Colombia Accompaniment Report: Challenged Lives Sustained by Faith

Paul Vogel with school childrenReceived April 9, 2014 from Uraba-based April accompaniers Paul Vogel and Lisa Heilman Lomauro.

We arrived in Uraba at the beginning of April and spent 5 days in Carepa during the past week.  Carepa is a small town a short distance south of the area’s key town of Apartado.  We visited the Iglesia Presbiteriana de La Samaritana and stayed at the home of the pastor and his family.  

This is a congregation that is deeply steeped in its faith.  That was evidenced in any number of ways.  The church members warmly welcomed us and were very interested in us and the purpose of our trip.  During Sunday worship we briefly explained that our mission is a project developed by the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the Presbyterian Church in Colombia with a focus on fostering peace.  We further explained that we wanted to see members of the church and hear their stories about their lives in Colombia.

While we met church members at worship services, we more importantly visited a number of the church’s families in their homes.  These visits also included a walking tour with the pastor, his wife – the pastora - and a number of other church leaders on a Sunday afternoon.  

We heard stories of displacement of either the person we talked with or members of their families.  Displacement is the forceful removal of persons from land they have occupied and farmed for generations.  The land is wanted by large landowners and multi-national corporations who employ armed groups to forcefully remove the occupants.  

Many of the church members reported that their families had lived in the country near the town of Saiza, east of Apartado before they were displaced.  We were told that 80% of the persons in Carepa had suffered from displacement in some way.  

The church members or their families experienced various types of violence including threats, kidnappings and outright murder as part of the displacement process.  All of these events had taken place between 10 and 15 years ago and had completely turned their lives upside down.  But it could have been yesterday given the dislocation of lives.  

They or their families had lived on the land and were used to the farming lifestyle.   But now they were in a town separated from what they clearly preferred.  And most persons described their current lives as ones of under-employment and insecurity.  The appearance of many was one of woundedness and shock.  Some of these persons, however, had done better by being able to create a bit of the country in the town.  They were able to grow vegetables and chickens on their small plots and surrounded themselves with a variety of fruit trees.  In all cases, their families were large and extended with various members related by blood and marriage all living together.  Overall, however, when asked about the future being better, no one would answer yes.

For us, one thing stood out again and again during our visits:  Young men in these families had chosen to go into the Colombian military.  We would see photographs in prominent places in the home of sons in uniform holding either a rifle or some other type of weapon.  In one case we saw the picture of a son that had been killed by a bomb while in the military.   To us what was so strange about this is the dissonance of family members joining the same military that had caused their families so much pain in the first place.  This strange contradiction began to make some sense because we learned that the military offered young men opportunity in an economy that offers few jobs.  It is as a ticket to good pay and benefits.  

Sadly while Colombia is a very rich country, its growing economy does not offer sufficient opportunity to a broad enough swath of the population.  The “haves” do very well in Colombia.  The displacement that continues to take place makes a bad problem worse by adding to the number of people seeking work away from a farming lifestyle.  The real challenge for the country is how to stop displacement and aid those who have already been dislocated.   Growing the military is certainly not the answer.   

What we did see again and again was a deep and profound faith in the context of a strong community.  It is this, we believe, that provides hope and strength in a very enduring, difficult situation.