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).