Cathy and Peter Surgenor
February 15, 2018
We were in a bus whizzing back to Apartadó. A two-lane road with narrow shoulders and numerous huts nestled up to the road side. Horse drawn carts, bicycles, motorcycles, 3 wheel 2 person taxis, vans, buses, large dump trucks, large banana and plantain trucks and tractor trailers share this road. Clip clopping horses vie for space on the road with vehicles speeding along at 50 – 60 mph. Our van made the two and half hour journey happily whizzing around larger vehicles, taking care to avoid slower vehicles, beeping merrily to inquire about additional passengers and suggesting “move over”. Passenger cell phones kept ringing for travel updates as we proceeded south.
At one stop people started to exit from the seats behind me. It was a young woman and her mother with a newborn child. There had not been a sound during the hour plus journey. We were touched as we realized that the stop was in front of a regional hospital most likely to find treatment for the child.
Did we mention that this bus “stop” is unique? The van would pull to the edge of the road, put on flashers and expect all the traffic to avoid us. Often there was very little space to stand once alighting from the bus. A quick transaction of the fare, a friendly beep and we were off again.
But to start at the beginning, this week we were privileged to visit Carepa, a small city near our base, where a relatively large church is well known in the Presbytery and the community. Most of the residents of this city are people displaced from ancestral homes and farms by the violence of the last 40 years (similar to the situation in Apartadó where we are based). The veteran Pastora does a wonderful job keeping connected with families in the church, conducting Bible studies and Sunday worship. We were able to visit and pray with a number of families as we walked through the city one evening accompanied by her husband while she was at a meeting. (The pastor’s husband leads the 5:00 am daily prayer meeting in the church.) One of the families we visited included a woman who works in the after school program (also displaced from where she grew up). She keeps a busy home but is mourning her adult son who was killed in the violence three months ago.
The next day we took a jeep “jeepero” (large jeep with seats for 6-7 in the back) over a rough road up into the hills for some fresh breezes and a quick visit with the small church there. Every person in these communities seems to be treated with respect. It is hard to judge a person’s status or education by their appearance or current task. On the Jeep trip one passenger appeared to us to be a caballero returning from town. In conversation on the bumpy road we discovered he was a physician serving three days in the city and three in the countryside. In the village, cows and caballeros were moving through the streets as we watched. La Pastora shared that when her father was killed in the violence she escaped by walking over the mountains we were viewing to the east and her first look at her new home area was walking down the street in front of us. La Pastora, a displaced person, has completed course work in Seminary and has had a long career as a pastor. Her children study at the University nearby. Her son, Emir, has great skill with the piano and keyboard. He practices often on the church keyboard at home and always accompanies worship singing, playing by ear (parishioners sing from memory as there are few song books). Emir plays a wide range of music from classical to church to contemporary. When a singer starts singing he can adjust his playing to match the key they chose.
These cities are an amazing contrast of experiences. Most homes are built out of concrete with mostly open doors and windows, protected by bars. Some streets are paved and others are waiting for pavement. Market streets are very busy and crowded with great unplanned diversity of shops on each street. Major roads from one city to another are always busy with traffic and people.
Back in Apartadó, we learned that a quick change in plans was required due to travel restrictions over the coming weekend. These were imposed and enforced by an illegal group with power in our home base area, but not in neighboring states. We were instructed to pack for a 2-3 day trip (which turned into five full days) to a small church in a small community in the far reaches of the Presbytery. We, including the pastor of this new church, found a seat on one of the last vans heading out of town and had a 3-hour ride (three sardines packed in the back seat with backpacks on our knees). We were dropped off on the edge of the road (at a small store operated by a church member). One motorcycle was present – so with a quick “Do you mind?” Peter climbed on the back for a ride down a dirt road in the dark. Cathy and Pastora Magaly followed on two motos 20 minutes later. Church members had made a dinner for our arrival and served it in the small home of La Pastora. This began a five day adventure in this small (small) community on a dusty dirt road to places even more remote.
The good news is that the church has installed a well and electric pump for clean water for the brand new bathrooms (with showers) and clothes washing. The dirt floor church has been improved with the addition of a raised concrete floor (so worship is not in puddles in the rainy season). Both of these improvements were made possible by previous Presbyterian visitors. There is great energy in this very small community – 70 children regularly attend faith development on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, lay leadership is being developed to lead in the case of pastoral absences and they have exciting ideas about possibilities in their future. Pastor Magaly hopes to stay for one more year before moving on to be a missionary in other new congregations.
All this in a community where 80% of the homes, including the pastor’s, have dirt floors. All have electricity and the one National tv station can be received with just an antenna and viewed on a flat screen tv. Chickens take care of food scraps before, during and after meals. Meals are enjoyed outdoors under a thatched roof shelter. Most of the members of this community have historic roots here with some men working in larger communities, but returning home as possible. Once again, we were impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of those in the church and also those not participating in the church. Any evening stroll led to an impromptu visit with one or two families. Whenever we sat down for a meal or a siesta, children or a few adults would wander in for a conversation or question. On a few more formal occasions “tinto” would be served. This is coffee crystals dissolved in hot water with a spoonful of sugar.
Again we learned not to judge a person’s status. The old, tired campesino sitting beside the thatched roof he had just brought down to be rebuilt, was the father of a successful family of entrepreneurs and two political candidates running for office – one for the national senate, the other for the local council,
La pastora kept us occupied. One day we went by moto to hear a young candidate address the local council of pastors, then on to a cooperative for lunch and on to the small city of Los Cordobas where we saw the ocean.
The next day was a bus trip to Monterio, the nearest large city. Each trip included pastoral visits (La Pastora knows someone everywhere!) and interesting points of interest.
We are back in Apartadó to distill thoughts and impressions, write notes, hear distressing news of another school shooting in the US and pray for our time here and for our world.
Did we say that the sun is intense and it is hot and humid here? It is and so a day of rest in our small apartment with air conditioning is a gift. We are not sure where we are headed next, but know it will be an adventure.