Colombia Delegation Report

By Rick Ufford-Chase

In February, a small and committed group of PPFers went to Colombia to celebrate ten years of our partnership with the IPC and to discern how we can best continue the important work of accompaniment that has been a vital part of our work together.

The Update: Without trying to rehearse the entire trip, I can tell you that we spent time in each of the three Presbyteries. In each one, there was agreement that the accompaniment work has been important, and that it remains important as we look to the future. Each Presbytery has a different approach – in some ways even a different theology of accompaniment. 

In Central, which many of you know has been lukewarm about accompaniment in the past, there was solid interest in two areas: political advocacy and addressing the long-term unsustainability of economic globalization/free trade/agribusiness. In terms of advocacy, leaders of the Presbytery are participating in an ecumenical (and even interfaith) effort to build relationships within the Colombian Government. The purpose is both to attempt to have an impact on the negotiations around the Peace Accords, and also to develop a “Fast Alert” system to respond to individual and communal threats against human rights workers. 

In terms of the issues around trade and globalization, the Presbytery has actually purchased a property that is a two or three hour drive from Bogota that they dream will eventually be an organic farm and retreat for church and popular sector movements. 

In Uraba, church leaders are clear that the pattern of “community accompaniment” that we have developed in recent years has been extremely helpful, and they would like to see it continue. Accompaniers build feelings of high self-esteem in churches and individual members who have survived the violence, and there is hope that, together, we might work intentionally to help church and community members deal with unresolved trauma that continues to impact their lives. Their bottom line is – don’t stop coming. 

In Barranquilla, Church leaders have committed significant time to leaders of communities of those who have been displaced by the violence. Recently, as many of you know, the threats against both the church and the community leaders have resumed. If anything, the need for our “classic” accompaniment of being present to try to bring a measure of safety to those who have been threatened appears to be growing.

Next Steps – we need accompaniers right now! Since our return in early February, our colleagues in the IPC have grown even more concerned about the safety of those who are being threatened. They have asked us to send a team of accompaniers to Barranquilla as quickly as possible, and to plan to maintain a presence over the next four to six months. In Uraba, they are prepared to receive accompaniers at any time.

So we need two kinds of support immediately: 

      1. Accompaniers who can go anytime between tomorrow and August. Ideally we are looking for folks with experience and some Spanish, though we would like to hear from any of you who might be able to go. 

      2. Financial Support from any of you who can help provide it. We consider this an emergency. It is rare for our partners to say to us “we need you immediately” as they have in this instance. If you can help us with support from churches, presbyteries, organizations, or individuals who care about this work, we will use the money to support accompaniers who may not be able to fully pay their own way. 

Shannan Vance-Ocampo has committed to direct an expansion of our political advocacy work here in the United States—in close coordination with our Colombian church partners. Linda Eastwood has stepped forward once again to direct the Accompaniment work, with the support of an active committee that she has begun to put together. Both Shannan and Linda have agreed to direct those components of our work as volunteers, at least until we get a better sense of what the demands on PPF will look like. Barbara Clawson, a wonderful, former accompanier who traveled with us during the week of evaluation, has agreed to be our point person for the effort to put one or more teams together immediately. This is kind of like the early moments of the program. We have no paid staff, but untold resources and possibilities. Please let Barbara know if you have questions, or if you are able to go, and what resources you have to offer (level of experience, language, financial resources, etc.) 

I’ll be honest. I went to Colombia thinking perhaps it was time to lay this program down. Instead, we heard the same analysis and the same request across the board: 

We in Colombia believe this partnership is more important now than ever. Even as Peace Accords are being discussed in Cuba, there has been a surge in death threats against our leaders and the leaders of the communities where we have been in partnership. No one here is talking about “post conflict,” we are talking about “post accord.” The conflict is deeply entrenched and is likely to manifest itself in new ways as the people of Colombia work for peace. 

Stay tuned for more information from us about how we will organize our efforts, including our political advocacy, in the months to come.

I’m so glad we are in this together with our sisters and brothers in Colombia!