A Return to Colombia: Cheerful Courage

Cathy and DiegoWhy do I plan to return to Colombia as an accompanier with the Colombian Presbyterian Church (IPC)?

I’m looking forward to going back because my first 3 visits were so powerful.  On the first trip a group of Americans from Witness for Peace and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship visited with groups of people in Bogota, Baranquilla, Cartagena, and in shack communities of people who had lost their own homes because of the terror and violence.  Several individuals told our delegation that without visitors such as us, they would have been killed already.  We knew that our presence made a difference – letting threatened people know they were not alone and letting their enemies know that the world was watching.

Photo right: Me and Rev. Diego Higuita on Easter

The second visit, in 2008, I went as an accompanier and stayed mostly in Barranquilla.  This was the visit where I came to know German, Gloria, Diego, Alice, Milton and Adelida, and others active in the IPC.  I remember their courage and faith as we visited churches and remote farms in areas where there had been violence only months before.  But I also remember their willingness to laugh, dance, tell funny stories, sing, and enjoy music and each other, even in the midst of their struggle to build the beloved community of God’s people.  

The Presbyterian Church in Colombia has worked tirelessly for decades to build this community through their churches, schools, ecumenical networks, Bible conferences, meetings with government officials, and care for the internally displaced.  Through all of these efforts they encouraged each other.  This last sentence is central to why I want to go back.  Encouragementis defined as the action of giving support, confidence, or hope.  Synonyms include heartening, cheering up, inspiration, motivation, stimulation, fortification.  To me, En-courage-ment is the act of giving courage to a person or a group.  That is what the people I met share with each other.  Through their laughter and warmth they gave each other and me, courage.  

Their underlying cheerfulness in the face of fear and unknowns is contagious.  Whether we met at a women’s rights gathering in a poor section of the city or a Bible study or for worship in a setting that I found unsettling, they focused on the purpose at hand with a calm faith that occasionally defied my understanding. 

Rural Worship SpaceMy last visit to Colombia, in 2010, was as part of a delegation that met with members of the IPC to evaluate the Accompaniment program and see if it should be continued.  After several days of discussions we decided that this has been an effective partnership that should continue.  Our successful deliberations took place over Holy Week and ended with an Easter commitment to continue walking together toward peace.

The people I met in my 3 visits to Colombia, and to the IPC in particular, demonstrated character marked by courage, humor, humility, laughter, faith, and a consistent desire for peace.  I believe these qualities have created a resilience that enables them to move forward in spite of everything. 

And now it seems that their dedication is paying off in the real possibility of peace.  After more than a half-century of violent struggle that has led to the internal displacement of about 7 million people, peace accords are now signed!  The potentially volatile implementation phase is underway and continued support is needed.  The opportunity to be a witness to this faith filled work is a blessing.  To be able to share it with my husband Peter is an opportunity not to be missed.  That is why I eagerly await a return to Colombia as an accompanier.