Colombia Accompaniment Report: Hope and Transformation

In November 2015, Ruth Noel and Chris Lieberman were Peace-keeping Accompaniers in Colombia with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in association with the World Mission division of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Over the last 50 or so years Colombia has known violence and internal conflict. Colombia has one of the largest populations of displaced persons in the world. Like most accompaniers, Ruth and Chris went to Colombia at their own expense to show solidarity with the Colombian Presbyterian Church (IPC) and with the victims of violence who the IPC accompany. Accompaniers are not there to build anything…except relationships. They are not there to dig ditches or lay water lines…but they are there to dig into and understand the complicated issues of Colombian political life and to stand with the IPC as it stands “against injustice and with the wronged” (Belhar Confession). Here is the first of four reports from Ruth and Chris.

El Pueblo is a neighborhood on the western edge of Barranquilla. It’s one that members of El Camino church have been accompanying.

Coming back from our visit with the ecumenical house-church in the barrio where we read scripture, sang songs and celebrated three people’s birthdays, my first impressions are that so many people here live as best they can. They do not need more violence, hardships, or exploitation. It reminds me of people given the hard labor of making bricks –without straw (Exodus 5:1-20). These people do not need extra measures of hardship. What they do need –as an outsider– I do not know. But, I think what I saw at the house-church is important to recognize: respect, good humor, hospitality, care, sharing food, honoring elders, including strangers, celebrating God among us and building a community of care that advocates for basic services for the neighborhood.

I remember reading the Mission/Vision statement of the Colegio Americano de Barranquilla (the Christian school of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia where I spend some time). It ends with: “. . . and the transformation of the national and international context.” The word transformación caught my attention. Is it intended to be educationally progressive, theologically faithful, or socially subversive? It was confusing to me.

Confusing, until I was riding back in the taxi from the house-church in the barrio and looking out the window. I could see why the hope of transformación is important. Conditions need to change! In the context of 50+ years of civil war, political abuses, economic disparity, and human suffering, I could imagine the hope of transformation as part of the good news proclaimed by the church in the name of God.

Sitting in the taxi, looking at the people passing by me in the darkness, it’s obvious that transformation is muy importante. I wonder what changes might be obvious when I look out the windows back home? I remembered once looking at myself on the website Of the approximately 7.3 billion people on the planet, I am something like the 4,554,045th wealthiest person in the world by income. That puts me in the top one percent of the world’s richest people by income. Living here makes me feel I have so much. Saying it truthfully, I have too much. Seeing with new eyes, I live in a mansion where the streets (by comparison) are paved with gold. Transformación starts in many different places and works at many different levels. And, as I discovered by digging a bit deeper into the PC(USA) Book of Order, one of the great themes of the Reformed tradition “. . .calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God” (F-2.05). You never know what you might see when you look beyond yourself and into the love of God. May the love of God be with you.

Read the second report from Ruth and Chris.