Colombia Accompaniment Report: Fasting

By Lynne Santangelo and Jean Fontaine
June 27, 2016

We encountered a practice in Currulao that was very new to us. We were eating breakfast in the pastor's open living area when a group of people greeted us and filed into the church.

"Are they meeting?" we asked.

"They are fasting."

"Fasting?"

"Yes, they come without breakfast, pray, sing, and read scripture from 8 to noon."

"Okay. How often?"

"Well, usually once a week, but I think they're coming every day this week."

In Totumo, Lynne got up at 5 and went into the area that connects the church to the pastor's living quarters to do some exercises without disturbing Jean, the pastor, and her niece with whom we all shared a bedroom. She was startled after she had been stretching for awhile to see a man kneeling in prayer in the corner of the sanctuary. He slipped out quietly about 6. We asked later if he had been there all night. "Oh, he came about 4:30." We asked, "Does he come every day?" to which the pastor answered, "Not always."

Our last overnight visit was a long bus ride and a longer bumpy ride on a bench in back of an overcrowded jeep to the village of Blanquiceth. We arrived mid morning on Saturday to find the church filled with men, women and even children. The pastor was finishing up a weeklong series on the Holy Spirit.

"Aren't the services usually in Saturday night and Sunday morning?"

"Oh, yes, we have those services, but they are fasting from eight to noon today."

After we rather guiltily drank large glasses of mango juice, we joined the congregation for the last hour of their fast. We learned later that the first two hours had been mostly song and prayer, followed by a two hour sermon.

On Sunday afternoon, we asked Pastor Omar to tell us about fasting while discussing differences between Colombian and US worship. He was very surprised that fasting is rare among Presbyterians in the US. When we asked why they do it, he said, "Well, of course it's because the Presbyterian missionaries who came and helped us start the church 150 years ago, told us this is what we should do. Evidently the fathers taught the sons, and then the fathers forgot."

We described activities undertaken by our congregations - hot meals for the hungry, food banks, clothing banks, quilts and personal care items sent overseas, transportation assistance for medical appointments, participation in ecumenical projects like Habitat for Humanity, etc. He brightened and said, "Oh, you practice the fast of Isaiah. You feed the hungry."

When we got back to Apartadó, we sent an email to our favorite Presbyterian pastor, Steve Doughty, Jean's husband. He affirmed that fasting was important when missionaries from one of the predecessors of PC(USA) went to Colombia and was particularly practiced the day before Communion. We also found the fast of Isaiah in chapter 58 of the prophet's book, and we explored its relationship to Jesus's parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25.

As we are finishing our month in Colombia, we have so much to think about and to be thankful for. We both have had many experiences in Latin America over the last fifty years. As with our other experiences, this time in Urub√° has been special. It has surely increased our understanding of the world and our place in it as US citizens and as Christians. Most of all, it has provided us with images and memories that shall forever nurture our spirits, both in parched times and in joyful.