Friday, December 30, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I had high hopes of getting a Christmas card sent out this year (like I do every year), but it didn't happen this year (again, as I have never actually succeeded in getting one sent out - but as an optimist, I keep hoping).

Our 2016 Christmas photo. Us after worship on Christmas Eve at Vida Nueva in Bogota.
Photo by Daniel Lara
As this year comes to a close, we have a lot to reflect on throughout 2016: In January my parents were here to visit, and we had the chance to do some tourist things and traveling with them. The year continued on a high note in March when we renewed our contract both with the ELCA and IELCO to stay in Colombia for two more years. In May, a new coordinator was hired to accompany Curtis in the Human Rights program. Our whirlwind of Home Assignment from mid-May through the beginning of August, where we had the opportunity to visit the congregations and people who so generously support us and our work here in Colombia, as well as, of course, the chance to visit family and friends. October brought the death of Laura, the niece of my closest friend and co-worker here, and November brought health issues and surgery for me. November also saw the final signing of the peace agreements in Colombia after more than 5 years of negotiations. In December we took a quick trip to the coast to visit my uncle who passed through on his honeymoon. December also has brought us some much needed time off, where we took a trip to Cali (southern Colombia) for a fun get-a-way. This has been a full year (aren't they all), with so much to be thankful for. Thank you for sharing this year with us!

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to you all! Thank you for your support to us, be it financial, through your friendship, prayer, or by reading our blog - it is all really important to us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Annual Evaluation of Diakonia

Last week, the national diaconal ministry of IELCO held its annual retreat to evaluate all of the programs, projects and activities that took place during 2016. The ministry is divided into four programs: Environment, Human Rights, Holistic Health and Sustainable Development. Out of each of these programs there are various projects which: offer direct service to local communities; develop networks of like-minded people and organizations, nationally and internationally; involve members of IELCO in advocacy opportunities; and train church members in relevant subjects. The overall objective of the national diaconal ministry is: “To contribute to the diaconal development of IELCO in its different contexts, for the improvement of the quality of life of the communities, expressed through service, the lived experience of justice, and the preservation of creation”.

The evaluation was held in the historic town of Villa de Leyva in the department of Boyacá. From right to left: Curtis; Julie Pinzón, participating in the evaluation as representative of the national youth ministry; Rocío Varela, coordinator of the senior citizens project, serving a very vulnerable population just south of Bogota; Zandra Nino, coordinator of the project called ECOVIDA (Ecology and Life), working with poor peasant farmers in the Boyacá region, especially to regain an agricultural lifestyle lost with the coming of coal mines, which are now leaving due to plummeting coal prices; and Jorge Díaz, coordinator of the communications department of IELCO. 
Photo by Pastor Jairo Suarez.

Sara Lara, coordinator of the human rights program, presenting on the activities of the program during the year. 
Photo by Pastor Rocío Morales 

Right to Left: Curtis; Fabián Bello, coordinator of a food security project as part of the Environmental program;
Pastor Rocío Morales, Vice Bishop of IELCO and coordinator of the ASIVIDA project which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness; Sara Lara, coordinator of the human rights program; and, Julie Pinzón, representative of the national youth ministry. Photo by Pastor Jairo Suarez.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

DIPAZ Conference: Military Doctrine, Non-Violence and Peace-building

In light of the approved peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), DIPAZ (Inter-church Dialogue for Peace) held an important conference on Colombia’s military doctrine and non-violent grassroots efforts.

The advertisement for the conference, designed by Daniel Padierna,a conscientious objector 
and member of the Emmaus Lutheran Church in Medellin.
Colombia practices obligatory military enlistment for all males 18 years old. It is almost impossible for young men to find legitimate work or enter into university or higher education without being able to present the document demonstrating that the service has been completed. There is, however, the possibility of declaring oneself a conscientious objector based on religious beliefs. It is a long and difficult process, but many have done it.

This DIPAZ conference was based on the idea of conscientious objection. However, it also was looking for and defining other possible paths towards the demilitarization of the country and its culture...the idea of a non-violent lifestyle. As Colombia looks forward to building peace after more than 50 years of armed conflict, this is a very important issue, and one of the pillars my work here, as well as that of DIPAZ.

Andres Alba, member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bogotá, and technical secretary of DIPAZ,
 introducing the second day of the conference. Photo by Curtis.
The participants of the conference were asked to bring a symbol of their peace-building work. 
To start the conference they presented their symbols and placed them in the center of the room. 
Photo by Curtis.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ProFILE - Graduation of 2016!

This past November 5-7, we held the final retreat for the ProFILE (lay leadership training) class of 2016. The final weekend was about how to interpret the Bible and plan/lead Bible Studies (and different methodologies to use). Bible interpretation is the area of expertise of Pastor Atahualpa and methodologies is the area of expertise for Zulma....needless to say, it was a great weekend. 

ProFILE started in 2015 with group of lay leaders, it was so successful and well received that in 2016 we started again with another group of leaders. This program has quickly become on of the favorite parts of my work. I have been able to get to know leaders from churches all over the country. Also, in the participant's reviews of the program, we have read that it has also been a highlight for them. ProFILE has given them the opportunity to learn more about IELCO and the different congregations and people that make up the national church. 

Most of the group holding their graduation diplomas, they were a fun group.

Next year, rather than start again with a new group of leaders we are planning to reunite the classes from 2015 and 2016 and go deeper into leadership training with the whole group, as well as give them more responsibilities within their congregations and within their regions. 
Left to right: Zulma, me, Jenny, Juanes, and Pastor Atahualpa. (Photo credit: nearby bystander)
Juanes (in the picture above) came to ProFILE with his Mom (Jenny) for the first gathering, because he is too young to be left home alone. She promised us he wouldn't be a problem or a distraction (I was nervous). He was great. He always came to the retreats with all the homework done (more than we can say about some of the adults), always paid attention, participated, and took the training seriously. Juanes graduated ProFILE, our youngest participant yet, at only 13 years old.

Cake the group of participants gave us (as the leaders) to say 'Thank you". We were not expecting that - very sweet of them!
Way to go ProFILE, class of 2016! I very much look forward to next year and what ProFILE will bring!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Permanent Peace Camp #2

Last Friday, the 28th of October, DIPAZ (Inter-church Dialogue for Peace) held a liturgical act of faith and hope in Bogota's central plaza. The event, called “Los Niños y las Niñas dicen Paz” (children claim peace), was specifically geared towards involving children and especially towards listening to the children explain why they want peace in their country. As you can see in the following photo, the tent was full. If it hadn't been for the pouring rain, I imagine even more children and families would have come. 

Before the liturgical act started the children were given some time to paint the canvas of the events tent in the plaza.
We took the opportunity, before the liturgy started to visit the permanent peace camp. This is the same camp I wrote about two weeks ago. As this blog is posted, the permanent peace camp in the central plaza of Bogota is now in its 28th day. With 90 tents and over 270 people camping in the plaza, a community is being developed between peace activists, church representatives, indigenous peoples and many more, all demanding a peace agreement. Even Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, has been to visit the camp. As the website of the camp explains:

We, men and women of the city and of the countryside, do not represent any political party, nor do we represent any institutions, we act in a free and organized manner and with an inclusive and peaceful purpose. We have gathered here at the Plaza Bolivar to demand peace NOW and that the bilateral ceasefire is respected.

Curtis at the entrance to the camp, the sign reads "Camp for the peace".
A group of the tents in the plaza. We are in the midst of the rainy season in Bogota, and there have been
 many cold nights here in the plaza. 
To visit the camp is a sobering experience. The people staying there have worked for peace and were hoping for peace after the plebiscite of October 2. While walking through the camp people shared brief stories about why they are there. We talked with Daniel about why he has committed so much to being in the camp. He told us about growing up in the Comuna 13 in Medellin, one of the areas most affected by the conflict. He told us of his coming to be an activist for peace, and the important role art can play in that. As he told us about creating the mandala he talked about the way it can bring the community (of the peace camp) together, it has become a sacred space within the camp.

Daniel Padierna, a member of the Lutheran Church "Emmaus Mission" in Medellin came to Bogota to participate in the camp and has been staying there for the last week. He is an artist and helped the camp paint this mandala and create this space for prayer within the camp.
Here is a clear view of the mandala, which in the center includes a flower and candles, a way to honor and respect the traditions of indigenous, Christians and non-believers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Permanent Peace Camp

On October 5th, a few short days after the devastating rejection of the agreements between the government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a march of thousands for peace took place in Bogota. This march was led by students, although many more participated, and ended up in the central Plaza Bolivar.

After making a strong presence, a permanent peace camp was set up in the Plaza. Students, churches, and many other organizations set up tents in the plaza, claiming they will stay in a permanent camp in the Plaza until an agreement is signed and implemented. Here is an early article written about the camp, from the Washington Post.

DIPAZ (Inter-church Dialogue for Peace), which the Colombian Lutheran Church is a member, has set up a tent and its various members have been rotating, maintaining a permanent presence, demanding peace.

I was able to visit the camp last week and listen to the songs being sung and the stories being told. I was able to see the relationships being built, all with the purpose of demanding peace.
The  "Peace Camp" sign when entering the Plaza. Photo by Curtis Kline
Members of the permanent camp making peace foot and hand prints. Photo submitted by Pastor Nelson Celis. 
Pastor Nelson Celis of St. Paul Lutheran Church in southern Bogota and Daniel Padierna who came from the Emmaus Mission Lutheran Church in Medellin to visit the peace camp. Photo submitted by Pastor Neslon Celis.   
Left to Right: Curtis, Andres Alba, and Pastor Nelson Celis, manning the tent in a heavy rainstorm.
Photo by Pastor Nelson Celis. 

P.S. Thanks to everyone and all your prayers for the Ojeda family, and for little Laura. We first shared her story here. Laura was a child of IELCO, the niece of Zulma (Katie's co-worker) and the granddaughter of Benjamin (the former bishop). 18 months ago she was diagnosed with very aggressive brain cancer. Last Monday, October 10, Laura completed her Baptismal journey at the much too young age of 11. Please continue to keep the Ojeda family, us, and all who mourn in your prayers. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

I Still Believe in Peace

Several of you have contacted us asking "what is going on in Colombia" or "I don't understand". Many of you have heard that outcomes of the vote yesterday (Sunday, October 2). 

Last Monday (September 26), Curtis attended the signing of the Peace Agreement (he wrote about it in last week's blog). Last Monday the President of Colombia and the leader of the FARC signed the final Peace Accords, which they have been negotiating for the last 4 years. It was a historic moment for Colombia, it was the first time in more than 50 years the country had peace at their fingertips. It just needed one more step to be final, the Colombian people needed to vote to have it ratified. That vote was yesterday. The ballot was simple, "yes" or "no": do you support the final peace accord. In the week leading up to the election there was a lot of excitement, and yes was favored to win. 

President Santos casting a "yes" ballot. Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images -
However, when the polls closed at 4:00 pm, it was too close to call. By 5:15 they had declared that the "no" vote won. It was close, yes 49.7% and no at 50.3%, with a mere 38% of the country voting. We are in shock, there was not a plan B, the plan was peace. 

The president addressed the people last night and declared the bilateral ceasefire will continue (good) and he will continue to work for peace and an agreement that the Colombian people can accept (also good). The FARC have also promised that they will not go back to arms, but continue to use words (also good). These are all positive promises in the midst of what feels like failure. 

However, today I am also reminded of how proud I am to be a Lutheran. The Lutheran church here has spoken and acted in favor of this peace process. I was traveling over the weekend, so Curtis and I didn't worship together on Sunday, but we both heard the same message in the different churches: we are called to work for peace, we are called to forgive, to work for justice, and follow the teachings of Jesus. 

"We are called to act for justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God" (Refrain from the Hymn #720, We Are Called). Please continue to keep Colombia's peace in your prayers as the next steps forward are still unknown. 

To read more about what is happening in Colombia, this is a great article from Washington Office on Latin America and Insight Crime

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Part 4 and The Signing of the Peace Agreements

The announcement of the final agreements between the government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is exciting news. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) and all affiliated organizations and ministries have been working for decades to build peace and look forward to the next stage in this long and arduous journey. What are the perspectives of Lutheran Colombians on the peace agreements and hopes for the future of their country? 

The plebiscite, where the Colombian people have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” on the agreement, will be held this Sunday October 2nd. We have been highlighting the voices of our Colombian Lutheran brothers and sisters and their perspectives on the agreements.

This week, Pastor Jairo Suárez, Coordinator of the National Diaconal Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia

Pastor Jairo (middle) with Curtis and Katie. Photo by Zulanlly Chaparro.
As a Lutheran Christian, I have a commitment to peace that moves me to become a defender of the peace that comes with social justice for all. The gospel of Jesus calls me, through faith, to be a peacemaker and therefore, by the force of the word of God, a witness to this peace proclaimed and exemplified by the life Jesus. I believe that the negotiation process with the FARC is a unique opportunity to start a new path for my country; a path of hope for the present and for future generations, where one can live in peace. Or, in other words, a country where the rights of its citizens are fully protected as guaranteed by our constitution.

I have personally experienced the direct consequences of the violence that has affected millions of Colombians. Living with the anxiety generated by the violence, violence created by all sides, is difficult and it affects the development of the person. When there is no peace, there is no freedom. That is, the fullness of being human, to live and enjoy your own country, your family, even your own body and the most intimate decisions, is limited. Giving approval by voting “yes” to a process that began under the shadow of doubts but has managed to stop the war and its effects, is an ethical and moral imperative that every Christian should understand. Supporting the peace process is the call of the gospel, in the language of St. Paul, to let the Spirit create in us good fruits that oppose the works of the flesh (Gal 5: 16-26). That is why as a Lutheran in Colombia I'm happy to be able support the beginning of a responsible peace-building, giving further testimony of God's work in my life.

Signing of the agreements in Cartagena, Colombia

The crowd cheering right after President Santos and FARC commander "Timochenko" signed the agreements. Photo by Curtis.

This last Monday, the 26th of September, Sara Lara, the coordinator of the human rights program of IELCO and myself (Curtis) were honored to be invited to attend the historic signing of the peace agreements between the government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Cartagena, Colombia. In an atmosphere full of hope and a sea of white shirts and white flags, we were able to enjoy the event, which after four years of negotiations brings an end to more than 50 years of armed conflict. Tears of joy and shouts of “Si se pudo” (It was possible) or “Se vive, se siente, la paz está presente” (It lives, it feels, peace is present) filled the crowd as President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño “Timochenko” signed the 297 page document bringing “a second opportunity on earth” (famous quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s most famous author). Here is the communication from DIPAZ (Inter-Church Dialogue for Peace) which IELCO is a member.

President Santos and "Timochenko" shaking hands after signing. Photo by Curtis.
Curtis with Sara Lara at the signing. Photo by Jenny Neme.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lutheran Colombian Perspectives on the Peace Agreements: Part Three

The recent announcement of the final agreements between the governmnet of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is exciting news. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) and all affiliated organizations and ministries have been working for decades to build peace and look forward to the next stage in this long and arduous journey. What are the perspectives of Lutheran Colombians on the peace agreements and hopes for the future of their country?

The plebiscite, where the Colombian people will have the opportunity to vote "yes" or "no" on the agreement, will be held on October 2nd. Between now and then, we will be highlighting the voices of our Colombian Lutheran brothers and sisters and their perspectives on the agreements.

This week, Pastor John Hernandez, Pastor of the Emmaus Mission Lutheran Church in Medellin, Colombia, and Pastor Nelson Celis, Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in southern Bogota.

Pastor John Hernandez:

Pastor John Hernandez leading worship at Emmaus Mission. Photo bu Curtis Kline.
After so many decades of political violence in Colombia, we suddenly find ourselves with the concrete and real possibility to end the conflict with the FARC. This seems to have scared us. A few days after the announcement of the final agreement, the country demonstrated what so many years of violence has made of our society, which divided as it is, is debating between the "yes" and the "no" of the plebiscite.

It is clear that the agreements are beneficial for the country; an open-minded reading of them will confirm it. However, after so many years of mistrust, lies and manipulation, most people have fears as to the sincerity and the likelihood that those benefits will materialize. The majority of those who tell me they are going to vote "no", are almost certain that nothing will change and the violence will continue. Their vote is an expression of that hopelessness.

I don't know if the agreements will be implemented or not; I don't know if the lives of the ex-guerrilleros will be respected; I don't know if there will be an effective justice for the victims of the conflict; I don't know if peace and calm will arrive to the grassroots. This may not be the beginning of peace, but the agreements are an expression of the hope of a generation dreaming of the possibility, a generation unwilling to accept the fate of a failed society. This is the best argument I see to vote for "yes".

Pastor Nelson Celis:

Pastor Nelson Celis leading worship at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Photo submitted by Nelson Celis.
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? […]Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. […]Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live” (Ezequiel 18: 23, 27-28, 31b-32a).

If it is the Lord's will that we have life, and if life follows from the repentance of all our transgressions; if He himself gives the opportunity to turn away from evil and his desire is that NONE die, why would we perpetuate a conflict that feeds on the blood of the children of this land; a conflict that destroys the dreams and hopes of those who only seek to improve the welfare for their families; a conflict that makes our brothers and sisters miserable while the "fathers" of the country bask in their dishonest gain?

The historic opportunity to rid ourselves of the armed violence has broken through into this generation; allowing the light of life to touch us all and to restore the ties that make us fellow citizens and brethren; to reconcile and remember the victims, so we never again have to suffer the consequences of the war in Colombia. 

As a minister of the Lord, I should not, and I cannot, turn a deaf ear to the voice of God's children, those who are calling for an agreement between the players in this war. A call so that those who are trapped in the middle of the conflict do not continue to be the target of its bullets, better yet, so that not one more bullet is fired from anybody. Rather, that all will walk in the pursuit of justice, and with it, a legitimate peace; a peace which Christ has left for us, a peace which we want to live and leave for our children. As a Colombian, Christian, Lutheran pastor, I join the feeling and the longing of all who proclaim Christ’s love of neighbor, all those calling for a stable and lasting peace. Let me anoint by the balm of the Word which reads: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5: 9).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lutheran Colombian Perspectives on the Peace Agreements: Part Two

The recent announcement of the final agreements between the government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is exciting news. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) and all affiliated organizations and ministries have been working for decades to build peace and look forward to the next stage in this long and arduous journey. What are the perspectives of Lutheran Colombians on the peace agreements and hopes for the future of their country?

The plebiscite, where the Colombian people will have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” the agreement, will be held on October 2nd. Between now and then we will be highlighting the voices of our Colombian Lutheran brothers and sisters and their perspectives on the agreement. 

This week, Andres Alba, Technical Secretary for the Inter-Church Dialogue for Peace (DIPAZ) and member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO).

Andres Alba in a workshop about the peace proccess, photo credit: submitted by Andres Alba
I took a taxi to work a few days ago. The driver and I talked the whole ride; the subject “yes” or “no” on the plebiscite for peace. First I listened to his worries about the Final Agreement; it is difficult to read the “fine print”, he said, and it is difficult to think of a guerrillero participating in politics. I tried to argue with him about what it means to “stop killing ourselves” (a popular campaign slogan) and to start peace-building from the grassroots without armed mediation from whichever armed actor. I specified that the implementation of the agreement between the FARC and the National Government is the work of all of the Colombian society. I insisted on the centrality of the conflict’s victims in the agreements, the transitional character of the agreements, as well as the restorative justice approach that has sustained the dialogue. I also tried to clarify that in no part of the agreements does anything similar to a “gender ideology” appear, only a gender focus for a necessary justice which is intended to be democratic for everyone.

The taxi driver respectfully stayed strong with his “no”. Finally, I asked him if he is a believer. He told me yes with enthusiasm. Then I brought up that biblical memory about Jesus’ arrest, where Peter reacts: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18: 10-11).

I told him that for me to say “yes” on the plebiscite was a way to affirm the modern necessity to “put your sword away”. It will be fundamental to build peace together without denying our political differences or killing ourselves because of them. I managed to say: “we should do as Jesus, bet on or choose nonviolent action”.

Then the taxi driver, a man already advanced in age, without needing to, slowed down the cab and told me: “I was a soldier and I know what war is. I had not realized that Peter was armed. True, Jesus invites us to sheathe our sword. Of course, the zealots were present in Jesus’ times”.

The zealot spirit, I reminded him, encouraged the most violent faction of Judaism in the time of Jesus, The Zealots. That spirit tried to permeate the movement. Is it a coincidence that Peter had a sword with him or one of the twelve is called Simon the rebel (zealot: Lucas 6: 15) or that his disciples, in front of the mob at Jesus’ arrest, say: “Lord, should we strike with our swords”? I continued, saying: It may be that the plebiscite is a necessary step to pass through the cross and await the resurrection? What do you think? I asked him. He told me: “Let’s go for peace”. 

I told him, with one foot on the sidewalk and the other in the taxi, for me the plebiscite is not the fundamental thing, but it is an important chance to claim my right to peace, as well as the right of my son, Gabo.

I closed the taxi door and felt the many dead left by this war. I thought about the necessity to “stop killing ourselves” and the unique opportunity we have in this country. And I asked myself: Why not say yes to a Final Agreement that truly will require all our service and commitment to ensure its implementation? Why not disarm ourselves as Christians and as disciples of Jesus and say yes to this peace process which becomes yes to the plebiscite?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lutheran Colombian Perspectives on the Peace Agreements: Part One

The recent announcement of the final agreements between the government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) is exciting news. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) and all affiliated organizations and ministries have been working for decades to build peace and look forward to the next stage in this long and arduous journey. What are the perspectives of Lutheran Colombians on the peace agreements and hopes for the future of their country?

The plebiscite, where the Colombian people will have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” the agreement, will be held on October 2nd. Between now and then we will be highlighting the voices of our Colombian Lutheran brothers and sisters and their perspectives on the agreement. 

This week, Sara Lara, Coordinator of the Human Rights Program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia:

Sara Lara, the coordinator for IELCO's Human Rights program. Photo credit - submitted by Sara Lara.

The hopes of Colombians have grown with the “final agreement for the end of the conflict and the construction of a stable and durable peace”to live without the war that has scourged the country for more than 50 years. The surrender of weapons by the FARC also strengthens the possibility of realizing the right to peace, enshrined in Article 22 of Colombia’s Constitution of 1991. 

Multiple organizations have arisen during this long war, many of them to defend the human rights of the conflict’s victims. These organizations have played an important role as protagonists of the social mobilization pushing for the peace agreements, as seen through the development of peace education, the diffusion of the agreements from Havana, and even the campaign for massive participation in the plebiscite which seeks to endorse the agreements on the 2nd of October.

Civil society organizations have taken on the tasks entrusted by the government of President Santos, demonstrating the need to build peace from the grassroots and for forgiveness and reconciliation to become a reality. In this vein, the work carried out by churches is essential for the promotion of justice and the proclamation of the Gospel. Also noteworthy is the undisputed support of the international community for this process; since the beginning phase of secret negotiations to the implementation of the final agreements.

The challenges ahead are concerned with the experience of peace in everyday life; it is well known that the FARC exiting the armed conflict does not necessarily mean the end of violence in the streets, homes, schools and other living spaces. Nor can we ignore the persistence of other guerrilla groups like the ELN and the EPL and the criminal and paramilitary gangs that keep the Colombian armed conflict alive. 

It is also our call to make visible the more than 8,131,269 victims of the conflict whom are at the center of the agreement. They will need greater attention from the government to ensure the effective enjoyment of their rights. 

We will move forward, step by step, with trust in God to heal this land and with great expectations of peace. At the same time though, we are cautious of the current economic model, as well as the difficulties concerning the integration of demobilized guerrillas into political and civil life and the constant struggle for the respect of the rights of all people in Colombia.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

¡Por eso es que hoy tenemos esperanza!

Last Wednesday, the 24th of August, The Government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) announced that they had reached the conclusion of their negotiations and the peace accords were ready to be signed. This is such an exciting time for Colombia, especially to be here accompanying the people who are working for peace! After more than 50 years of armed conflict between the government and the FARC, and now, after four years of negotiating, the country is ready to take a giant step towards peace.

The work of the churches in supporting this has been crucial, and will continue to be as the country struggles for the full implementation of the agreements. In fact, DIPAZ, the Inter-Church Dialogue for Peace, which the Lutheran Church of Colombia is a member, has been very involved in pressing the negotiating teams to keep at it, and was even mentioned by name in the final agreement document!

In the evening of Thursday the 25th of August, DIPAZ held an ecumenical worship gathering to celebrate this giant step. The evening began with the song called ¡Por eso es que hoy tenemos esperanza! (Because of this we are filled with hope). A great song, worth listening to:

In an atmosphere full of hope we understood this achievement as “good news” that will lead to the transformation of the conflict in Colombia. Here is the official declaration from DIPAZ after hearing the announcement.

Ecumenical worship celebration of the announcement of the final peace agreement at the
Mennonite church in Bogota. Photo by DIPAZ.
Andres Alba of the Lutheran Church of Colombia reflecting on the
 Sermon on the Mount and "Blessed be the peacemakers..." 
Photo by DIPAZ. 
The next step in this process comes on October 2 of this year. A plebiscite will be held for the citizens to vote “yes” or “no” on whether or not they accept the agreement between the government and the FARC, legally mandating all future administrations to implement it.

There was a lot of celebration in the air here in Bogota on the night of the 24th, as well as all over Colombia. This article from the Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, shows many photos of the joy and celebration. For those who read Spanish, here is the complete text (297 pages) of the final agreement.

A lot of difficult, yet exciting, work ahead as the IELCO continues to define and act on its role as an actor for peace and justice in Colombian society.