Tuesday, April 28, 2015

El Cocuy: Misión en el Camino (mission trip)

Our group (left to right): Rosy, me, Monica, Angela
During Holy Week (I know that was awhile ago, and I am late in writing this blog), a group of four from Bogota went to El Cocuy (another group went to Bucaramanga). We left Wednesday morning (April 1), and our activities started Thursday morning. The bus trip from Bogota to El Cocuy was 13 hours! Normally it takes between 8-10 hours... The Misión en el Camino is like a mission trip to accompany churches that are either without pastor or have a request for help. El Cocuy was without pastor when we planned this trip, but by the time we got there, they had a pastor. 

Thursday morning we started with a liturgy workshop. This time was devoted to talking about the order of worship, why we, as Lutherans, do things in the order we do and what the significant of each part of worship is.

Thursday afternoon was the women’s group. This group talked about the ‘recipe’ to have a heart of God. We used the example of making a cake, so of course, we all made a cake together (a no-bake coffee cake). We then shared the cakes with everyone after the Maundy Thursday worship. 

The mission congregation: Valle de Bendición
Friday was devoted to preparing and leading worship for the mission congregation of El Cocuy, “Valle de Bendición” (there is a congregation in El Cocuy, El Salvador, and their mission up the mountain, Valle be Bendición). This was interesting for me, because on Thursday I was asked to preach for this service…in Spanish. The group I was with told me it was okay if it was a short sermon, so it was. At one point in the sermon I was talking about Bible verses that we know by heart, I told the congregation that one of my favorites is Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made the 
Me with my translator, Salmon Usa
heavens and the Earth.” However, because I was talking about verses that our in our heart, that we know by heart, I told the congregation this one is in my heart in English, and said the verse in English (but said where it was from in Spanish). A gentleman in the back, after I finished it in English repeated it in Spanish. The whole congregation teased him saying they didn't know he knew English, and he was now my translator (I’m guessing this was also a verse he knew by heart, so when I said Psalm 121, he knew exactly what I was talking about. Preaching was a terrifying experience for me in Spanish, but also a very incredible opportunity, and a very special (and gracious) congregation.

Saturday was the children’s party. The party included a skit (by the children) about a thief of happiness. Every time a child would walk on stage the thief of happiness would steal their toy, until the last person was only happy because she had Jesus in her heart, the thief of happiness could not steal her happiness. There were also group games, songs,snacks and at the end every child received a gift bag/party favor.

The children playing a game. 
Sunday was Easter, after the Easter service we went for a hike up to a lookout where we could see all of El Cocuy as well as bunch of mountains and snow! It was beautiful – a great place for our group to sit quietly and reflect about the week, and about the promises of Easter. It was a very full week, but a great experience. I arrived back in Bogota (after another long bus ride) exhausted, but happy to have been part of such an incredible week. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blessed be the Peacemakers...

Peacemakers from Colombia, from Latin America, and from all around the world came to Bogota April 8-11 with a common purpose. The Inter-ecclesial Dialogue for Peace in Colombia, (here is a past blog about the group) DIPaz, organized this event to hear from grassroots Colombians involved in initiatives for the construction of peace, to hear from church leaders from other countries who have gone through peace and reconciliation processes, and to hear from representatives from international organizations that have been involved in peace processes.  The common purpose or agenda was to create a plan for DIPaz, answering the question: “What should the role of the churches be in the construction of peace in Colombia?” The Conference was titled: The International Ecumenical Encounter for Peace in Colombia.
Here is the flyer (in Spanish) advertising the conference.
Wednesday, April 8, started with a public event at the University Javeriana with presentations from Bishop Dr. Emeritus Gunnar Stalsett from the Lutheran Church in Norway, the Reverend Doctor Maake Masango from South Africa, John Nduna from Zambia and Secretary-General of ACT Alliance, Jenny Neme Director of a Justapaz (a Colombian peace and reconciliation organization), and Angie Juliet Muelas from the Kisgo Indigenous Reserve in Cauca, Colombia. It was a time of powerful stories and experiences from within and from outside of Colombia regarding peace-building and reconciliation practices, initiatives and challenges.
On every cross is the name of a victim from the conflict. During the opening event the name would be read, and everyone would sing "Presente!" (Present!, like in a roll call) as an act of remembering those that have been lost. Beautiful and moving experience. (photo by Milton Mejia)
Thursday started with two possible events. The first option was to participate in the national march for peace and to remember the victims of the conflict. This march happens every April 9, and was attended by tens of thousands of Colombians (and international representatives) in cities all over the country. The second option was to attend a meeting with the Ministry of the Interior presenting DIPaz as an important actor/partner in the construction of peace in the country. I went to the meeting. 
The group from the conference is in front with "SIN OLVIDO" or "Without Forgetting" referring to the victims of the armed conflict. (photo by Milton Mejia)
IELCO Pastor Zulanlly Chaparro. (photo by Milton Mejia)
The remainder of the conference (Thursday afternoon, all day Friday, and Saturday morning) were about working together - from the grassroots representatives to the national representatives and to the international representatives - in discussing how churches have been involved in peace processes in other countries, what worked, what didn't work, and what else could they have done. During the conference, perspectives on the talks between the Colombian government and the guerrillas were shared, along with experiences from civil society members who have participated in the negotiations in Havana, as well as churches and individuals who have contributed to peace processes and reconciliation globally. 
Listening to a presentation about the latest news from the talks in Havana, Cuba. (photo by Milton Mejia)

The key messages which will guide the actions of DIPaz are:

·         We believe that the Fullness of Truth which comes from the Light sets free both victim and perpetrator and makes possible peace founded on justice and reconciliation.
·         We reject the militarization of our society. We call for non-violent action and we work to build a culture of peace, so that new cycles of violence can be avoided.
·         We witness to the efforts of those communities which impose new sorts of penalties, so that perpetrators are reintegrated into the community and forgiveness is possible. This is done in the framework of Restorative Justice.
·         We note that for any territory to achieve reconciliation there must be just distribution of the land which guarantees dignified work, health, decent housing, rights which belong to human beings and to God’s created order.
·         We will make available our local churches and the facilities of our organizations as spaces for training, hosting and accompaniment for the work of peace-building and reconciliation.
·         We offer our churches and organizations as bridges across divides, facilitating difficult and improbable dialogues between opposing factions.
·         We understand that true peace-building goes beyond the accords signed by the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the FARC and the ELN.
·         We understand that the fervent yearning of God is for the people to experience a Shalom which transcends the generations, a Shalom that insures that people can have decent living conditions and live in wholeness.
Representatives of grassroots communities discussing local projects they are considering to work towards peace and reconciliation. (photo by Milton Mejia)
Here are just a few examples of possible actions which participants have engaged in or could engage in, and which were discussed during the conference:

·         Participation in commissions charged with the humane removal of landmines.
·         Participation in efforts to achieve a ceasefire.
·         Involvement in the design and construction of a Campesino (peasant farmer) University.
·         Involvement in design and development of reception centers in local neighborhoods where combatants who have laid down their arms can be welcomed and reintegrated.
·         Support for child soldiers (both boys and girls) who leave the insurgency.
·         Participation in an eventual Truth Commission, and as part of that process.
·         Bringing to light circumstances in which members of our churches have been victims of violence, and
·         Bringing to light cases in which members of our churches have been perpetrators of violence.
·         In addition, bringing to light information about investment of church funds in companies which are implicated in human rights violations in Colombia.