world we live in, and mourn. 

Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do.