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Colombia seeks church’s counsel on peaceful reintegration of illegal armed groups

   

Mennonite Church Canada invited

 


Colombia’s 50 year-long civil war has been particularly harsh on displaced women and children who must live in the aftermath of kidnappings and killings. Posing here in a photo taken during a 2003 Mennonite Church Canada Learning Tour to Colombia, this group scrounges materials to produce dolls and crafts they sell to supplement meager incomes.

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February 3, 2006
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Mennonite Church Canada has been asked to participate in an ecumenical consultation in Colombia regarding the peaceful re-integration of illegal armed groups (both guerrilla and paramilitary) into society, known in the country as reinsertion.

The consultation was initiated as a result of the Colombian government’s interest in seeking counsel from the country’s churches on the reinsertion process. Jack Suderman, General Secretary, and Janet Plenert, Executive Secretary of MC Canada’s Witness ministry, are two of five internationals who have been invited.

Both Suderman and Plenert have extensive experience working and teaching in Latin America. They point to three major challenges of the reinsertion process.

“Families, communities, and employers often do not want to accept persons back into their folds, knowing that these individuals may have been responsible for every manner of violence, including murder. The matters of societal restitution for the victims of violence and punishment for the perpetrators are highly controversial,” said Plenert.

It is a rare opportunity for Colombian churches, 90% Catholic and 10% comprising a diversity of Protestant groups, to seek common ground. As a matter of doctrinal preference many have theologically divorced themselves from the political and social ills of the country.

Coordinating the consultation is Ricardo Esquivia, a leader from the Colombian Mennonite Church. He represents the National Council for Peace, an initiative of CEDECOL (Evangelical Confederation of Colombia).

On short notice, Suderman was asked to present a theological framework for what CEDECOL’s counsel to government could be. It is a daunting task.

“The challenge of the Colombian church is to provide Christian counsel for very complex social issues. How to discern and apply the Christian understandings of the serious nature of evil, the passion for justice, the will for peace, the importance of forgiveness, and the strategies for mediation and conflict resolution, is indeed complicated agenda. To walk in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in their struggle to be faithful is the least we can do as a Canadian church.”

The invitation also provides an opportunity to put legs onto one of three priorities of Mennonite Church Canada, which is to “become a global church.”

The consultation will take place in February on a remote Caribbean island belonging to Colombia. Suderman and Plenert request the prayers of the wider church as they discern their message, for their contribution to the process, and for the churches in Colombia.