Colombia Accompaniment Report: Shootings

Received 2nd August 2013 from Urabá-based accompaniers Ben Snipes & Lora Burge  (Lora writing)

There’s no unshocking way to say this: I heard a young man shot and killed yesterday.  Before you panic, I was about a block or so away on the second floor of the presbytery offices at the before/after school program that they run.  I was waiting for lunch and talking with some of the teachers.  We heard the shots through the open windows toward the street.  As far as we know, it was a gang related shooting.  The young man was known to be the head of one of the neighborhood gangs and it seems that someone was waiting for him to get out of school.  I assure you I am safe.  If my hosts and the presbytery thought we were unsafe, we would have been moved immediately. 

The situation unfolded as most shootings do in the area.  Parents from the neighborhood were running to the scene hoping it wasn’t their child.  They then searched for their children coming out of school and walked quickly home.  People gathered around the body.  The family and loved ones were not far behind to embrace and cry over the dead man.  The police finally arrived but not before a large crowd of people had gathered; the ambulance was much too late.  Most of this I picked up from the teachers.  I could not stand at the window for long. 

Apartado public school entranceI am certainly aware of the many ways that violence threatens youth in Colombia, in the States, and around the world on a daily basis.  But I’ve never been this close.  One young man came out of school yesterday on Calle 94 of Apartadó and never made it home.  A teacher told me that at least three youth were shot on the Colombian Independence Day weekend in town a week or two before.  This is horrible, tragic, sad, wrong, heart-breaking, and many other awful things.  I have searched around for a headline in the news.  We’re not in a big city here and I doubt it even made any regional news coverage.  Why?  Because it will be written off as gang violence.  He was just another kid in a gang.  I don’t think this is a Colombia-only problem. 

 With gun control a big political issue in the States right now and living on the south side of Chicago, I’ve been contemplating violence, especially violence as it affects children and youth, for a while now.  The church must step up and be at the forefront of this movement for safety and change.   Thinking biblically for a moment, we have accounts of Jesus telling Peter to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17) and the sheep and the goats discourse that includes, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).  I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say “I was in danger and you stepped in to accompany me and find ways to make the world safer for me.”   Food and drink are fundamental needs.  As are safety and the protection of life. 

 As I sit here and reflect on the violent and heart-breaking state of our world, I listen to the kids on the floor above me at the before/after school program.  I am glad for the sounds of pounding feet and laughter coming down through the ceiling.  I hate to imagine that one or more of their lives will end too soon because of violence—and most likely with a gun.  I cringe at the thought of all the opportunities and beautiful moments that will never be because a young man was killed within sight of my front door yesterday.  The violence has to stop.  In places like Colombia, there are both political internal conflict between different armed groups as well violence from gangs and individual citizens.  Accompaniment for peace—or a constant outside presence hoping to increase and ensure peace—must continue both here in Colombia and in the other places we are from that are affected by violence.  Perhaps if accompaniment and peace-making are long-term commitments, all children and youth can walk home from school without fear.