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This week in Cachipay: 100 days in Colombia


Dec 28, 2004
-by Janet Plenert


Janet Plenert


Winnipeg, Man.— It was an intense, joyful, tragic, profound, hopeful, tear-filled, tension of life and death, of pain and joy. It was a time for being the church, for being a sign of the kingdom.

During our final week, the Colombian church, our family, and Christians around the world welcomed the season of Advent. That same week a Mennonite Colombian pastor said good-night to his fiancé and left for the bus stop. Surely he had no notion that as he headed for home, that he was actually heading for his eternal home. He died when a bomb exploded at the bus stop. Our advent week thus included the funeral and a peace march from the church to the site where the bomb exploded. The evening news carried footage of this unusual march and peace demonstration. The week went on to celebrate the graduation of 5 Mennonite students from the Mennonite biblical Seminary in Bogotá, and 29 high school students from the Mennonite school in La Mesa. The 30th La Mesa student who had been scheduled to graduate died a few months ago of a sudden illness. It was a powerful and emotional final week.

I found myself pondering this experience, as a mother and as a church leader. How do I teach my children to pray for their enemies, when they don’t really think they have any in Canada? What would my congregation here do if a group of bandits or kidnappers broke into a worship service when we still struggle in our response to homeless people who want nothing more than a pair of warm socks and some change? What would be our local and national response if one of our pastors died by an act of deliberate evil? Would we publicly condemn the act? Would we – should we – march down the main city street calling for an end to violence? Returning to Winnipeg I learned that this year my city is the murder capital of Canada.

Colombia is but one example of a country experiencing rampant violence. We sit comfortably in the knowledge that Canada is not at war, and that we experience relatively ‘tolerable’ levels of violence in our country. Returning from Colombia I am tempted to rest easy in this knowledge and be glad that we have such a wonderful country to live in. But then a small voice calls out to me, “you are not a citizen of this kingdom, but of a different kind of kingdom”. My comfort dissipates. We are called, as global citizens living in the already and not yet of the kingdom of God, to prepare the way for the one who has come, and is coming. Images of Mennonite World Conference Assembly come back to my mind – images of generosity, sharing, of miracles of feeding the 7000, of hope and of worship in many tongues. North American Mennonites were told that we hold 88% of the wealth of the Mennonite World Conference family. Ouch! What is our role in the world? What is our role in walking with the Colombian church and bringing about more justice in the world? What is our role as Anabaptist Canadians?

The more I ponder, the less comfortable I am. The more I experience and learn, the fewer answers I have. Yet walking with churches in other countries kindles deep within me a passion, a love and a conviction that we need each other in order to struggle to be a faithful people of God. We are not complete without the challenge and witness of the Colombian church. What a striking image I have in my mind of the funeral peace march: a busy street, the way quietly being opened, cars waiting, white balloons saying ‘no violence’ and ‘peace’, following the coffin, hundreds quietly marching, a silent protest being loudly proclaimed, the church speaking out. We need each other. We must learn from each other.

The Colombian Mennonite church sends thanks and greetings to us, Mennonite Church Canada. Thanks were sent publicly at the funeral. Thanks were sent at the Seminary graduation. Thanks were sent at the La Mesa school graduation. Thanks were sent via the church President. I pass all these greetings and thanks on to you. We are not two separate churches, but part of one body. Each has its function and specific calling, but we share one common purpose to glorify Jesus Christ and prepare the way for the kingdom. As we learn from the Colombian church we become a more functional part of the body. May God grant us the humility to be learners, the grace to listen and the courage to act for peace.