This post was written by Bennet McConaughy from Seattle, WA, a delegate on the PPF Delegation to Colombia.
One of the disciplines of traveling as a group in a foreign country is to “count heads” before leaving any place. We want to make sure that our group stays together, and that no one is left behind in an unknown setting.
On this trip, we first visited with a community of people displaced from their shared land by paramilitaries. After a brief period of refuge in a shelter, they were provided with a mountaintop parcel that they have worked hard to till and develop. The group of 20 families totals about 140 people, and their parcel is around 250 acres – not enough to sustain them long term or permit the coming generations to continue living side-by-side with their parents.
They long to return to where their former home, a much larger site that would provide more opportunities for development. But the land was supposedly sewn with land mines by the paramilitaries, and so the government contends it would not be safe for them to return. And so they wait, longing to be together in a sustainable situation.
We next met with former guerillas who have laid down their arms and renounced violence. They live in an enclosed camp under the ever-present and watchful eye of the police and military. Although they were promised land and reintegration into society as part of the peace accords, neither has happened. They, too, just want to be together and live in a sustainable community.
Our third group was a church, a congregation made up of displaced campesinos (farmers of small plots). The campesinos came from a variety of places; their land was taken by a range of actors – military, paramilitaries, and guerillas. All suffered unspeakable trauma. They found each other through their common experience and a church which ministered to them. All three groups long for community. They have organized themselves, formed leadership councils, and their primary desire is to stay and be together.
Our devotional last night focused on Luke, Chapter 10, and the story of the Good Samaritan. One of the questions the text asked of us is “who is my neighbor?” Each of the three groups we have visited have close bonds within themselves. Yet the future of Colombia may require them to be neighbors not just within their own group, but across the groups to each other. I, too, am left to wonder, “to whom am I called to be neighbor?” As we do at each stop on this trip, what is the greater group whose heads I should be counting to make sure no one is left behind? Like the Samaritan, what do I need to do to care for my Colombian neighbors?