Strong Memories

This Accompanier Report was written by Rev. Stephen Minnema. Steve and his accompaniment partner, Jeff Hornbeck, are accompanying in Urabá, March 2019. 

“Hacer vida cuando es fácil entregarse a la muerte es la sabiduría.” Sign at the Museo Casa de la Memoria in Medellín

There is a museum in Medellin called La Casa de Memorias. People go there to revisit their memories of the violence that has afflicted this country and to recommit themselves to a better future. The motto is over the entrance – and now in our hearts: “To create life when it is easier to surrender to death is wisdom.”

The violence has led to one of the highest populations of displaced persons in the world. So one of the roles accompaniers play here is to follow as pastors – often themselves formerly displaced – take us to visit others who agree to share their stories. In that process, we have visited the site of a massacre and have often found ourselves in a poor barrio on the city’s edge where those who years ago were displaced now live a precarious existence with no clear sense of what’s ahead.

Seeing all this and hearing the stories of loss, we had a troubling thought: has the violence subsided because the battle is over, the rich have claimed the spoils and the poor been sent to their designated areas and told to just forget and accept? (Why do Native Americans and reservations in the US context come to mind?)

But when we voiced this concern to our pastor host, his answer was firm: “We cannot forget; the memories are too strong!”  He then went on to say that recently his church had hosted a meeting with representatives from one of the opposition parties and people from other churches and the local government.  The consensus, he said, was that we cannot expect much from the government but we do not believe that a return to war is the answer. So we must come together and continue working for justice and peace.

Site of the Apotadó Massacre in Urabá

He was illustrating the kind of wisdom commended by the museum. It would be easier for the displaced to let their strong memories engender an abiding sense of victimization, discouragement and rage.  But that is surrender to death. With the wisdom of leaders like this pastor, those same strong memories can unite people in a deeper determination to build a more just and peaceful future and thus to create life.

But upon that realization came another. Has that same wisdom invited us to hear these strong memories so that we could decide to join with our sisters and brothers here to create new life instead of surrendering to death?  Are we being drawn into this story?

The truth, which many of us in the north have failed to face, is that we are already in the plot as the beneficiaries of the violence which claimed lands to produce the goods we want at the prices we demand.  But the truth is also that the strong memories we have heard here invite us to come to terms with this past and then, in solidarity with our new friends, to seek a more just and peaceful way forward. The question is: will we find the wisdom to do so?