Saturday, September 11, 2010

Come on over!

It's been a long time! For anyone who's still following this blog, I'd like to point you to my new one: Andean Journey. I'm just getting started there, to go with the new position I've just started as regional liaison for the Andean region with Presbyterian World Mission. Please come take a look! I've also imported all of these blogger posts to that blog, so it will all be in one place.

Joy and peace,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Second Thursday Prayer


Let us pray:

That the victims (of forced disappearance, assassinations, massacres, forced displacement, “false positives”, those deprived of liberty, and those who face discrimination because of their ethnicity, sexuality, or other social factors...) whose right to truth, justice, and reparations has been recognized, might become participants, alongside the various sectors of society, in a negotiated end to the armed conflict between the FARC and ELN guerrillas and the Colombian State.

Biblical illumination: Psalm 62: 2-7

“God alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

How long will you assail a person,

will you batter a victim, all of you,

as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.

They take pleasure in falsehood;

they bless with their mouths,

but inwardly they curse.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,

for my hope is from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my deliverance and my honor;

my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursdays of Prayer

The following prayer comes from Colombia's ecumenical community. Please join in praying for peace in Colombia.

Let us pray:

·     That citizens of Colombia and of the world, women and men of faith (Christians of all traditions and religious people of different faiths) might express our solidarity with all the victims and commit ourselves to a diplomatic end to the armed conflict in Colombia between the FARC and ELN guerrillas and the Colombian State.

Biblical illumination: Ezekiel 37: 11-14
"Then the Lord said to me, `Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.'"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Love and foundations

"En el amor no hay posturas ridículas ni cursis ni obscenas. 
En el no amor todo es ridículo y cursi y obsceno." 
(In love no position is ridiculous or tacky or obscene. 
In un-love everything is ridiculous and tacky and obscene.)
-Mario Benedetti (1920-2009)

Uruguay has been strongly present in my mind today, since I heard about the death of poet-novelist-social commentator Mario Benedetti. To the extent that his work reflects (and in turn has shaped) Uruguayan sentiment (which was such an important introduction for me into the life of Latin America), and with his poetry and honesty, Benedetti has made a mark on life. I am grateful for his contributions to a world where art and freedom and community might all be valued in daily living.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Prayerful Protest

An unexpected blessing awaited us yesterday evening when we decided to cross the street to see the artisan fair in the Plaza de la Paz.

A youth network from the southern part of town had organized a theatrical protest. When we arrived, the majority of them were standing as a backdrop in silent rows, wearing white t-shirts that read "Nunca más (Never again)" and "Que ser falso no sea positivo (May being false never be positive)." In the foreground were several youth, some in civilian dress who were enacting their deaths and others in black representing the armed soldiers who had murdered them. Loved ones emerged, carrying flowers and weeping over the motionless bodies. They drew chalk outlines around the dead, and there was a heavy silence as we all kept watch. Finally a shout of horror broke the silence, and the rows of young people cried out with emotional voices: "NUNCA MAS!"

They were crying out against the newest outrage here in Colombia: "false positives," or murdered civilians passed off as eliminated guerrilla targets. Incentives offered to soldiers for killing guerrillas have evidently stimulated this appalling practice. Public outrage is not limited to the human rights community, but also evident in the main news outlets, and was made quite palpable by these committed youth in the Peace Plaza last night.

Their flier announced that they were acting in support of life, that most precious right, creating a "monument for dignity and memory" as a symbolic action to say "Never again!" to assassinations, disappearances, and impunity.

At the end of this "ephemeral theatre" they set out white cinderblock tombstones, with pens available to write the names of people who had been unjustly killed in this way. They lay down flowers and lit candles, and embraced one another and the supporters who had gathered. It was a rich blessing to find ourselves there at precisely the moment to share in this profoundly prayerful act of protest. May God guide us in seeking justice, give us courage along the way to face our fears with love, and help us always to see others as precious beings.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Passion for Justice

This morning we met with a young lawyer who volunteers a significant amount of his time to provide legal advice and services to the displaced. He understands his profession in terms of helping the most vulnerable of society, and does important work to protect the rights of the displaced and other victims of the violence here. I was touched by his testimony and dedication, especially the following quiet affirmation:

"Many of the displaced leaders I first worked with are no longer here--some because they were forced out by threats, others because they were assassinated in their homes. This has awakened in me a strong passion to work for justice, not a feeling of rancor."

I think I find those words so moving because they remind me that the way to avoid futile anger is to focus on the vision of how things ought to be and finding a way to contribute in some meaningful way toward that vision. Paulo Freire described this basic idea as "the utopia that moves me." Without vision, the people perish. Saying no is important, but we must also have things in our lives to which we can offer an enthusiastic yes! if we are to thrive as the loving, creative beings-in-community God created us to be.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Giving Our Hands

At church on Sunday, we sang one of my favorite songs (which seems to also be a favorite at many of these churches, since it is sung frequently and with gusto!). It's called "Fe y Esperanza Viva" and it affirms Christ's call to a life of celebration, service, and prophetic struggle.

Tonight as I've reflected again on the words, I was caught up in this phrase from the second verse: A aquel que nos necesita vamos a darle la mano (To the one who needs us we shall give a hand).

These words stand out to me tonight in their relationship to the task of accompaniment, which is fundamentally about relationship and our interconnectedness as children of God. I think the song intends the figurative expression of lending a hand, i.e. helping someone out. At least that's how I've always understood it. But tonight I'm thinking about what it means to literally reach out and offer someone our hand, to make physical contact, whether for the purpose of helping or just for the sake of connection. It seems to me that there's something powerful here to reflect upon.

Fe y Esperanza Viva
Y andaremos por el mundo con fe y esperanza viva,
Celebrando, cantando, sonriendo, luchando por la vida.

1. Y vamos a celebrar a nuestro Dios de la vida.
La mesa de la unidad para todos está servida.

2. Y vamos a sonreir junto al niño y al hermano.
A aquel que nos necesita vamos a darle la mano.

3. Ahora vamos a cantar con toda nuestra garganta
Porque le estamos cantando al Dios de la alabanza.

4. Nos vamos a organizar con fuerza y sabiduría
y seguiremos cantando y luchando por la vida.

Faith and Living Hope
We will walk through the world with faith and living hope,
Celebrating, singing, smiling, struggling for life.

1. And we are going to celebrate our God of life.
The table of unity is served for all.

2. And we are going to smile with the child and our brother.
We’ll give our hand to whoever needs it.

3. Now we’re going to sing with all we’ve got
Because we are singing to the God of praise.

4. We’re going to organize with strength and wisdom
and we will continue singing and struggling for life.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


It's raining now, for the first time since I've been here--and for the first time this year, they tell me.

I pay so much more attention to water here, in this place where I know farmers whose livelihood depends on the rain coming in good measure at the right time... In a city without storm drains where the lower streets become gushing rivers in the heavy rain, capable of carrying away and cars, buses, and any people caught in the destructive current... Where many of the displaced and impoverished live in makeshift communities without running water, paying dearly for a few gallons of less-than-pure water each day...

Affordable access to clean drinking water is a basic right and necessity, and yet here in Colombia as in so many other places, this essential service has been partially privatized. A popular movement has built here, where two million people signed on in support of the "Water Referendum," a document affirming water as a basic human right and a resource of the common good. So far the referendum has not faired well with the government, since a congressional committee approved a highly altered version of the text which subverts the primary goals and intentions of the 2 million citizens who had signed. The movement continues, insisting that the government respect the original document. You can follow their progress on their (Spanish language) website:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Seeking Satisfaction

In conversation this week, our coordinator pointed to a key concept for wellbeing: satisfaction. This is a crucial yet somewhat elusive element, because what brings satisfaction for one will not necessarily bring satisfaction for another. The basic elements are simple, but satisfaction can be hard to find when there are obstacles in our path, as there certainly are for the people in displaced communities. To seek justice and healing from wrongs suffered, and to endeavor to build a new life in a strange environment—these are major challenges for the displaced, who are thrust onto a path with an unknown destination. In moments like these, they rely on the inner strength that comes from God to follow the path and trust that new community will emerge to help them overcome their obstacles. Joining together is key to finding satisfaction and fulfillment along the road. Here are a few observations from our encounters with the displaced this past week:

For the woman whose family left a good life, with abundant physical comforts and ample food, where is satisfaction? She says that she is glad to be here, even without some of the basic comforts of home, because here she is not afraid. Home was comfortable but insecure after first one and then another armed group had come through and taken over the town. Here she has been part of building a new community and finding opportunities to work together. For her, there is the satisfaction of renewed peace of mind.

This is not the case for the couple with two small children. They live in a community whose population is a combination of the traditional poor and the displaced, a community which has been newly threatened by a neo-paramilitary group. Just a week ago they received a letter identifying a dozen young men from the community who have been targeted for “cleansing.” This same letter imposed a curfew on the community, and parents were warned with a sinister rhyme: Si su hijo es sano, acuéstelo temprano, si es ladrón, cómprele el cajón (If your son is healthy, put him to bed early, if he’s a thief, buy him a coffin). For this couple, active in community initiatives for peaceful development, continued fear and insecurity are an obstacle to a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction.

What about the group of displaced farmers who have been working for the past year on a farm near Piojó? They have made great progress with the land, but the weather has made it difficult to grow a substantial crop. Last year, huge downpours of rain swept away much of their seed and left little growing. This year they are still waiting for rain, and food is scarce. They live a painful uncertainty of not having enough food to eat and not having official title to their land, and yet find satisfaction in being situated where they are, able to make an attempt at growing their own food and sustaining their families.

As we reflect on the diverse experiences of these people, it is clear that satisfaction is not out of reach for the displaced. The basic elements of life are part of God’s plan for us, and everyone has a right to them. “It is God’s good gift that all should eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Satisfaction is the fruit of constructive work and creativity, but it cannot thrive for most people in the face of fear and intimidation.

Every day we encounter people with obstacles in their way, and we have the opportunity to face them together. By helping with their obstacles we are also clearing the path for ourselves and for others who are traveling behind us. Sometimes we can provide material assistance, sometimes we can lend our voices to the clamor for justice, and other times we can simply offer the listening ears and supportive presence of a community of care. May God give us ears to hear and eyes to see the ways we can be community to one another in the search for abundant life with satisfaction for all.

written with Tomás Sandoval

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Working Toward Forgiveness

At a meeting this morning I heard a moving conversation about forgiveness. The Red Ecuménica de Colombia (Ecumenical Network) has been working toward forgiveness as a way to strengthen the fabric of society, and this morning they recounted a story that a Catholic priest shared during Holy Week.

While at the cemetery, the priest had seen a woman arrive with her young daughter, who was holding two bouquets of flowers. They went to one of the graves and wept and prayed and left one bunch of flowers there. Then they went to another grave and did the same. As they were leaving, the priest asked the woman whose graves they had visited. She told him that the first was the grave of her husband who had been massacred. The second belonged to his killer. The priest was amazed and asked the woman why she would do this, and she replied, “I want the chains of vengeance and hatred to break. I want my daughter to know how to forgive.”

This example was hard to swallow for some of those gathered. Forgiveness isn’t easy, and it must not be forced, leaving hurt and bitterness festering inside. “Forgive and forget” is not the model to follow! The old man sitting beside me, a valued friend weathered by displacement and hard work under the sun, was willing to concede that one might forgive the person who killed a loved one with a bullet. But what about those who kill with chain saws, slicing precious bodies into pieces with brutal disregard?

Far too many Colombians are faced with this difficult task of learning how to forgive unimaginable atrocities. But forgiveness is an important part of personal healing, and will also be essential in turning Colombia’s vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle of reconciliation, as Ricardo Esquivia says. Justice does not turn a blind eye toward what is wrong, nor is it blinded by the need for revenge. The kind of justice we are taught in the Bible is something more mysterious and powerful than that, and some churches here are seeking ways to promote forgiveness, justice, and peace, ways to provide life-giving and prophetic spaces in the midst of violence.

No one I know of has a formula for how to forgive when the offense against human worth is inexpressibly great. And yet there are those examples of people who make a choice, like the woman who goes with her daughter to take flowers to the grave of her husband’s killer. People who say with their actions and attitudes, “I want the chains of vengeance and hatred to break. I want my daughter to know how to forgive.”

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Search of the "Good Life"

I’m back in Barranquilla again, and it has been a joy so far. After nearly two years away from this city, I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect and see how things have changed.

Today we left early with a couple of bags of food to share lunch with a group of displaced families at their farm near the town of Piojó. Things didn’t work out for us to sit in on a visit with the mayor as planned, but we did make the somewhat strenuous trip up and down the hills to the communal farm.

These families have been there for about a year now, and they have done a lot of work to establish themselves. They have rudimentary houses and cooking spaces, but they are in a tight spot waiting for the land to be officially theirs. The current owner is very supportive and patient, but the process of arranging for the purchase (through the government assistance program for the displaced) is convoluted, with plenty of hoops to jump through and the constant fear (because of known cases) that something might come up to dash their hopes and force them to start over—again.

The other difficulty the families are experiencing is related to the climate. They had a poor crop last year because of too much rain, but now they’ve been waiting since late November to see more than short-lived drizzle. While they wait to be able to plant and grow a new crop, they have limited access to food to sustain themselves day by day.

It has been an emotional day for me:
the excitement of going on an excursion;
the joy of seeing familiar faces;
the uncertainty of riding a horse for the second time in my life,
and sympathy for the poor mare who had to carry my out of shape self;
the thrill of the first glimpse of a place I’ve heard so much about
—a place that holds so much hope for these families and for the church that accompanies them;
the delight of playing and laughing and singing with small children;
the awkwardness of being the guest with such marked difference in wealth and position;
the miracle of making connections in spite of that disconcerting reality;
the sorrow of hearing about hunger and desperate hope for rain;
the warmth of generous hospitality;
the hope of things working together for good for these hard-working families.

At the end of the day I am weary from the heat and physical exertion, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude and renewed purpose.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Waves of Terror

These are frightening times for many people in Colombia.

In cities across the country, pamphlets thought to come from a neo-paramilitary group litter the streets, threatening imminent social cleansing of undesirable “delinquents” such as drug users, sex workers, and homosexuals.

Church partners in Urabá have informed us of a supermarket bombing by a presumed guerrilla group that took place on Saturday, seriously injuring many people.

Please lift up the people of Colombia in your prayers, and find a way to take action to support them. Here are a couple of suggestions:

Plan to celebrate the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, April 19-20 or whenever you can.

Send a message to our embassy officials in Colombia urging them to do something about the widespread threats.