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First Person: Connecting with Colombia
May 17, 2004
Winnipeg, Man. —I can still see the faces of the displaced people of Ibague.
The confusion of their suffering and our presence is revealed by their eyes — love, desperation, uncertainty, gratitude — a people displaced by terrible violence in their country. This is what I remember most from my trip to Colombia five months ago.
Our delegation from Mennonite Church Canada met with leaders from Ibague Mennonite Church (south of Bogotá) halfway through our two-week long learning tour of Colombia. With 70% of the congregation unemployed, theirs is a remarkable story of outreach and ministry to displaced people.
We heard many stories that day, including one from Anna. One day, Anna's husband went to sell their chickens. Suddenly, an armed group of revolutionaries appeared, took him a few yards away, and killed him. For three days the attackers stayed in Anna’s home. They ransacked the house. Anna approached the civil defense to ask for help in relocation, but they told her they couldn’t help because her husband wasn’t uniformed. After a long ordeal, she finally received displaced person certification and was able to get a small house in Ibague.
Anna is the mother of five living children. Another child has also been murdered. Although it is harsh, this is a typical story of the displaced people in Colombia. While she has a house in her community, expenses are almost impossible. She has no money. She can’t work because she must care for her children.
But what she has is hope. Hope for her children, hope for herself. Her youngest son wants to learn English and she asked us for an English book for an eight-year-old. She also plans to start a micro business selling jam. Her hope for the future is blurred by her hope for the present — hoping armed groups won't come back for her.
The Ibague Mennonite church is reaching out to her. The church receives some support from the Colombian Mennonite Church conference for their outreach program to people like Anna. The church provides hope, spiritual support, supplies, training in skill and in spirit. The church allows these people to dream.
They dream and hope for a better life, but resources are far away and there is no money to get a business started. The church is thinking creatively with the displaced people; perhaps they could implement a sponsorship program for children, or start up a food kitchen — anything to help parents save some money for capital.
As the sun set that November day, our crowded meeting room grew dark. Before we boarded the bus for our next stop, each family proudly displayed crafts they wanted to sell. Each one was very thankful for the generosity of these visiting Canadians.
For me, visiting with fellow sisters and brothers in Christ has increased my understanding of "the Mennonite church". I am more aware than ever of the issues with which our brothers and sisters in Colombia struggle; they have inspired me to have hope and faith in a loving God. I must also encourage Canadians to continue to work for peace and justice. And I feel the need to continue supporting Mennonite Church Canada and the work being done in Colombia – a work that began 55 years ago as a church planting ministry. Today we are partners, reaching out in ways that respectfully touch the lives of our Colombian friends.
I invite you to do some research, ask questions. I challenge you to buy fairly traded coffee and to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.
Christine Ens was part of a Mennonite Church Canada led Learning Tour to Colombia (Nov. 13-25, 2004). Ens is Alumni Relations Coordinator with Canadian Mennonite University.
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