Students in the Colombia J-Term program offered their reflections in two different languages to reflect the cross-cultural experience of accompaniment and fellowship
We have been exploring contexts of human violence here in Colombia. We have learned about violence in many sectors, committed by human hands in homes, streets, in justice palaces and in the countryside – by intimate partners, guerillas, drug traffickers, paramilitary forces, government troops, and transnational corporations. This violence has seen people displaced, cut off from their sources of life, homes, and land.
The question, what is the Church’s role in contexts of violence, has framed our studies and exploration of violent realities in both Chicago and Colombia. In Colombia, the question is complicated by the splintering of the Church into churches, identified as historical churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.) and other more recently nascent churches (Pentecostal, Evangelical, etc.). Yet, across denominational differences, students shared their awareness of the Church’s
perceived ‘distance’ from the common people. In the Afro-Colombian town of Palenque, Gabriel, a displaced farmer and community leader, told us of his utter surprise when Padre Rafael, the Priest working with the community, excused himself to use the restroom during a meeting. He couldn’t believe that a priest needed also to pee.
The spiritual elevation of the church and its leaders above “ordinary” human and social needs is something that we have also seen in our context. Yet this stands in stark contrast to the Colombian reality of peace negotiations that asks the church to act as a bridge between the government and victims of violence. The Church may serve the role of bridge-building in two powerful ways. As official peace accord talks occur in Havana between major players in the conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government, the voices of victims are often over-looked and under-represented.
The Church can step into this situation through organization, education, and advocacy. One of the five points on which the peace deal rests requires reparations to be made to victims of violence and displacement. As the 50-year-old conflict has produced over six million internally displaced people, the task of reparations is daunting. We have learned that churches across the country, with ties to the community, must continue to emerge as practical links to connect government resources to the victims of conflict.
While peace talks hang in the air, a signed accord ending the armed conflict will only initiate the complex challenge of post-accord peace building. In a country in which systematic violence was described to us as a “cultural inheritance,” building a culture of peace appears elusive. Yet, it is the bumpy road of peace building that the Church must walk with ex-guerrilla fighters, ex-paramilitary fighters, and the victims they may have violated or displaced. On this road the Church must walk in the rhythm of the people – and at the pace of the slowest or most marginalized among them. This is what has been asked of us.
These reflections were written by students Eddie Rosa Fuentes, Kenji Kuramitsu, Seo Young Kim, and Derek Elmi-Buursma.Students in the Colombia Travel Seminar explored the reality of violence from the Christian community in dialogue with their Colombian colleagues.