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Urgent cry for help from Colombian Mennonites

   
 
Colombians protest violence.
September 3, 2002

Winnipeg, Man.—Colombia is in the midst of a heightening four-decade old civil war and economic crisis. The Colombian Mennonite Church is inviting others to stand in solidarity with them as they witness for peace in a country where taking a stand means risking your life. Learn more about opportunities for action.

Faced with the escalation of conflict, Colombian Mennonites consider it important to make a clear statement about their peace position. Read the declaration of the Colombian Mennonite Church.

While some may see this as confrontational, the intention is to insist that there is a better way than the armed path, the way of Jesus, out of this conflict. Their government, armed groups and other citizens need to know that they, under no circumstances, will pick up or harbor arms.... "We will not fight. We will not side with any of the armed groups. Neither, however, will we stop caring for the victims or seeking a non-violent alternative to war through confronting the death-dealing powers and dialoguing with those responsible for the bloodshed."

The occasion they have chosen for making this statement is the UN International Day of Peace and Nonviolence, Saturday, September 21st. They are inviting Mennonites of other Anabaptist congregations in North America to join them in a day of fasting and prayer, and towards the end of the afternoon to break bread in community as a reminder that food and peace go together; when material goods are shared, not only is there enough to go around, but it is also God’s way of making justice and peace on earth.

Background

In a country of 40 million, there are over 2 ½ million internal refugees; 1,000 men, woman and children are displaced from their homes each day as they flee the violence between the armed groups. Approximately 38 people die in war-related violence each day, but this is only about 15% of the daily violent deaths. Eleven people are kidnapped each day. More than 20 church leaders have been killed so far this year and churches are being closed by order of the armed groups. Structural and economic violence provides the backdrop for this civil conflict; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The Mennonite Church in Colombia is 50 years old and has approximately 1200 members in 18 churches around the country. About half of them are in Bogotá. Gabriel Montes, a volunteer with the Mennonite organization of justice, peace and nonviolent action, Justapaz killed recently.

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Action

The Mennonite church is taking a very bold stand by living out a faith of love and non-violence in the midst of great injustice and violence. Mennonites do this through refusing to accept the armed path as a way out of Colombia’s crisis; caring for the victims; organizing for the promotion of a real peace—one with social justice.

The Colombian church is inviting the North American churches to be a part of this declaration by divulging it, reading it, and acting on it in your local congregations and communities.

Here are some practical ways to make a difference:

  1. Join in the fast of Sept 21st : fast in prayerful solidarity with Colombian Mennonites and other non-violent seekers of peace around the world on the UN International Day of Peace and Nonviolence.

  2. Organize times of prayer, biblical reflection, political analysis, letter writing and a parallel fast breaking ceremony in your church or community.

  3. Prepare a declaration to be read at the event.

  4. Send your statement, with an explanatory cover letter, to the editor of your local paper and the U.S. and Colombian governments. Letters to the editor could explain why Mennonite Church "X" is holding this event and invite community members to participate.

  5. *Sample letters to the U.S. and Canadian governments and the editor/ community invitation letter are available on the PeaceLink web site at http://peace.mennolink.org/resources/panypaz/sampleletter.html.

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Declaration:

In recognition of the Universal Day of Peace and Nonviolence, September 21st, called for by the United Nations:

As followers of Christ, son of God, whom we recognize as God above all gods, we affirm our biblical and historical commitment to walk the path of peace, nonviolence and love for neighbor-- especially the weak, marginalized and our enemies.

We will not participate in war initiatives in the name of seeking peace. We believe that obligating all Colombian civilians to take sides in the armed conflict, whether on the side of the State or one of the illegal armed groups, is a false alternative to war. All are using the same logic of weapons and violence.

We refuse to participate in any armed group, and we refuse to pay [Reference to new war tax] so that others do so on our behalf. We oppose the militarization of the economy and support the right to consciencious objection to all armed service.

We believe that peace building is the responsibility of everyone. We will continue to seek a peace with justice for all people through the promotion of conversations and actions with whomever is willing to consider non-violent, negotiated solutions. Only this will lead to true reconciliation in Colombia.

We encourage the government, the armed groups and the media to give up their war like attitudes and begin genuine peace talks with real concessions towards the building of a new country. Colombians needs genuine guarantees for dignified human treatment within legal and social justice, including housing, employment, land rights, security, education, health care and democratic freedoms.

We call the international community, especially citizens of the United States, to 1) stop contributing to the war in Colombia through the provision of finances, weapons, helicopters and logistical support and 2) contribute to the wellbeing of the world through approving and supporting the International Crimes Count.

We invite the Colombian movements of human rights, peace and non-violence to mend their divisions and take on a more proactive role in creating peace in our country.

In the same way we invite all Colombians of good will to join the creation of a great movement of " A Million Artisans of Life, Non-violence and Peace." For more information...

PAN Y PAZ (BREAD AND PEACE):

We invite all Colombian citizens to fast and pray for peace on Saturday, Sept 21 and to break the fast at 4 pm in community in a public act at the Plaza de Bolivar (this is Bogotà largest public plaza). Bring bread—not bullets! Bread for the Poor—not bombs!

—Peter Stucky, President of the Colombian Mennonite Church

—Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, Director of Justapaz: Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Non-violent Action and President of the Human Rights and Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombian Churches (CEDECOL) .

Signed by:

Colombian Mennonite Church

Justapaz: Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Non-violent Action

Cosciencious Objection Collective

Human Rights and Peace Commission of CEDECOL