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!