Tuesday, June 27, 2017

National Retreat for Christian Formation

Once every two years, all the Sunday School teachers and educators in IELCO get together for a retreat. Keeping with the celebration theme of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the theme this year was "A Reformation that Transforms Our Way of Thinking". The retreat, June 17-19, was a very full weekend. 

There was so much energy, learning, laughter and renewal that happened, all focusing on the Reformation ways we live our identity as Lutherans. Pictured above was one of the opening sessions led by Pastor Carlos Negron from Puerto Rico. He led all the musical parts. 

Pastor Angelica is leading the part 'Liberating Education', teaching the group what Luther had to say about education (a lot) and the importance of the way we teach. We also studied the 3 'solas' (Word Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone [sometimes Christ Alone is included, but for this retreat we did not have a separate study]). Each topic was led by a different member of the Christian Formation team, Pastor Angelica has been (and will continue to be) the pastoral adviser.

Sunday evening  puppets was led by Jose Arturo Vega from Peru. The group had a great time relaxing a bit after two intense days of workshops and learning. Pictured here, left to right: Cristina Pineros, Carlos Negron, Betty Castelblanco, Carolina Castellanos, Edilberto Chaparro, and Pilar Gonzalez. As you can see, everyone enjoyed making puppets and every puppet was very creative.

At the closing of the retreat Monday afternoon we had cake, again to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Pictured above are the certificates all the participants received, some gift bags for various activities, an umbrella with the Christian Formation logo, a folder of the material for the retreat, and a package of material for each congregation - which was brought from Mt Olive in Rochester, MN when they visited Colombia in March. 

Left to right, Zulma Ojeda, national coordinator of Christian Formation, Ana Maria Jara, came from the Peruvian Lutheran Church for the retreat, she is the Christian Formation coordinator in Peru, Pastor Carlos Negron who led the musical part from Puerto Rico, Jose Arturo Vega from Peru, and Obispo of IELCO, Pastor Atahualpa Hernandez. Photo by Jorge Diaz, communications of IELCO

Here is the team that made the whole thing happen! Christian Formation is made up by a regional coordinator from each of the four regions of IELCO. During the weekend there were also elections for the new coordinators. Above is the picture of the new team (and a few editions for the weekend). Left to right, Mauricio Chala, newly elected to be one of the coordinators in the central region, Pastor Atahualpa Hernandez, Pastor Angelica Bernate - pastoral adviser, Belky Hernandez, coordinator for eastern region, Sara Lara - coordinator of Human Rights (lead a session about the rights of children), Carolina Varon - coordinator for southern central region, Stella Gonzale - coordinator for nothern central region, Judith Leon - coordinator for plains (llanos) region, me, Zulma Ojeda - national coordinator, and Miguel Parada newly elected coordinator for the Boyaca region. Photo by Jorge Diaz.

And the whole group! A great weekend was had by all, friendships made, a lot of learning, and a renewed calling to teach! Photo by Jorge Diaz.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Workshop: Contributions to understanding the armed conflict in Colombia

The Emmaus Lutheran Church in the city of Medellin and its ministry of the “House of Reconciliation and Peace Education” has finished its first module of the certificate program “Conflict, Justice, and Reconciliation”. It has been a process of engaging in sometimes difficult conversations about issues related to peace and justice in Colombia. Every other Saturday, over 20 people (from the church as well as from other churches or other organizations) have been participating in the certificate program, as well as invited leaders from civil society, universities or government agencies to help explain and explore certain themes in the Colombian conflict and the peace-building process.
Logo for the House of Reconciliation and Peace Education, designed by Pastor John Hernández and Daniel Padierna.
To wrap up the first module of the program, I traveled to Medellin and we held an all-day workshop last Saturday the 17th of June. The workshop was titled “Contributions to understanding the armed conflict in Colombia”. We touched on topics such as the centrality of land ownership to the causes of the conflict and the role of the media in producing distrust and biases in the country. While difficult, these conversations are crucial to peace-building and reconciliation in the country.

Members of the certificate program, broken up into small groups to discuss what had been most challenging to them up to now during the certificate program. Photo by Curtis Kline. 
The next module will start at the beginning of July, and will be focused on conflict resolution. From the national to the local to the inter-personal levels, those participating in the certificate program will explore and strengthen their abilities to resolve conflicts in peaceful manners.

On the left, Ady and Maily, on the right, Oscar and Jorge, continuing to discuss the topics of the workshop during a break. Photo by Curtis Kline.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Teaching English

One of the projects I started this year was a more formal English class. In the past, once a week those interested in practicing English all had lunch together and had an informal English class. This year, the request was to have a more formal class, divided into two, more basic and more advanced. So now, I dedicate the better part of my Wednesdays to teaching English. This post is a glimpse into a normal weekday for me.

This is the beginner group (depends on the week who comes to the class, this was a smaller group). During this class I was teaching adjectives. The activity they are working on is drawing 4 images: a self-portrait, a monster, a fruit, and a park. I told them it didn't mater how they drew any of the images, but they needed to use adjectives that corresponded to their drawing. Left to right in the photo: Olga, Yolanda, Claudia, Jorge, and Diana. 

Here is Jorge describing is drawings. We laughed so much this day with everyone's drawings. This has been a very fun project for me to be leading this year. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

By Faith and Grace: The Word

Pastor John Hernandez at the Mission Emmaus Lutheran Church in the city of Medellin, Colombia has been doing a lot to prepare for the celebration this year of the 500th year of the reformation.  One way he has been doing this is through a short weekly radio program discussing principles of Lutheran theology. These programs are called “By Faith and Grace”. I have translated the first one below as well as included the link to the radio program in Spanish (even if you don't speak Spanish, it is worth listening to, it is done so well!).

To listen to the program
Click the image to listen to the  audio. 

The Word, by Pastor John Hernandez

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 
The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1: 1, 14).

One of the most important features of the Lutheran church is its appreciation for the word of God. In fact the Lutheran church is known as the church of the word. But what do we mean when we say ‘the word’?

Some Christians identify ‘the word’ with scripture. Lutherans, however, understand that those are two different things. For us ‘the word’ is not a book but a person. For Lutherans, all of Scripture (the Old and the New Testament), bears witness to ‘the Word’. Thus, scripture is God's word to us insofar as it reveals Christ to us.

At one time Luther, speaking of his adversaries, said that they “cast down the scripture against Christ”, he nevertheless “stood firm in Christ even against scripture”. Luther could affirm without any difficulty that Christ was the canon within the canon, that is, the norm through which all scripture should be interpreted. Any biblical interpretation that distances us from the love of God in Christ ceases to be for us the word of God.

That is why scripture is not absolute because the only absolute is God. The proper interpretation of the scripture is one that places Christ in the center and expresses the transforming action of the love of God. That is why we must be careful not to make scripture a god, not to fall into bibliolatry. Because any interpretation in which Jesus Christ ceases to be the center, ceases to be for us ‘the word of God’, and becomes an oppressive idol.

Let us pray: God of love, in your mercy come to us and speak to us, help us to listen clearly and keep us firm in your word. Through your son, your word made flesh. Amen.

Here is the link to the program (it's worth the listen).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Liberated by God’s Grace

From the 10th to the 16th of May, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) held its 12th Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia in southern Africa. The theme of the Twelfth Assembly is “Liberated by God’s Grace,” with three sub-themes:

·         Salvation – Not for Sale
·         Human Beings – Not for Sale
·         Creation – Not for Sale

Decisions were made during the assembly regarding theological education, an affirmation of continuing the LWF's humanitarian response on behalf of those affected by war in Syria, the inclusion of gender justice in the LWF Constitution, advocacy regarding climate change, the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, the commercialization and commodification of God's creation, the right to education, unfair distribution of the world's wealth, and more.

Liria Andrea Suárez Preciado, a young adult of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia and theology student, was able to attend the assembly and present the book of workshops to strengthen Lutheran identity (blogged about before) of the youth of Colombia. The book was on of two youth projects from the Latin American region chosen to be presented at the assembly. We asked Liria a few questions about her experience at the assembly.

Liria at the assembly in Namibia. Photo submitted by Liria Andrea Suárez Preciado. 
Why did you go to the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Namibia? How were you able to go?

I went to the Assembly through a call for volunteers from the Lutheran World Federation. This call was made by “the youth secretary”, which opened the call for all young people, mainly those who had participated in the 2015 Young Reformers Network in Germany, to apply to be “stewards” in the Assembly.

They opened the call from April to May, and those selected to participate were informed in September of last year. As it was a volunteer opportunity we had to send in our resume, our relationship with the Church and the work we do in it, finally selecting the area we most preferred to work at the assembly.

What were your responsibilities at the Assembly?

As a “Steward” my responsibility was to help as much as possible in anything that concerned the logistics of the Assembly, so we were told to be open to any task that might come up, even if it was different from our own specific jobs. Specifically, I was part of the “devotionals and worship” working group. This group was coordinated by two group leaders and different professionals in liturgy and music, as well as three other “stewards” and two volunteers.

Our responsibility was to make sure that everything with respect to the devotionals and worship services went smoothly. We helped the people in their rehearsals (through our assistance and accompaniment), we also did the cleaning, the decorations, the organization of communion stations and chairs, everything that had to do with the Eucharist (wine, wafers or bread, chalices and dishes), cleaning them and attending to anything that came up unexpectedly.

Liria at the assembly in Namibia. Photo from the LWF website.
What did you learn about the Lutheran world communion during your experience at the assembly?

I was specifically moved by all that had to do with the liturgy at the Assembly. I was enriched by the diversity of the ways of expressing the liturgy without leaving aside its order and essence, showing the diversity of cultures that in itself enriches the Church.

The different expressions to praise God are also what unite us. They promote unity within the diversity of cultures. That diversity helps us to know ourselves as churches, to support our calling by the Word of God, and also in our answer to that call we are committed to continue working in accordance with the gospel.

How was your Lutheran Identity changed by attending the Assembly?

My Lutheran identity is strengthened rather than changed. This experience has reinforced my Lutheran identity as an equal in baptism with the other members of the Lutheran World Federation, showing that we are truly a communion that has Christ as its center, with its immense love and surrender, has given us the gift of being sons and daughters of the Father through the Son; So now as a Lutheran I do not see myself as one more of a historical denomination, but I am part of a family that is strongly committed to the mission of Christ.

Nigerian Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus was elected as the LWF President at the assembly. Photo from LWF assembly website.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Visas, Privilege and Dignity

Because of the type of Visa we have, which permits us to stay and work in Colombia, we have to renew it every year. Yesterday (Monday, May 15th) we spent the day at the Colombian immigration offices, filling out all the paperwork and everything else in order to obtain another Visa for another year.

It can make for a frustrating day, walking up and down the bureaucracy, making sure we have each document necessary, all signatures in the right place, going from this line to that. However, it also reminds us of the privileges we carry as citizens of the US. As frustrating as the day can be, it only takes one day. We never really have to worry about not getting the Visa which allows us to stay here.

During the day we reflected on the stark contrast it is the other way around. We have heard many stories from our Colombian friends about the difficulties of obtaining a Visa to be in the US. For some it has taken months of filling out paperwork, going to the embassy for interviews, paying fees, etc. For others, after all these months, they simply get denied.

This caused more reflection on those desperately trying to flee violence and death in their home countries, trying to find security and opportunity to live in dignity. We talked about the new initiative of the ELCA, called AMMPARO, which means Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities. Also, the Spanish word ‘amparo’ (from which the name of the initiative comes) means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage. The initiative is the ELCA’s response after witnessing the plight and recognizing the humanity of children who have been forced to flee their homes because of interrelated issues of violence, poverty, environmental destruction and lack of opportunities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

The privilege that comes from having been born in the US means that we can basically come and go as we please, as if it were our exclusive right; a right that people who happen to have been born in other places do not enjoy. As we accompany our brothers and sisters in Colombia, it is fundamental that we are able to recognize these issues of privilege so that we can better work towards creating relationships of mutual respect and equality. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


In Colombia, May 15 is the day to celebrate teachers. From the Education Ministry of IELCO we want to make sure that the Sunday School teachers and other educators in each congregation are recognized. Taking advantage of a trip we had planned to go to the Eastern Region (Bucaramanga) (with the Foundation which I will write about in a later blog) we asked the coordinator of the region to plan something special for the teachers. Belky did a great job!
The congregation of El Divino Redentor (The Divine Redeemer)

Some of the Sunday School teachers receiving their gift and certificate thanking them for their service (Belky the coordinator for the region not pictured)

A photo of the certificates each teacher received along with their goodie bag which had a reusable water bottle, a little puzzle  with a cross and dove to color, and some candy. 

San Juan (Saint John) from Piedecuesta in the eastern region also gifted Zulma and me a doll to thank us for our work with the Ministry of Education and the Sunday School teachers. Zulma is the national coordinator for the two projects: Christian Formation and Formation of Leaders. We are pictured with Maribel, one of the Sunday School teachers from San Juan. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The House of Reconciliation and Peace Education

The Emmaus Lutheran Church in the city of Medellin has launched a very exciting ministry: The House of Reconciliation and Peace Education. This last Saturday, April 22, I was able to accompany the inauguration of the initial program of the House of Reconciliation and Peace Education, which is a certificate course called “Conflict, Justice and Reconciliation”. The participants in the course will meet every other Saturday from now until November and study together issues regarding the Colombian conflict, human rights, resolving interpersonal conflicts, peace-building and reconciliation. Here is a link to the website, for those who know Spanish.

This first day of the course, we were grateful for the talk given by Oscar Castaño from the Sabaneta University in Medellin regarding the different dimensions of the Colombian conflict and the fundamental concepts of the peace process.

Oscar Castaño from the Sabaneta University, giving a very important talk on the peace process in Colombia. Photo by Curtis.
The human rights program will go to Medellin three more times this year to accompany the process of this certificate course, helping to lead some discussions and activities as well as design material for the participants.

Angelica Oquendo (member of Emmaus Lutheran Church, and participant in the certificate course) putting together a tree of conflict, The activity was to find examples of conflict in the newspapers, put them as the leaves and branches (consequences or products) of the conflict; then identify the central problems (trunk) leading to these consequences; and finally to identify the root causes of these problems (roots of the tree). Photo by Curtis Kline.
Gloria (left) and Brenda explaining their tree of conflict. The news articles had to do with conflicts over economic issues in Colombia; the trunk (central problem leading to this news) says: Inequality, Injustice, Competition and Negativity. The roots of theses issues were identified as: Indifference, Fear, Inequity, Selfishness, Intolerance and Ambition. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017


The front page of yesterday's newspaper in Bogota. The headline reads, "The Catholic church calls for Forgiveness and Reconciliation".

Saturday, April 15, 2017


The view of Bogota this quiet and calm morning left us hopeful, thinking about the resurrection promises that we will celebrate tomorrow. It also left us thinking about the end of Lent, the end of the blog photo-a-day series in which we have had a focus on peace-making. As Christians we are a hope filled people, and I have hope in this peace process and hope for our future. 

Friday, April 14, 2017


Pastor Angelica beginning the Maundy Thursday Seder reflection at Vida Nueva (New Life) Lutheran Church (the seats did fill up as everyone finished their conversations and came and sat down).  

Thursday, April 13, 2017


At a national retreat for youth leaders... Playing together is a very restoring act. Photo by Curtis.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


For Christmas last year we bought bikes. They have become an important part of our means for transportation as we do not have a car. We will never be professional bikers, nor will I pretend as much, but biking does give us strength, both physical and mental. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Last weekend I was with a team of teachers, principals, and chaplains. Our mission is to rewrite the religion curriculum for the Lutheran Schools to be using. This is an awesome team! Photo credit: Nelson Lopez (phy-ed teacher in Sogamoso)

Monday, April 10, 2017


At a workshop with children at the Lutheran school in Paz de Ariporo, we used artistic activities to discuss issues of peace and diversity. The authentic nature of conversations with children is always encouraging. Photo by Curtis.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Yesterday we held a workshop in Bucaramanga with the congregation and a landmine victims project. The workshop was about peace-building in daily life, we worked on topics such as forgiveness, empathy and tools to resolve conflicts. Photo by Curtis.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


Deisy blessing Mauricio with the words from our baptism (from the Central Regional retreat for Christian Formation): Remember your Baptism, you are a beautiful child of God, in your Baptism you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. 

Friday, April 7, 2017


Last weekend I lead a workshop for the children who receive scholarships from IELCO in Socota in the mountains of the Boyaca region (I was in charge of the children in elementary school). The workshop is about Life Skills. Here Lorena is practicing the skills she had just learned (self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and assertive communication), while the rest of the group watched. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017


The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is exactly that - a Catholic Church, along with the stations of the cross, built into a salt mine, just outside of Bogota. "Lord I believe, help my unbelief." Mark 9: 24

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


This is a bowl of Uchuvas, a fruit which is new to us since arriving in Colombia. I have made both muffins and juice from them. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Pictured here is a man in Nobsa weaving on the loom, on the floor beside him were all different spools of yarn he had. He must have such an imagination to be able take all the different colors and turn them into beautiful bed coverings, horse saddles, etc.  

Monday, April 3, 2017


A young artist from the Lutheran church in Medellin designed this logo for the Justicia y Vida (Justice and Life) project of the IELCO. We had it printed on little notebooks to give out to as many members of IELCO as we can. It is an effort to reclaim the word "Justice" and the work for it, as an integral part of the church. Photo by Curtis.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


In the middle of the sea of white shirts last September at the signing of the first peace agreement in Cartagena. Photo by Curtis.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


Every year on the 7th of December, Colombia celebrates the festival of lights. In the smaller towns outside of Bogota, the only lights that can be seen is that of candles and paper lanterns. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:5)

Friday, March 31, 2017


We are so thankful for the generosity of all of you - the congregations and people who support us. This quilt was just given to us last week from the group that came from Mt Olive in Rochester, MN, thank you! 

Thursday, March 30, 2017


At the end of last year we (The Ministry of Education) changed offices. For those of you who have been to the IELCO office, Education is now located on the 2nd floor. To celebrate and decorate our new office we made a giant world cloud. Here are Zulma and I, proudly in our new office. (Photo credit: Curtis Kline)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


The human rights program of the IELCO has been developing a relationship with the Free Seeds Network of Colombia, finding ways to help advocate for the right to food and the rights of rural workers. These are some recovered species of ancestral corn seeds that the Network guards. Photo by Curtis.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


These alstroemerias were growing at a retreat center where we held a retreat in February. This is one of my favorite flowers. 75% of the flowers in the US are imported from Colombia. 

Monday, March 27, 2017


During a retreat for the human rights program this past weekend, Pastor John Hernandez (playing the guitar) taught us a new song (Fe y Esperanza Viva, Living Faith and Hope). Everyone loved it and got into singing it. Photo by Curtis.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Chocó is one of the departments of Colombia hit hardest by the armed conflict. This is the flag at the bow of the boat, announcing that we are a humanitarian mission and do not participate in the conflict, the other side of the flag has the logo of the Lutheran World Federation. Photo taken by Mario.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


On my recent trip to Chocó, I learned how little infrastructure there really is in the department. We took this boat/canoe 6 hours up the river to arrive at the communities participating in the Lutheran World Federation project. As it was dry season and the river is very low, sometimes we hopped out of the boat to push it up the river. Photo by Curtis.

Friday, March 24, 2017


This is a painting by Paola Flores a member of the community in Piedecuesta (San Juan). She painted this woman last year for the International Day of the Woman, with the theme across Colombia being a tree. A few weeks after she painted and donated it she died in a motorcycle accident. The church had the plaque made to honor and remember her. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017


As the communities of the Embera-Katio Indigenous People of Chocó are vulnerable to flooding and losing their crops, they have learned many techniques to adapt. Here is a raised garden on stilts. I found dozens of gardens like this as I walked throughout the communities. Photo by Curtis.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


In the city of Cali, southwest Colombia, every year during the week between Christmas and New Year, they celebrate a series of daily parades. Last year we were able to experience as the parade of the history and culture of the area passed right in front of the hotel we were at in Cali.