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This week in Cachipay

   

Dec 7, 2004
- by Janet Plenert

Cachipay, Colombia — My mind was occupied as my daughter Katrina and I walked home from town and I wasn’t looking ahead. Suddenly in front of us was a 2 1/2 foot long snake across our path! I grabbed Katrina and we moved out of the way, only to realize that (I think) it was dead. The other snakes I had seen so far in Colombia had been smaller, and squashed flat. This one hadn’t been there on our walk to town.

My mind had been occupied for good reason. I had just received word that a Mennonite pastor had died in a bomb explosion in Bogotá. The violence had always seemed so close, yet so far away. Now it feels closer. Javier Segunda was only 31 years old, and according to another church leader, he was part of a new generation of leaders so needed in this church. Javier had been on his way home Sunday night when a bomb went off near where he was innocently waiting for a bus. Later today I will attend his funeral to stand together with many other church people to denounce the use of violence. Please pray for his family, his church (a new church called La Victoria), the many people whose lives he has touched, and indeed, the people who planted this bomb.

Just a week ago I sat in a two day ‘Security Workshop’ offered by Justapaz, the Colombian Mennonite church's centre for justice, peace and nonviolent action. The national church had requested that Justapaz offer this to all church and church institution leaders. Concern had been increasing, evidently, that the church is not well enough prepared both in avoiding violent incidences (pastors returning home at night, for example), and in responding to possible crises.

People came with an amazing set of real questions, but certainly not ones I have ever heard asked in Canada: How do we respond if an armed group enters our church? What do I do if a murder has happened and we know who is responsible? How do we handle it when both displaced people as well as disarmed group members responsible for the displacements come to our church? How do we evaluate what the real risks are at any time?

The group was led through a variety of exercises, worked at recognizing fears, assessing the current political and social situation, recognizing the kinds of violence that are happening in different regions, assessing risk, threat, vulnerability and strengths of our churches and institutions and using that to make action plans to reduce the weaknesses and build on strengths related to security. It was a fascinating two days, but tragic at the same time. Less than a week later, a pastor, out at night at the wrong place at the wrong time, is dead. Meanwhile, I wonder about another pastor friend of ours, still receiving death threats. Lord, have mercy.


A Funeral Reflection

-by Janet Plenert

A single rose lay among the broken glass and debris. A symbol of life and love, of hope and beauty. The glass, a reminder of violence and death. As often is the case, they coexist, contrasting and challenging one another in a dance of power to see which would dominate the day.

The smell of roses wafted over me. The beauty of hundreds of roses dazzled my eyes and made me smile, but they could not erase the sadness of the occasion. Javier Segura Gonzales, a Mennonite Pastor in Bogotá was being honoured and bid farewell. He was the only fatal injury in a bomb that exploded on the first day of Advent. He is the first Mennonite pastor to lose his life due to the violence in Colombia.

The large church building had standing room only for the service that gave testimony to this young life. At just 31 years old, Javier had experience church planting in Quito, Ecuador, as a pastoral associate in his home church, and now as the pastor in a new church plant in south Bogotá. His fiancé read the eulogy, then wiped her tears and launched into a powerful testimony of encouragement to their congregation. ‘Javier didn’t like to leave things half done, and it may feel to you like he has done that. But the church in not Javier’s church. It is God’s church and God will carry it forth.” She spoke with enthusiasm and strength that surprised me. She spoke with a deep inner confidence that can only come from God.

 


Friends and family of Javier Segura Gonzales, a young Mennonite pastor in Bogotá, Colombia, march in his honour. Gonzales was killed when a nearby bomb was detonated. He was waiting for a bus. Janet Plenert, executive director of International Ministries for Mennonite Church Canada, attended the funeral. “Again, the church had taken the opportunity to use this tragic situation as a testimony of life and a call for peace,” she wrote in a reflection.

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After the service the coffin was carried, followed by a couple hundred mourners, dozens of placards and white balloons, down the streets to the location where Javier had died. There some of the flower arrangements were set up and placards taped to the building. Peter Stucky, President of the national church, gave a stirring testimony to all who could hear. This was an act of violence against a child of God. The church stands for life and for peace. And to combat some careless reporting in the press, and assuage the indignation of many present, he clarified that Pastor Javier was a man of peace and he had not, as the media suggested, set off the bomb. The false allegation was like salt thrown into the wounded heart of the church.

White balloons of peace were released into the air and a song of peace was sung. ‘I ask peace for my city. Lord I ask you to forgive my city.’ Again, the church had taken the opportunity to use this tragic situation as a testimony of life and a call for peace.

The rose lay among the rubble. Glass and debris had flown over the sidewalk when the bomb exploded. Blood was still visible on the wall where it had sprayed, and the damage to the cement wall was obvious. A hole in the sidewalk indicated where the bomb had detonated. And the colour and beauty of the rose lay in its midst. A reminder that, in the end, peace will overcome evil, and Jesus will come again.

I invite your prayers for the Colombian Mennonite churches, for Javier’s family and that peace would come to this land.