Wednesday, December 9, 2015

ProFILE, Retreat #4

This past weekend was the fourth and final ProFILE retreat for 2015. We finished the retreat Monday evening graduating 19 leaders, with another 5 who were unable to be at the retreat, but will graduate as well. But I am getting ahead of myself. ProFILE is a leadership formation series, I have blogged about the other three here: ProFILE #1ProFILE #2, and ProFILE #3. To keep with the the theme of the other blogs, this final blog will also be though photos.

One of the goals of ProFILE was to have each retreat in a different region of the regions of Colombia where IELCO has a presence. To keep with that goal, this final retreat was in Trinidad, in the region Llanos (about 11 hours bus ride from Bogota).

The theme for this retreat was the "Biblical - Theological Principles of Leadership". Pastor Atahualpa was the main presenter for the retreat. The whole retreat was based around the book of Jonah using different techniques to read and understand the text. In every activity we used different medians, including the crown you see above to talk about how the king felt after hearing what Jonah was saying....what made him mandate the whole city to repent? We asked other questions like how do they think the other sailors on the boat felt (hence the skull and cross-bone in the upper right photo).

Another activity was giving each participant a footprint to write what reaction they thought the people in Nineveh had when they heard Jonah's message. We used fish cutouts to talk about Jonah in the belly of the fish, and why God would have sent the fish. Anna-Bella (Pastor Edwin's daughter) is here helping me tape up the footprints.

Another activity was writing a song (in small groups). This is a video, of one of the songs written. Don't forget to turn your volume up. 

Because this was the last retreat for the group, we made sure to have some down time. There is a river within walking distance of the church, so part of the group went swimming while the rest of us watched and ate ice cream. The children of Pastor Edwin (pastor in Trinidad) as well as the children of Pastor Atahualpa were around (and even participating in some of the activities). In the upper left photo is Henry and his wife Elisa (who was so impressed with everything she saw this weekend she is hoping to join ProFILE for 2016)...the parrot she is holding is a wild parrot that was hanging around. 

We closed the retreat Monday evening with the graduation ceremony (and then the bus ride back to Bogota, arriving Tuesday morning). The participants all received a 'diploma' stating they finished all the requirements of ProFILE as well as participating in the 120 hours (wow) of retreat time throughout the year. I think I can safely say that as the Education Office of IELCO, Pastor Atahualpa, Zulma and I are all very please with this group of people, the work they have done, and the work we know they will continue to do! Way to go ProFILE group of 2015!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Planning Processes and New Communities

In the last year I have had the opportunity to understand both the context of human rights work in Colombia and more specifically the context of IELCO (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia) in working for human rights. The role I can play has been more deeply defined throughout many conversations with the people of IELCO about their dreams, fears and experiences regarding human rights.
A main park in the city of Medellin, the art on the ground is to remember all women who have disappeared
and/or experienced sexual violence during the conflict. Curtis, John and Ivonne looking at the  memorial. 
Photo by Katie.
A few of months ago I started a consultation process, asking all of the congregations of IELCO how they would like to work with the human rights program for the next year (2016). Through this process, five congregations were chosen to be accompanied throughout the year, and each congregation will be focusing on different human rights themes. This will be done through a unique series of workshops at all five congregations (based on the theme chosen by the congregation), the creation of materials such as guides and manuals for the local congregation to continue teaching the theme, as well as an asset-mapping process to help each local community define for themselves their own strengths and resources to develop their capacity to work for the protection and promotion of human rights.

Some of the themes chosen for next year will be: The bible and human rights; Transformation of conflicts and political advocacy; Community justice; the rights of the child; and the right to education.

Artwork by Fernando Botero, Colombia's most famous artist and citizen of Medellin. His artwork is always of 
over-sized people, animals, things.  On the left is a dove (representing peace) that was blown up by a bomb 
during the most violent days of the conflict in Medellin. On the right is a replication of the original. The city 
decided to keep them both together in a park to remember the history. Photo by Yvonne Rosenstand.
The process started by reaching out to all pastors and presidents of congregations and asking them to talk to their members and decide on a theme. After they got back to me with a theme, they then decided on how they would like the human rights program to accompany them (workshops, advocacy, materials, other activities, etc.). After the theme and type of accompaniment was decided, I then met with the congregation to make everything concrete: what will be the objective to be reached by the end of 2016, what are the dates for activities, who will be participating (from inside and from outside the congregation), as well as just getting to know the hopes of the people.

This last weekend, the 28th and 29th of November, I finished the planning process with the last of the five congregations. It was actually my first time visiting the community in Medellin (the second largest city in Colombia), and was a fantastic way to start the relationship.

Pastor John Hernandez, a constant and solid supporter of my work and of the human rights program, had done a great amount of preparation and the process was very strong.

Pastor John Hernandez leading the service on Sunday. Photo by Katie. 
The Comuna 13, is a neighborhood of Medellin that has a sad history of violence and drug trafficking, as well as a history of community led non-violent resistance and organizing for peace. Pastor John took us to visit a youth group from the Comuna (Commune, used to divide the city, almost like councils in the U.S.) called Judah, that focuses on art and creativity. The members of this youth group shared some of their experiences living in the Comuna and their work of using art as a form of resistance, of recording the truth and promoting justice. We then had a small workshop about human rights and the bible and invited them to participate in the process next year.

Meeting with the planning group from the church, making all the plans for next year. Photo by Katie.
After the service on Sunday, I met with a group from the church to plan out next year in detail. This group showed an enchanting excitement to get involved in human rights issues. They especially wanted to focus on those that are most vulnerable in Medellin, and ultimately decided to focus initially on human rights more generally, and later in the year, on the right to education.

Afterwards, Pastor John, with his family, took us around the city of Medellin to see it a little more, know some more of its history, and enjoy the much warmer climate, compared to Bogota. 

Pastor John and Yvonne (his wife) at the festival of lights, an annual Christmas celebration in Medellin. We were told not to miss it. Photo by Karina Rosenstand.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Walking in the Grace

"Walking in the Grace" (Caminando en la gracia) is the name of the Vacation Bible School (VBS) material that the churches of IELCO will be using this year. This has been a project that the education team at IELCO, along with other volunteers in the church, has been working on for over 6 months now. With VBS just around the corner - the material is ready!

On Saturday we had a presentation of the material for several teachers, including at least one from each of the four regions of IELCO. This material was made by IELCO, from a grant from Capacitando al Pueblo de Dios, which is part of the ELCA, coordinated by another ELCA missionary in Latin America, Kari Eller.

We shared with the teachers what he methodology used to prepare the material was, what each of the lessons is about, and general tips for a successful VBS. As the Lutherans around the world are gearing up for the 500 Year Celebration of the Reformation, in 2017, one of the goals of this material is to educate the children in VBS about what it means to be Lutheran and to follow Jesus, specifically in Colombia. The material has 5 lessons: Walking with Jesus, The Journey/Paths of the First Christians, Luther, Journey of the First Missionaries, and The Footprints of Jesus Today.

One of the young men in the IELCO offices, Sergio, did all the drawings for the book. Above is one of the drawings. He drew them all to relate to each lesson, and all in the same style to help unify to book. He has incredible talent. 

The material is divided into three categories: ages 3-6, ages 7-10 and ages 11-13. The VBS will be December 14-20 in most of the congregations. I will be helping teach at one of the mission congregations in Caracoli (southern Bogota) along with Zulma ...and my parents! (My parents will be here for Christmas and will be helping with the VBS also.)

This is the group that we shared the material with on Saturday. They will go and share it with their congregations and each lead wonderful VBS, I am sure of that! (The last photo is taken by Pastor Angelica's daughter, age 5, Sara)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Step by Step, Towards Reconciliation

One of the main focus areas this year for the human rights program is the capacity building of the Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) in the theme of reconciliation. As the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are nearing a final signed peace accord, the IELCO has a great opportunity and responsibility to involve itself in the reconciling work necessary to build a country of peace and justice.

The human rights program has offered a series of regional workshops regarding reconciliation throughout the year, here is an old post I wrote about them. While the main goal of these workshops was to hold discussions on the theme of reconciliation, sensitize church members on its importance, and build the capacity to get involved in reconciliation work, another goal is that the participants would then go back to their home congregation and replicate the conversations and activities.

As the year is nearing an end, and we are in a process of evaluating the activities accomplished, I sent out a survey to all the participants to see how successful this secondary goal had been.

I was happily surprised with the responses:

The congregation of San Pedro (St. Peter) in southern Bogota had held its own workshop, specifically with children and their parents. Their goal was to get the children to feel free talking about the issues surrounding reconciliation from the house, to the church to the city and to the country. The workshop ended with many of the children proposing activities and concrete actions they could do to work towards reconciliation.

Members of San Pedro participating in their local workshop. Photo by Pastor Rocio Morales.

More families of San Pedro in their workshop on reconciliation. Photo by Pastor Rocio Morales.
The congregation of El Divino Redentor (The Divine Redeemer) in Bucaramanga has already been supporting a local project of reconciliation. It is a fascinating project, a farm, where people who have been injured by landmines with ex-combatants (many responsible for planting the landmines) can learn to work together to grow food, take care of animals and hold meaningful discussions about forgiveness, justice and reconciliation.  

The director of this project participated in the workshop of IELCO, and also invited the members of Divino Redentor to participate in a day-long workshop to be held at the farm. Replicating the materials and activities of the workshop from IELCO, church members were given an opportunity to be directly involved in reconciling work in the country at a very meaningful and personal level.
Participants at the workshop at the "Self-sustaining Farm for the Rehabilitation of Victims". Photo by Guillermo Gil.

More participants at the reconciliation workshop at the "Self-sustaining Farm for the Rehabilitation of Victims".
Photo by Guillermo Gil.
The congregation of San Pablo (St. Paul) in southern Bogota has been planning to end the year with a very special worship service, using the workshop on reconciliation as a basis. They are planning to have a worship service in nature, after a short hike outside of Bogota, to focus on reconciliation with all of creation.

It will be exciting to see how these activities continue, how I can support them, and the ways in which they push the church towards its responsibility to work towards the reconciliation of the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Accompaniment of Scholarship Students

One of the projects I have been working on this year is accompanying the Foundation Camino de Emmaus in their workshops. One of the goals of the foundation is to support children in getting an education. They do this through scholarships to students ages 6 through college aged. In all of Colombia they give more than 200 scholarships every year! The foundation is a separate entity from the Lutheran Church, however they work collaboratively, and even have their offices in the same building as the Lutheran Church central offices. The scholarships go to either members of the church or people who are somehow connected to the church. One of the requirements to receive the scholarship is to attend an annual workshop.

The group of students who receive scholarships in Bucaramanga. Alexandra on the right, in the gray striped shirt,
is the projects coordinator and scholarships coordinator for the foundation. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ecumencial Worship for Peace

Last Sunday the 18th of October, DIPAZ (Dialogo Intereclesial por la Paz – Inter-church Dialogue for Peace) held an ecumenical celebration and worship service at the Lutheran Church of San Pablo in southern Bogota. The shared celebration was a fantastic display of the hard work to join hands, combine efforts, and build peace that many church members are involved in here in Colombia.

Celebrating together were members of Catholic, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Baptist, and Independent Evangelical churches, and, of course, the Lutheran congregation of San Pablo. 

DIPAZ will continue to promote ecumenical worship at other congregations around Bogota and hopefully they will grow outside of the city as well. The next one is already planned to be held at a Mennonite congregation, and will hopefully have the same showing as this one did.

A sign brought to help the message of the celebration, the translation is "A Peacemaker is an example of Jesus' forgiveness and reconciliation".
Lutheran Pastor Nelson Celis, of the congregation San Pablo, introducing the space and opening the worship celebration. Pastor Nelson has consistently been very supportive of my work with the human rights program as well as the participation of IELCO (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia) in DIPAZ.

Andres Alba, member of San Pablo and active participant in DIPAZ, currently he is volunteering to help coordinate the activities of DIPAZ. He is with his son Gabriel or Gabo. Andres helped facilitate the celebration, in this picture he is introducing the various guests that were visiting the church for this special celebration.
In this photo, Pastor Michael Joseph is introducing himself and his participation in DIPAZ. Michael is a fellow missionary from the United States, he is here jointly through the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Here in Colombia he works with the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia.
The worship included group activities intended to spark discussions about peace. In this picture the children are making hands out of blocks to represent they are God's hands in the world. 
Members of the Church on the Rock (Evangelical Independent) introducing themselves. The Church on the Rock participated very strongly with the monitoring and verification efforts of DIPAZ for the current unilateral ceasefire of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
Abilio Peña from the Inter-church Commission for Justice and Peace (a member of DIPAZ) offered the message for the ecumenical service, focusing on the reality of conflict in Colombia and the role of the church to work for peace. Abilio is a founding member of DIPAZ and is very involved in the defense of human rights and the promotion of peace in Colombia 
Gabo getting in some drum "practice" before the celebration started.
(All photos in the blog were taken by Katie)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Learning and Laughing

I want to be good at Spanish, I don't want to know just enough to get by, but I want to be really good. I want to be understood all the time and understand all the time. Here especially, but I imagine this is true to some extent learning any language, I have learned to laugh at myself. I have said the wrong thing, mixed up my words, and embarrassed myself probably more than I even know. It happens regularly. I have learned to laugh at myself first, and then ask someone to explain to me what I said this time.

There was one time someone asked me how long I had been married, I very happily responded that I had been *tired* 7 years [cansado vs casado]. Another time at lunch I ordered *a lettuce* for lunch. The waiter just starred at me until I realized what I said and corrected it to chicken [lechuga vs pechuga]. Then there was the time when I was planning some games for a retreat; I was introducing some Minute to Win It games. I was writing out the instructions and asked someone to edit them; I was trying to explain the game where you use a straw and suck up pieces of paper to move them from one side to another. Well, I got the word wrong for straw and boss laughed so hard he cried (thankfully it was only him and not in front of the whole retreat).

My Spanish Class: left sitting is Howard, Angela (the professor), behind them Samuel, me and Jordan.
(Photo credits: Another Professor at the school on Howard's phone)
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a blog called Gracia (Grace)....I wrote about learning Spanish and starting a 6 week intensive Spanish class, and how gracious everyone I work with was. A year later, everyone continues to be gracious, we laugh together at my mistakes, and I am learning. Now, a year later, I also just finished 2 more weeks at the intensive Spanish school. A very common question we are asked is how much of our work is in Spanish....all of it! I speak English one hour a week in the office, and that is during an English class Curtis and I teach (which I will blog about another day), the rest of the work is in Spanish.

My drawing and my partners play-dough figure 
following my directions.
(Photo credits: me)
So I went back to Spanish school. It was fun to have a change of pace, and really dive deeper into Spanish. I learned a lot, filled up a good portion of my Spanish notebook, and made some new friends. This was a small class, with only 4 students! The activity that we did on the last day of class (well, last day for me, students come and go as their schedules allow at this school) was practicing using command form. In Spanish everything conjugates differently depending on what you want to say. So, saying "wash your hands" for example can be said many different ways, depending on what you are trying to convey. This also becomes more complicated if you want to say "don't wash your hands". The last day we were practicing the command form in negative (don't wash your hands). We talked about what you shouldn't do on a date. The activity ended with everyone drawing a picture and then explaining (using positive command form) what your partner should make using play-dough.

Now I am back in the office for full days again, it's good to be back into my normal routine and fun to start practicing everything I have learned.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Progress in the Dialogues for Peace

Wednesday of last week (September 23) there was a major breakthrough for the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). 

There was much anticipation as President Juan Manual Santos announced he would be traveling to Havana, Cuba (where the negotiations have been taking place) at the same time as “Timochenko” (the highest leader of the FARC) was going to be travelling to Cuba. It turned out they were both going to Cuba to sign a final negotiated agreement on one of the most difficult points of the negotiations, that of transitional justice, which had been blocking the peace process from continuing for over a year.

Transitional justice is an approach to achieving justice in times of transition from conflict and/or state repression. It is not an ordinary approach, but a temporary justice system to assist a society to transition from war/conflict to peace. Coming to this agreement seems to have pushed the peace process across the 'point of no return' as the government and the FARC announced they would be signing a final peace accord in no more than six months.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left), FARC leader "Timochenko" (right) and Cuban President Raul Castro (middle) shaking hands for the agreement. Photo -  EFE.
Although there are those that say the agreement will allow for impunity of the FARC rebels, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, has welcomed the agreement on transitional justice. This gives strong legitimacy to the agreement as the ICC, if not happy with the agreement, could decide to step in to try both FARC members as well as members from the national army and political leaders of Colombia in the Hague. This would have caused great damage to the agreements negotiated between the FARC and the government. Fortunately the process can continue with the support of the ICC.

"I note with optimism that the agreement excludes the granting of amnesty for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is designed, amongst others, to end impunity for the most serious crimes," Besnouda said. 

Virginia Bouvier, head of Latin America programs at the United States Institute for Peace, has also stated:
There is no other peace process in the world where victims have occupied such a central role. We have here a design for transitional justice that is historic and innovative. It gives priority to truth-telling, but does not eschew the need for justice. The model is innovative in its inclusion of restorative justice and its focus on repairing the damages inflicted on individuals and communities through a process of dialogue and healing. This bears watching as it could provide new models for other conflict zones seeking to find a way out of war.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timochenko announce the agreement on criminal responsibility on September 23, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Photo - Government of Colombia. 
As important as this step towards the final signing of a peace accord, as I have mentioned before, the signatures on that final document will not automatically mean peace to the Colombian people still living with the numerous consequences of over 50 years of armed conflict. The process after the accord will be long and arduous to build an empowered and participatory society based on respect for human rights.

The Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) is positioned to play an integral role in this long process. It is quite an honor to have the opportunity to be working in such a capacity in such a critical time of Colombia's history. As The IELCO is beginning to plan its activities for the year 2016, it is very exciting to imagine the numerous and varied ways it can be involved in peace-building and human rights work. Through many conversations with pastors and members of The IELCO, I have gained a much clearer understanding of the possibilities there are for me to assist the church to live into its prophetic role working for justice and peace.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ProFILE #3

I have written about ProFILE (Program for Integral Formation of Lay Leadership) twice before ProFILE #1 here and ProFILE #2 here. This is a four-part leadership retreat. We have been working with leaders from almost every congregation/mission in Colombia with the goal of strengthening lay leadership within the church. This retreat was themed Liturgy and Diaconal Service. One of the goals of this group is to have each of the retreats in a different region of the country (the country is broken up into 4 regions where the Lutheran church has a presence), this retreat was in Bucaramanga, in the Eastern Region of Colombia. To keep with the theme of ProFILE; this will be another photo blog through the photos I took this past weekend.

Our first activity (after the opening devotion of course) is always an ice breaker activity and name re-fresher. Before the retreat we created a large map of Colombia in Colombian colors - yellow, blue and red (bottom left photo). For the activity, everyone drew their hands, then they wrote their name, their church and what Diaconia means to them or how they are involved in Diaconal service in their congregation. Then everyone presented and glued their hand to the map. This was an interesting activity to learn what people understood Diaconia to mean and how they are involved in the different Diaconal projects of their congregations. Upper left photo is Cristian gluing his hand on the map, upper right is a shot of all the hands at the end - filled the map and you can barely see it (can you see my hand at the very bottom center of the photo?), bottom right photo is Enrique presenting himself.

The second activity we do, is a "test" of knowledge. We call it "what we bring" (what knowledge do the participants bring to this, and where are the gaps). This activity is always a game. One of the games I lead during several of the other retreats and workshops is Jeopardy (this was a first for ProFILE). This is a new game to almost everyone, and has been very fun to introduce and play. The categories for this game were: Liturgical Calendar, Diaconia, Worship, IELCO, Hymns, and Liturgy. This time the game was challenging, but still lots of laughs and really great conversation. 

Next Pastor Jairo took over (he is the director of the Diaconia National Ministry of IELCO). He was our guest speaker for the retreat. The first part he talked about Liturgy, the importance of Liturgy, why we have Liturgy and why the order of the Liturgy matters. He is an incredibly dynamic speaker and very passionate about what he was teaching. It was fun to listen and learn along with everyone else. In the photos above the group broke into smaller groups to see who knew the order of the Liturgy. In the upper left and lower left photos Pastor Jairo is instructing the correct order of Liturgy. On the right side the different groups are trying to puzzle together the order of the Liturgy. 

Like I said at the beginning there were two themes for this retreat. The second theme was Diaconia/Diaconal Service. In these photos Jairo is teaching everyone a little Greek, and the history of Diaconia. In the upper photo is the Greek, and the problems or misunderstandings that happen through translating the Bible. I absolutely understand this concept, but boy was it difficult for me to try and have a Greek lesson in Spanish! In the lower photo Pastor Jairo is teaching more about Diaconia and what verses in the Bible support the churches participation in Diaconia and socially minded ministries. The slide in the lower photo says: "Promote Values of the Kingdom of God: Justice, freedom, equality, peace, human dignity. Focus on rights. Luke 4:16-21". 

Finally, every retreat needs to have a little fun. The group all got together Saturday night for a white elephant gift exchange (to celebrate love and friendship, Colombia's Valentines day, which happens here in September). In addition to the gift exchange, one of the homework assignments from the last retreat was to creatively make something with the Luther Rose (each congregation) to gift to another congregation (the gift came with the promise from the gifting congregation to hold the receiving congregation in special prayer). After the gift exchanges, there was the presentation of the Luther Rose Gifts - WOW! As you can see in the photo on the top, people use tons of creativity and made beautiful gifts for each other. In the bottom right is Zulma with a chalice made from the shell of a fruit with the Luther Rose burned into it. This was a gift to the Christian Formation/Education department (where Zulma, Pastor Atahualpa, and I work) from the Church in Paz de Ariporo. The bottom left photo is the gazebo where we held the celebration and everyone seated and enjoying the evening together.

The group went to the local congregation in Bucaramanga (which was was of the requests that came after the previous retreats). This is a photo with Maurico (left), me (center) and Cristian (right) after worship on Sunday. These are two of the finest young men I know.  (Photo taken by Zulma)

Again, this was a wonderful retreat. I really enjoy this group and look forward to our final retreat in December. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How Can I Keep From Singing

“My life Flows on in endless song; above earth's lamentations. I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I'm clinging. 
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? [refrain]
What though my joys and comforts die?  The Lord my Savior liveth. What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth. [refrain]
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing? [refrain]
Refrain: No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I'm clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”                            ELW Hymn #763

Since 10th grade this song has become one of my rocks. When I was in 10th grade, a young man in my congregation was diagnosed with a very aggressive brain cancer. Although the chemo and surgeries bought him a number of months, the cancer was still there. Just after the doctor left, telling him finally there was nothing more they could do, John sang this song in the solitary quiet of his room. The doctor, having stopped just outside John’s door to collect himself, heard John’s strong and beautiful song. John’s profoundly deep faith was a testament to everyone who knew him. He died a few months later, at the way too young age of 21.  

Me with The Twins: Jenny (left with blue glasses),
me in the middle, and
Cate (right with the pink glasses).
(Photo credit: selfie, Jenny)
In March, I was again reminded of this song and John’s life. I was on a very full bus back to Bogota from the youth retreat, sitting with 'The Twins', Jenny and Cate (Zulma's daughters). Unknown to us their cousin was in Bogota having a stroke, leaving her half paralyzed. This was the beginning of the journey we now know to be a very aggressive brain cancer. 

Laurita, 10 years old, has been a trooper. Since March, she has had 3 brain surgeries and started chemo. She quickly lost her hair, but not her spirit. When she started losing her hair, her mom (Lizeth) held her breath, wondering how Laurita was going to react. True to her nature, she looked in the mirror and said: "oohhh, I look sexy". Another story I heard a few weeks ago took place the last day of school last year. During a break/quiet time Laurita wasn't tired, so while the other children were resting she took and put a rock in every student's backpack. You get a sense of Laurita's nature: a joker, prankster, and all-around good-natured kid.  

Zulma, this was on a recent travel. We took a walk and found
this old can had been turned into a chair. (Photo credit: me)
This is a family I have become very close to. I credit Zulma with teaching  me Spanish, giving me work, making me feel like I have a purpose here, and befriending me. She is who I work alongside every day, who I travel with and the one I go to when I need help, and so much more to me. 

So, why am I writing? I am writing to you, our readers, supporters, family, friends, and whoever else sees this, to ask for prayer. There is nothing else I (or you) can do. Two weeks ago when Laurita went in for her chemo her little body was too weak to handle the treatment. They gave her a little more time to see if her body would get stronger. It didn't. She will start radiation this week with hopes of a better outcome. This has (of course) affected the whole family. After Laurita's stroke in March, when she was unable to walk up and down stairs, her whole family moved in with Zulma's family where there is an elevator. The Twins have taken on an extra role in helping care for Laurita and Juan David, including taking their whole summer break to care for the two rather than hang out with friends. The Twins are in school studying to be nurses, and Lizeth is also a nurse, so Laurita is constantly surrounded by good care.

Saint Paul wrote that when one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer; and when one member of the body of Christ rejoices, we all rejoice (I Corinthians 12:26). Please keep the family in your prayers: Laurita, her brother - Juan David (6), her mother - Lizeth, her Aunt Zulma, and The Twins (20): Cate and Jenny. Prayer for healing in the fullest sense, peace, strength, and wisdom for Laurita and her family and friends, that we might not lose hope in God who walks with us. 

Laurita and her family after church this last Sunday:
Juan David (6) left, Lizeth/Mom center and Laurita (10) right. 
(Photo credit: me)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because Gods love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Climate Change and Churches in Latin America

The growing unpredictability of the rains and many other changes to the global climate are already impacting many communities around the world. Climate change is a major issue connected with many other social, economic, religious and political issues that require urgent actions from humanity. Those who are already the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed will experience the worst impacts of climate change, while having contributed the least to its causes.

This past September 2-5, 2015, the international seminar “Biblical-Theological Perspectives and Challenges of the Climate Crisis for Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean” was held in Barranquilla, Colombia. Discussions and presentations were held on what churches are already doing to confront the issue, as well as on the Pope’s recent encyclical “Laudato Si", and developing advocacy commitments together.

Faith communities in Latin America, as well as in the entire in world, have a large role to play in addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. Caring for neighbors and working for justice means concern for the world that we all share as our home. Climate justice was the focal point for church involvement in the issue.

At the heart of climate justice is the understanding the urgent action needed to prevent climate change must be based on community-led solutions. The well-being of local communities, Indigenous Peoples and the global poor, as well as biodiversity is the goal. This is to say that global poverty and inequality are inseparable from climate change and environmental destruction. One cannot fully be addressed without also addressing the other.

Neddy Astudillo, Latin American Coordinator of 
Our Voices, the global faith and spiritual climate 
action network, presenting  on “Biblical and theological 
perspectives on caring for creation”. 
Photo by Milton Mejia.
Milton Mejia, left (secretary-general of the Latin American 
Council of Churches), Father Rafael Castillo, middle, and Jairo 
Suarez, right (Coordinator of the Diaconal ministry of IELCO), representing the ecumenical efforts to 
overcome differences to protect our common home. Photo by Marcelo Leites

Olav Fyske, Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches 
presenting “Ecumenical perspective of the 
struggle against climate change and the care for creation.”
Photo by Milton Mejia.
As the Lutheran World Federation has recently stated: As a Lutheran Communion, we understand that climate change is an issue on justice, peace, the care for creation, and protection for all peoples everywhere. We raise a special concern for the most vulnerable, in particular the poor, Indigenous Peoples, and the voiceless. 

The conference was able to overcome the overwhelming sense of doom the issue of climate change so often carries. Celebrating the hope that we all hold onto, the desire for creating a better world, included songs, dances, stories as well as commitments to work together. As Olav Fyske of the World Council of Churches said in his addressI hope this seminar here in Colombia will be a stimulus to all of you, to Colombian churches, to CLAI (Latin American Council of Churches), to join the pilgrimage of justice and peace. As human beings we are all pilgrims in our lives, searching for meaning, for change, for hope. Our faith convictions express and nurture the hope for the future, for the next generations, for one earth and for one humanity.

On another note, the Latin American Council of Churches utilized the climate change seminar to initiate a new program in Colombia, working with Indigenous Peoples to teach the various member churches how to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. I was also invited to participate in this group. Throughout the days of the seminar, the group of Indigenous Peoples and myself grew close and are committed to continuing in the program. I look forward to this project and assisting it in whatever ways I am able to. 

A few of us from the Indigenous group, after a morning of discussing the new program. Photo by Ligia Valenzuela. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Human Rights Buy-In

Throughout many conversations with many people in the Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO), all from various backgrounds and differing ideas and attitudes, I have learned a few things about how to best accompany the church from the point of view of the human rights program. I have learned that without massive buy-in and without the committed support of church members and pastors, the program will struggle to provide IELCO all that it is capable of.

Because Colombia has a history of holding human rights language in suspicion (due to ideological posturing and the armed conflict), the acceptance of human rights within the population, including the church, is not guaranteed. This means the first step for me in the human rights program is to gain the confidence of the members, leaders and pastors of the church. Not only gaining their confidence but also ensuring that the program is theirs, and encourages their involvement, their leadership and their guidance.

After my first year working in this capacity in Colombia, I had a chance to put the confidence in the human rights program to the test. DIPaz (Dialogo Intereclesial por la paz; Inter-church Dialogue for Peace), which the IELCO is a member, finished its verification of the FARC’s (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) month of a unilateral ceasefire. This verification was asked for by the FARC with the government’s full knowledge. After seeing that with this unilateral ceasefire, Colombia experienced it’s least violent month in the last forty years, DIPaz wrote a letter to the government and to the FARC leaders urging them to continue the ceasefire and the de-escalation of hostilities.

This letter was opened for signatures from all those members of DIPaz, as well as international supporters of the work of DIPaz. I sent the letter to every pastor of IELCO to see who would sign their name to this important call to strengthen the peace process. An overwhelming response came in with a little over half of all pastors of IELCO signing this letter. This came in as quite an affirmation of the human rights program, and the trust I have been gaining.

As we are looking into the year ahead, and planning the activities of the program, this affirmation has been very inspiring!

In terms of the FARC’s ceasefire, after the first month, they announced that they will now extend their unilateral ceasefire indefinitely, with the hopes that the government will reciprocate. Here is the letter DIPaz wrote (translated in English) for the verification of this first month and the call to continue finding paths towards peace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ProFILE, retreat # 2

To keep with the same tradition of photo-blog for the ProFILE retreats, this blog is also a photo story of the second leadership retreat. I blogged about the first ProFILE retreat here. These are all photos that I took over the weekend. We had a good group again, and have all the congregations in the country represented except 4 and many of the mission congregations!

This was the ice-breaker activity. This activity was one of mine to plan for the weekend. Since this group was almost all the same people from the first retreat, the activity was to introduce someone else. I passed around everyone's name-tags to the wrong person, and they took turns introducing the person whose name tag they had. Here is Christian (left) introducing Julian (right). 

The theme for this leadership retreat was Lutheran confessional. Before the retreat we spent a lot of time creating a game incorporating Lutheran Theology, Lutheran history and fun. The idea was to create an environment where people could learn as well has have fun, and help people to understand the depth of the theology, Martin Luther, and history of IELCO. Here is one of the group playing, left to right, Sonia, Nancy, Carolina, Martin (the guest presenter from Germany), Mauricio, and Abelardo. 

Here is Martin Hoffmann leading a conversation about Lutheran confessional.The group was very interested and took many notes. I think he gave them lots to think about, what it means to be a leader for the church, the leader's role, what isn't the leader's role, etc.  

After the last retreat we gave all of the participants homework, to replicate the first retreat (or a part of it) in their own congregations. Each church had to come to this retreat with a presentation of what they had done, and how it had gone. It was really fun for me to see the activities that we had planned last time being replicated all over the country! In this picture is Carolina (left) and July (right). They are both from the same region but different churches, their churches are about 5 hours apart. However, Carolina is the only one from her church participating in the program, so July went to Carolina's church to help her lead the training there. Both of these young women are 17 (wow), and extremely dedicated leaders within their congregations. 

During the presentations the rest of the group was in charge of giving feedback - one positive comment, and one thing they could improve on. We color coded everything to make it easier (and also prettier). Each church will now bring these suggestions back to their own churches and, hopefully, improve their leadership. Upper left is Enrique and Tatiana from Emaus in Medellin, and bottom right is Sergio and Mauricio from Vida Nueva in Bogota. 

Another activity we did was decorate the Luther Rose. Everyone go one of these pieces of paper along with whatever craft supplies we could dig up from around the office. This was a good mental break after some intense sessions. As you can see from the photos everyone got really into the decorating. Top row (left to right): Maria del Pilar, Maritza. Middle (left to right): German, Henry. Bottom (left to right): Carolina and Julian. 

Here are the leaders of ProFILE after the second retreat. This retreat was in the region of Boyaca, at a retreat center just outside of Paipa. Everyone looks happy and a little tired. It was another good retreat. I continue to be excited about the future of this church, especially in the hands of these amazing people!