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Robbery turns violence into grace

Amanda and Gamaliel Fallas

September 25, 2002

Barranquilla, Colombia—A gunpoint robbery within the first month of Amanda and Gamaliel Falla’s arrival in Barranquilla, Colombia, is serving as a springboard to launch a new ministry.

In mid-July, the Fallas began a second term of service as Mennonite Church Canada Witness partners through Mennonite Mission Network. As the couple left their bank on Aug. 14, assailants held guns to their heads and threatened them with death if the couple didn’t surrender a briefcase containing their salary and program money intended for church planting in Colombia’s fourth-largest city.

“Even though I wanted to pack my bags and leave when the robbery happened, I have regained my vision,” Amanda Fallas said. “This is a test, an attack from the enemy to block our ministry, but nothing will move us.”

Despite being traumatized, the Fallas, with perseverance and optimism that have become their trademarks, continue to pursue their call to plant a church in Barranquilla, long said to be the entry-point of European civilization into Latin America.

Two weeks after the hold-up, the Fallas organized their first worship service in a hotel room. They were accompanied by two pastoral couples who had visited them after they were robbed. Among the seventeen others present was a woman who had offered herbal tea to Amanda after the assault.

Amanda was shaken by the attack, but her faith was not. Once, following a bus accident, she led a fellow survivor to Christ as the two women waited for medical care in an emergency room. This time, it was the Fallas who experienced the care of those whom they came to serve.

The Fallas say they consider the robbery to have been an initiation.

“Many people have suffered even more,” Gamaliel said. “Now we are one with them… Together we are more than conquerors through Christ. Many die for God’s cause.

“Of course, violence always affects us, but we stand firm in the word of God and in prayer,” he said. “We think of the early Anabaptists. We are vulnerable, but recuperating.”

In two months of ministry, the Fallas have preached on radio programs and in the neighborhoods of Baranquilla. They are working with others to help hungry children.

The Colombia Mennonite Church, under whom the Fallas work, is deeply involved in seeking alternatives to the violence in their country. With financial support from U.S. and Canadian Mennonites, the Colombia Mennonite Church recently spearheaded a campaign that published a large ad in four major daily newspapers. The ad proclaimed that peace comes through active nonviolence and love for neighbors.

The Fallas returned to their home land in 1996 after serving as pastors and church-planters in the United States for fifteen years. During their first term of service they helped to begin a church in Cali. Today, that thriving congregation supports a pastor, discipleship programs, and reaches out in holistic ministry to people displaced by violence.

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Colombia Mennonite Church Peace Campaign - Update

In early September, the Mennonite Church in Colombia invited congregations and individuals across North America to join in fasting and praying for peace in their country. A public cry for peaceful alternatives to conflict resolution was published in local papers. Bonnie Klassen, an MCC worker in Bogotá, recently filed the following update:

On Saturday, September 21, about 150 people gathered in the main square of Bogotá to publicly proclaim our position for nonviolence, after a day of prayer and fasting.

Perhaps 150 people doesn't sound like many, yet in a country where the government and all of the armed groups are pressuring everyone to take sides and participate in the armed conflict, where one can be jailed for expressing alternative opinions, it takes courage to stand up in the main square and say that you will not participate in the war, on any side, that you will not pay war-taxes, that you will not support war strategies in any way, that you will only work to bring about dialogue, justice, peace, reconciliation and dignity, and that you are insistent on peace with enough food to eat for all.

The police were present, watching all that we did, prepared to take anyone off to jail if things were to get "out of hand". But nothing happened; everything developed very peacefully. Some police even expressed their appreciation for what we were doing. At the end we broke bread and shared it among everyone who was there.

May we learn to share our bread like this among all of the 44 million Colombians, and far beyond this country as well.