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Colombian churches seek Mennonite presence at talks


March 10, 2004
-by Dan Dyck


Jack Suderman, executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness

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Winnipeg, Man.— The ecumenical council of churches in Colombia has approached Mennonite Church Canada to be present at talks with some Colombian armed groups to explore possibilities of disarmament and re-insertion into the civil life of the country.

The council approached the Colombian Mennonite Church, a partner in the council’s peace advocacy office, because of the Mennonite Church’s long-standing peace perspective. That church, in turn, is seeking to create an international advisory council to aid in discernment and to demonstrate evidence of international solidarity in these conversations.

Colombia has been embroiled in a volatile civil war for over 50 years. Various armed groups control different regions of the country at the peril of innocent civilians who get in the way. The Colombian government has not been successful in putting an end to the conflicts.

Jack Suderman, executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness, will represent MC Canada at the table. The invitation specifically requested that he be the church’s representative in these conversations, if possible. Suderman’s extensive experience with Colombia, his ability to speak and interpret Spanish, and his theological training will underpin the needs of the negotiations.

The General Board, at this month’s Leadership Assembly (March 4-6) gave approval for the initiative and for Suderman’s role in it.

“It would be as foolish to raise constituent expectations unrealistically, as to ignore the window of opportunity that these dialogues represent,” stated Suderman. “It is agenda that is in the hands of the primary protagonists and ultimately in the hands of God. It is clear that it is out of our hands.”

Colombia has a population of nearly 40 million. The Mennonite church there has about 1250 members. “The Colombian Mennonite Church is having a disproportionate impact on the country in relation to its population,” said Suderman. “The process of peace during time of strife assumes that risks must be taken and leadership must be exercised when windows of opportunity arise. This appears to be one of those windows,” suggests Suderman.

A time and location for the meetings remain undisclosed for security reasons.