Friday, January 29, 2016

Peace and Justice Updates from Colombia

A lot has been happening regarding the construction of peace in Colombia, from peace talks to human rights activism. This is just a brief update for those interested.

Dialogue with the FARC in Havana, Cuba

With expectations that the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) Guerrilla will be completed and signed in the first half of this year, preparations are being made for how to implement the agreements. For this, Colombia's government and the FARC have jointly asked the Security Council of the United Nations to help monitor and verify FARC disarmament should the two sides reach a deal to end their 50-year-old war.

UN Security Council discussing the  mission in Colombia. Photo: White House
This past Monday (January 25th) the United Nations Security Council approved the creation of a UN mission of unarmed international observers to monitor the disarmament. The approved resolution will establish a political mission for 12 months "to monitor and verify the definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and the laying down of arms."

The perceived impartiality of the UN is also a positive sign for the peace talks. There is hope that this also means support to Colombian social organizations which have expressed concern about the mixed signals from the national government in completing its responsibility in the agreement with the FARC, especially in the areas of agrarian reform, the guarantee of decent living, and the protection of state resources.

FARC and Government negotiators in Havana,
Cuba. Photo: Washington Office on Latin America
Continued Obstructions to a Lasting Peace

While a recent report found that the FARC unilateral ceasefire and the government stoppage of airstrikes have created the lowest level of political violence since before the FARC officially initiated their insurgency in 1964, the fighting with right-wing paramilitaries has been increasing.

In fact, the FARC recently issued a statement calling the paramilitaries the "major threat" to ending the armed conflict. The statement, signed by the FARC Peace Delegation, calls for the creation of a national commission to oversee the dismantling of the surviving paramilitary networks.


In late December, Colombia’s congress decided that Colombians will have the option to vote either “yes” or “no” to an eventual peace deal with FARC through a plebiscite. This means that the agreement reached between the Colombian government and the FARC will not be officially valid until the Colombian people vote on it.

The proposed plebiscite will only require 13% of the total population to vote “yes” to ratify the agreement with the FARC, rather than a 51% majority. This is due to historically low voter turnout rates in Colombia which potentially threatens the success of the peace process.

Peace activists at a demonstration. Photo:
Washington Office on Latin America

DIPAZ (Inter-church Dialogue for Peace), of which the Lutheran church of Colombia is a member, sent a letter to both the FARC and government delegations to the peace talks. This letter was to congratulate on recent agreements made, especially about victims of the conflict and the “Integral System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-repetition” including the Special Court for Peace; and human rights commitments.

DIPAZ also commits itself to assisting in the implementation of the peace agreements, as well as urges the government to quickly enter into peace talks with the ELN (Army of National Liberation), Colombia’s second largest guerrilla insurgency.

Human Rights Defenders

A new report from Frontline Defenders, an organization that monitors the safety of human rights activists around the world, found that Colombia is the most dangerous country to be a human rights defender. The safety and security of human rights defenders will be one of the strongest tests of the post-agreement peace implementation of Colombia.

President Juan Manuel Santos and President Barack Obama shake hands at a 2010 meeting in New York. Photo: Reuters


The Latin American Working Group, which the ELCA is a member, has issued an Urgent Action, urging members of congress to sign a letter to President Obama before the visit of Colombia’s President Santos to the White house. The letter encourages Obama to commit to supporting the peace process, and to bring up issues like the protection of human rights defenders, and the investigation of crimes by the Colombian military during the conflict.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Vacation Bible School

I'm a little late in writing this blog, but that's how the holidays get!

In Colombia, the tradition for the Lutheran Church is to have the annual Vacation Bible School during the children's Christmas break. During the week of 14 of December I helped lead the VBS for one of the mission congregations in the south of Bogota, Caracoli, at Luz y Vida (Light and Life).

Here are a few of our craft projects throughout the week. I really worked with a great group of kids. 

I was in charge of teaching the 'little ones' ages 3-6. Zulma taught the children age 7-10, and Hebert the oldest kids ages 11 and up. We used the material that I blogged about here (Walking in the Grace), created specially for the Lutheran Church of Colombia, by the Lutheran Church of Colombia. The week was, like most VBS's, filled with songs, crafts, games and of course Bible Study.

Zulma leading a game with the two of our classes combined
The VBS week ends with a Christmas program. One of the parts of the week is to learn the songs for the program as well assign speaking parts. The children spent a long time practicing, but in the end it all came together and was amazing! 

Here are all the children practicing for the program. On the right is my mom, who lead all the music. 
And here is the Christmas program! The children all looked adorable, and did an absolutely wonderful job with the program. The large picture in the center is the whole group...the whole program was put on hold for a quick photo shoot by the parents. Second row(left to right): my Dad preached and Zulma translated; the next photo is a group of the youth dancing, they prepared a dance for the program after VBS every day, the third is the three wise men, on the far right is Maria, she completed the nativity with her bunny costume. On the bottom row (left to right): Mary and Joseph, the youngest boy and youngest girl from VBS traditionally are Mary and Joseph. Second & third are shots during the program, and in the middle you can see our live baby Jesus. Fourth is the youth dancing again.

As you can see, wonderful Christmas Program and a wonderful week at VBS. What a great way to finish 2015! Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year too!