Monday, December 22, 2014

Vacation Bible School

I know, some of you (or most of you) are thinking it is the wrong time of the year for this….but last week and part of this week is Vacation Bible School (VBS) [9 days here!]. I have been helping with the VBS in Porvenir, a congregation in the south of Bogota, where I have been helping with the women’s ministry. The women’s ministry is hosting the VBS, which is how I got involved, and I am so glad I have!

The week has been exhausting (to say the least), but also overflowing with love and laughter. In a lot of ways the VBS is very similar to a VBS in the states with songs, kid-style worship, crafts, games, and of course snacks. I have been in charge of the games for the week. It’s been fun and tricky for me. Some days have gone really well, and others, well, not quite as well, but still fun. Wednesday last week I divided the older kids up into two teams, boys vs. girls, for the game. Each group made a human knot, and had a race to see which group could untangle first. I really like doing this game as a race, in my experience girls-groups tend to do better (which I think is extremely important to their self-esteem and confidence in such a patriarchal society), and that is exactly what happened on Wednesday, the girls won by a long shot! The girls came over to tell me that they had won; I congratulated them, and told them how well they had worked together, and how proud of them I was. That was exactly the right thing to do, the girls had been very shy to talk to me before, but immediately they realized I liked them (and was happy they had won)….they didn't leave my side the rest of the day. I immediately felt like I was there for a reason. We spent the rest of the day talking about anything they could dream up to ask me; from my favorite Colombian food, to which I liked more: jeans or leggings! 

If it's true, a photo is worth a thousand words, then some of my pictures from the week will say more than I can. It's been a great week! 
The group of girls I really bonded with - pretty awesome young women! 
Juan Pablo making his penguin ornament (such cute crafts!)

Some of the elementary school girls coloring (learning about communion) 

Me jumping rope with Kenia (in the purple)

The youngest class (ages 2ish-4ish)

The middle class (ages 5 - 8/9)
The oldest class (ages 9 - 16)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dismantling the History and Idea of Discovery

Today, December 3rd, and next Wednesday, December 10th , International Human Rights Day, the radio station of the Lutheran Church of Colombia, Punto4Radio, will be airing a two part series about building right relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the church.

The difficult history that exists between them is built on a foundation known as the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of historical documents such as Papal Bulls, Royal Charters and court rulings which call for non-Christian peoples to be “invaded, captured, vanquished, subdued, reduced to perpetual slavery and to have their possessions and property seized” by Christian Monarchs. Collectively, these documents and other concepts form a standard or pattern of domination that is still being used against Indigenous Peoples today.

This image shows how the world was divided by the Vatican during the European exploration
Rejecting this doctrine, and working towards building a relationship based on human rights, equality, peace, integrity, community, and stewardship is an important task for the Church everywhere, in fact many have issued statements repudiating the doctrine (World Council of Churches, Anglican Church of Canada, Friends General Conference, United Church of ChristEpiscopal Church, Unitarian Universalist Church, United Methodist Church).

Wrestling with the history that comes out of this doctrine, these radio programs will look to discuss: the challenges to the construction of right relationships between churches and Indigenous Peoples; effective models of Indigenous syncretism or the blending of Christianity into their own history, knowledge and culture and how the church can accompany them in this process; examples of respectful and right relationships; and ways to build solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and organizations in their many struggles.

These exciting radio programs are a small step in dismantling the doctrine and changing relations between the church and Indigenous Peoples to a model of accompaniment and solidarity. This small step, however, is important and needed to initiate difficult conversations.

About ten minutes before the show today, I abruptly found out that I was going to be participating in the conversation over the radio.  A chair was pulled up to the table and I was told to check my microphone. With much surprise and anxiety I was able to stumble through the program (completely in Spanish). Also, due to some guest cancellations, I learned that I will be helping lead the program next week, which will more heavily focus on the Doctrine of Discovery, its impacts on Indigenous Peoples today, and challenges in promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Below is the link to listen to the radio program (in Spanish) from today:

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Fragility of Peace and International Support

On Sunday, November 16, the FARC Guerrillas captured a general of the Government’s army who was traveling within their controlled territory. The government responded with a suspension of the peace negotiations until his release. This has been the most serious setback for the relatively successful peace process. However, with assistance from Norway and Cuba as guarantors of the peace talks, as well as assistance from the International Red Cross, the FARC agreed to release the general and his companions, which should be happening this coming week.

The peace process is set to continue, and after such a hurdle, the hope is that it will have gained strength. As this exemplifies the fragility of the peace process, I wanted to include information here on the conflict in Colombia and what can be done by our brothers and sisters in the United States to support the people of Colombia to reach a lasting and just peace. A return to the table to negotiate a peace is crucial. While an agreement written down on paper will not automatically bring peace into the everyday lives of the Colombian people, it will lay out a strong blueprint and path for its implementation and the construction of peace.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, who we work with) builds its relationship with the church and people of Colombia based on the model of accompaniment, or: “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality”. Walking in solidarity with the church and people of Colombia starts with the victims of violence by all armed actors in the conflict. The victims are calling for truth, justice, meaningful reparations and a guarantee that the vicious past will not be repeated, including the root causes of the conflict.

The ELCA is a member of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), a coalition of over 60 organizations dedicated to promoting U.S. policies toward Latin America that support human rights, social justice, and sustainable development. This coalition has issued a number of quality resources to learn about the conflict that has existed in Colombia for more than 50 years. LAWG has also coordinated advocacy efforts to push the U.S Government to adopt policies that will advance the peace process based on justice and human rights.

The Human Costs of the Colombian Conflict” is an infographic with a number of statistics about the armed conflict.

How can the United States help Colombia Achieve Peace?” is a memo produced by LAWG covering a detailed list of the many different manners the United States Government can support the peace process in Colombia.

Once the peace talks resume (hopefully soon), I will post some action items for those interested. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz de Colombia DIPaz-Colombia

This past Monday, November 10, the Diálogo Intereclesial por la Paz de Colombia or Inter-Eclesial Dialogue for Peace (DIPAZ-Colombia) was constructed. The initiative comes out of a long path taken by Churches and faith based organizations walking together for two years to build an ecumenical body involved in the peace process of Colombia.

The Churches and organizations involved in DIPAZ-Colombia include the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, the Lutheran Church of Colombia, The Mennonite Church of Colombia, Justapaz (a Mennonite organization focused on Justice, Reconciliation and Nonviolent Action), Mencoldes (a Mennonite foundation focused on development), the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace, the Baptist University, the World Service department of the Lutheran World Federation, and the program of Faith, Economy, Ecology, and Society of the Latin American Council of Churches.

The three areas of work decided on for DIPAZ-Colombia will be 1. Reconciliation 2. Non-violent Action and de-militarization 3. Truth and Justice. The group has decided to work for advocacy inside the churches, with the government, other social sectors and also directly with the peace process between the government and the FARC (Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Havana, Cuba. This work will be developed considering the following components; formation and pedagogy, media and communication, documentation, and specific processes of accompaniment.

The Dialogue (DIPAZ-Colombia) is already planning a trip to Havana, Cuba this December to present themselves to those participating in the peace negotiations and share the proposals being developed by the group. The main focus will be to push for a confirmation that after successful negotiations there will be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to make sure the story of the conflict and the experiences of violence and rights violations do not go unaccounted by the civilian population that experienced it.

The Human Rights Program of the Lutheran Church of Colombia is very happy to be involved in DIPAZ, as am I, especially at this stage of facilitating dialogue between different churches, all searching to fulfill a reconciling role for these times in Colombia. 
From left to right: Abilio Pena of the Inter-ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace; Milton Mejia of the Latin American Council of Churches; Jenny Neme of Justapaz and the Mennonite Church of Colombia; Andres Alba of the Lutheran Church of Colombia; myself; and Luis Fernando San Miguel of the Presbytarian Church of Colombia; and the photo was taken by Beatriz Garcia del Foro of Lutheran World Federation. 

After this post was written, before being published the Colombian peace talks were suspended.  The government decided to suspend the negotiations after the FARC guerillas captured and refused to release an army general, considering him as a prisoner of war. There has been no ceasefire agreement, meaning the peace negotiations have been conducted during the last two years while the conflict was ongoing. Please keep the people of Colombia in your prayers, as well as a return to the peace talks and its success.
To read more about the suspension: Colombia Peace Talks

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gracia (Grace)

Grace, routine, language, home….these are all things I have come to understand differently since moving to Colombia. I have been reading (almost finished) with the book “How Coffee Saved My Life”, by Ellie Roscher. It was gifted to me after returning to the states from my year in Zambia, I read it then and liked it. I started rereading it a few weeks ago. It’s about an ELCA Missionary in South America. She writes about language, routine, home, white noise, and grace….wow, there are parts of this book that could have been straight from my journal. I highly recommend it! Ellie writes so well about both the good and struggles of living overseas and living as a missionary…and stumbling upon grace.

Every week life seems to fall more into a routine, which I am so thankful for. We are totally moved into our apartment, unpacked, and settled. Last week, Curtis came from work with flowers for me. There are a ton of different kinds of flowers grown here, and we live very close to the flower district. These flowers came as a gift of encouragement for me on a day that was particularly difficult as I was struggling with my Spanish. This was one of those moments of grace, that I understand very differently now.  

Spanish has been a struggle for me, and everyone around me has been extending lots of grace every time I open my mouth. People gently correct my grammar or provide a word that I don’t know. And when I told everyone in the office I was going to be starting at a new school (and therefore wouldn’t be around as much), they could tell that was difficult for me and have been so encouraging to me and complimenting my Spanish (even when/especially when I don’t feel worthy of a compliment).

Yes, I did find Mtn Dew here! 
Yesterday, I began a Spanish immersion school. I needed something a little more intense to be able to speak Spanish at the necessary level, and this school is intense. I have class for four hours in the morning, with at least as many hours of homework. There are 8 students in my class and we are all from a different country: Hong Kong, Brazil, Germany, England, Australia, Sweden, India and the US (and all about the same level of Spanish). We are all in Colombia for different reasons, some to stay and work, others for fun, and others to just learn Spanish. The class is taught almost exclusively in Spanish. I can tell that this with class, and a little extra caffeine, and I will be at the level of Spanish I need to be to really start working.

“When we become aware that our stuttering, failing, vulnerable selves are loved even when we hardly progress, we can let go of our compulsion to prove ourselves and be free to live with others in a fellowship of the weak. That is true healing.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kogi Education

The view from the community. The Sierra Nevada de Santa
Marta is the highest coastal mountain in the world,
and that is a river running into the ocean.
(Picture taken by Marian Coy)
On the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia, live the Kogi Indigenous People. When the Spanish started arriving in the territory that is now Colombia, the Kogi were part of an ancient civilization called the Tayrona. Witnessing the destruction brought by the Spanish to other nearby peoples, the Tayrona decided to retreat higher into the mountain and separate into different communities. The Kogi of today are one of these communities. The Wiwa, Arhuaco and the Assario are others. Living separately for the last 500 years, these communities have developed into different recognized tribes with very similar cultures, but different languages.
Another beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
(Picture taken by Marian Coy)
Last week I was able to visit a Kogi community that is working hard to develop a school which will not only be recognized and supported by the government but stays true to their culture and world-vision. The process was fascinating, and the results were exciting. Instead of focusing on rote learning in the classroom, the structures will be based on projects that will assist the community in its development vision. A project, for example, of building an organic composting system includes all subjects needed (math, natural science, social science, art, etc.). In this way the education process will contribute to the community’s development according to its own vision as well as impart their cultural vision to the next generations.
Marian, a volunteer for the human rights program,
and a master's student in education,
 facilitating the planning process. (Picture taken by Curtis)

I was able to share my experience in an Indigenous community in Southern Mexico
and the education system they have developed. (Picture taken by Marian Coy).

Jose, one of the teachers, walking the group through the process of
building houses as a possible project, utilizing all school subjects.
(Picture taken by Marian Coy)
The committed teachers of the school spent three long days planning these projects, ensuring they are not only teaching the school subjects, but also cultural ethics and values. Discussions were held over every project about whether or not it successfully included environmental consciousness, the empowerment of women, skills training for life in the community, the strengthening of participatory processes and democratic values. The implementation of these projects for education is important and I am excited to accompany this community throughout the process.
The group of teachers and community leaders involved in the process
before we went back down the mountain (I am in the back row).
(Photo taken by Marian Coy)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Soy Capaz

Last Sunday Curtis and I went out to eat. We were reading our table tent advertisement, it said: Por la PAZ, de que soy, caPAZ? (For peace, what am I able to do?). It struck me as an odd table tent advertisement for a pizza place, but it also reminded me that we are living in a country with a 50 plus year ongoing armed conflict. Promising peace talks have been under way since 2012 between the government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) (they have agreed to 4 of the 6 points). While the peace talks are important for the future of peace here, the signed document is not what will bring peace.

So, back to the table tent. I noticed it, ate my pizza, and left. A few days later I noticed another sign somewhere (remember I am still learning Spanish) that said something about I am able…for my country (I missed the middle part). Then a few days later I noticed a woman carrying a shopping bag that said ‘for my future, for my family, and for my country: I am able’. I figured there must be something going on. Then my suspicions were confirmed in church yesterday. The pastor talked about ‘Soy Capaz’ (I am able). Turns out there was a national campaign launched last week to encourage everyone in Colombia to think about the role we all play in promoting and building peace. 

The five points of the campaign (taken from a local newspaper)

The campaign will last for 30 days and consists of five points: 1) I am able to accept that we can be much better; Colombia can be the country we dream of. 2) I am able to recognize that I am part of the problem and part of the solution. 3) I am able to put myself in the shoes of others, and to accept our differences. 4) I am able to be a better Colombian. 5) I am able to do something for my country, for my family, for my future.

I think this campaign is good for a number of reasons. This campaign acknowledges that this country isn’t at peace right now. People who live in Bogota (myself included) have the luxury of ignoring what’s happening in other places of the country. This campaign also asks every individual to think about what he/she can do to build peace. So it leaves me with these questions: What am I able to do? As a foreigner? As an American? As a Christian? How does this affect my work with youth and women?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Visiting Projects, Witnessing Dignity

The conflict in Colombia has created situations of forced displacement for many rural communities. People’s lives are torn apart as the different actors involved in the country’s conflict struggle for control of territory and resources.  Most of these displaced people (almost 6 million) remain internally displaced (remaining inside Colombia’s borders); the neighboring countries they attempt to flee to do not recognize them as refugees. Ecuador has made some steps towards the recognition of Colombian refugees, however, and currently hosts about 55,000 Colombian refugees.

View of Soacha from Centro de Atencion Integral al Adulto Mayor
At the same time, there are no internal displacement camps within the borders of Colombia. So, where do these people go for support and survival? They must seek shelter on the margins. They often end up in places with little access to housing and other necessities, on the outskirts of cities.
In southern Bogota there are many neighborhoods that have been built at the edge of the valley, often climbing into the mountains. The people who live in these communities are often those displaced from the conflict, those looking for better economic opportunities in the city, and those that can no longer afford living in the more “formal” areas of Bogota.

In this area, just outside of Bogota’s border, lies Soacha, a municipality of the department (equivalent to a state in the USA) of Cundinamarca. Many people (somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million) live in Soacha. A great number of these have been displaced from elsewhere in Colombia. Struggling to rebuild their lives and hold on to their dignity, they have built up some incredible community associations. We had the fortunate opportunity to visit one that IELCO is partnering with in the neighborhood called Buenos Aires, ‘Centro de Atencion Integral al Adulto Mayor’ (Comprehensive Care Centre for the Elderly). It is a place where the elderly, living in difficult conditions, lacking many services and unable to work can come for many things. They receive comprehensive health check-ups and care, are provided therapeutic activities, offered literacy training, and provided meals. Spending just a short day at this center left us intrigued to learn more, especially as some of the elderly members offered to tell us their stories and further our understanding of the context of Colombia, the context we are now working in.

Veronica showing us her 'life box', a therapeutic tool made at the center  
Still in southern Bogota, but in Bogota’s city limits, lies another community working to build itself up out of situations of displacement and poverty. This community, called Caracoli, is in the locality of Bogota called Ciudad Bolivar (one of twenty localities of Bogota). Ciudad Bolivar is made up of 320 neighborhoods, of which 100 are considered illegal. Meaning they do not have title to the land, permission to construct houses or contracts for services to be provided. This means that people living in these “illegal” neighborhoods do not have security of land or housing. They could be forced to leave (again) at any moment.  

A congregation of IELCO, called Luz y Vida (Light and Life) has been in the neighborhood of Caracoli for 15 years. Last week we were able to visit a women’s group that organizes there. This group acts as a solidarity fund, creating voluntary savings plans and providing small loans for the women members. It also creates a safe place for women to come together and discuss community issues and how they affect women specifically, as well as learn skills (sewing classes were underway when we visited), professional psycho-social support and emergency help are offered as well.
Flor using a sewing machine for the first time (practicing on paper), lots of laughs! 
These snapshots we were able to witness last week, gave us a glimpse into the types of projects we may have the opportunity to accompany.  Offering our companionship and support to the people we have met so far, people involved in beautiful struggles for dignity, community, and reconciliation, is more a privilege than a service.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ordinary and Extraordinary

Yesterday, Sunday, I thought so many times about routine. I love routine and structure, schedules and calendars. It has been almost two months since I have had any sort of routine in my life (since I left Evergreen Lutheran) and it is exhausting for me. The last two months have been chaotic, with every day bringing some sort of a new adventure. Yesterday, for maybe the first time in two months, I felt like it was (almost) a normal day. We got up and went to church. Even though the whole service was in Spanish, I, somehow, understood. The same creeds and prayers I have been reciting since I was a child, the same words of institution that I know by heart and the same Bible verses that were read by Lutheran churches around the world…it was familiar and routine, even though it was new and in a different language. After worship, we went out to lunch with Jairo and his family. Jairo has been our amazing host since we have been here, showing us around the city, and helping us get oriented. His wife, Consuelo, is the pastor of the church we went to. Their daughter, Lydia, joined us for lunch (they also have a son who didn't join us). Growing up my family always went out to eat on Sundays after church, Curtis and I continued the tradition of family dinners (with our roommate in Evergreen). Those are all special memories for me, and part of a routine. Lunch was ordinary, with laughter, sharing stories, jokes, teasing, and getting to know each other. After lunch, Curtis and I came back to the guest house, and I skyped with my parents. This has also been a Sunday tradition, and one that always makes me happy. Yesterday was a day filled with familiar routine; the ordinary was extraordinary for my soul. I woke up today ready for the challenges and adventures that a new day would bring. 

The altar & front of the church. The sign reads: 'The Spirit of God is in This Place'. This is a missional/start-up congregation. Jairo is on the left, he played guitar because the normal musician was away for the weekend. 

Hymnal: 'Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal'

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Mountains Are to the East

We have arrived in the beautiful city of Bogota, Colombia. The welcome we have received gives us much excitement and hope for the weeks, months and years ahead. Spending the day getting a little more familiar with our neighborhood and making introductions with our counterparts has been exciting. The Lutheran Church in Colombia is involved in many moving projects, from human rights to environmental issues, from HIV/AIDS to elderly care. I am eager to learn more about them and especially to begin to find the places where my skill-set could be beneficial in the human rights program. But for now Katie and I are enjoying the beginning of our experience.

Tonight, with a comfortable cool breeze in the air, and a rainbow shining through from a light drizzle earlier this evening, Katie and I are watching the sun set from the balcony of our temporary guest house.  Coming from Denver, Colorado we are used to watching the sun setting to the west, setting into the mountains. However, here the mountains (really everywhere) are to the East. The advice we were given in terms of orienting ourselves in the large city is to find the mountains and remember that is east. Hopefully we can remember this, and avoid the confusion of being lost as we look to the mountains with westward minds.

While there will be plenty of time to get lost, to learn the hard way, and break cultural taboos, Katie and I feel that we are in good hands. The warm welcome we are receiving has been openhearted and comforting. 

This photo is from our balcony at our temporary guest house, if you look closely there is a rainbow just left of center.

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Chapter

From Curtis: 

With tickets now in hand and bags (getting) packed, Katie and I can hardly wait for our arrival in Bogota, Colombia. This new chapter of our lives holds so many promising opportunities, challenges, frustrations, achievements, relationships, and so much more.

I am constantly thinking about the excitement of the new that everything will hold when we are first seeing, smelling, hearing, experiencing this new home. On arrival, all the buildings, homes, parks, gardens, will be brand new. I won't understand all of the meaning of all this newness being experienced. As days pass on, and familiarity starts to set in, however, all of the new things will start to gain meaning. Knowing how things fit together, how they work, as the exciting newness fades into a more comfortable familiarity, will push us to build our community, our network of family and friends amongst the brothers and sisters we are soon to meet.

Finding and adjusting ourselves into the rhythms of a different culture will be both challenging and rewarding. It will push us out of our comfort zones. It will help us find new meaning in practices we have grown accustomed to. The rhythms will help us gain more understanding of the humanity that we are a part of.

I am honored and thankful to have the opportunity to go to Colombia to join with brothers and sisters in their outstanding efforts to build peace out of their countries tragic recent history. I am honored and privileged that my wife will be standing by me, offering support, love, and encouragement to me, along with her own strength and skills to those Colombians lucky enough to know her. On Tuesday, August 12th, we are ready to flip the page over and begin this chapter.I hope our counterparts in Colombia are ready for us!