A letter from Sarah Henken, regional liaison for the Andean Region, in Bolivia
Colorful streamers danced under whirling ceiling fans as we sat together in the sanctuary. The rolling sound of a vallenato song of praise washed over us — accordion, voice, rhythm instruments. It brought a gentle close to the time of testimony and life stories we had shared on that hot tropical morning.
A group of us from the Colombia Mission Network, from both the U.S. church, the PC(USA) and the Colombian church (IPC), were paying a visit to one of the rural churches in Urabá Presbytery in northwestern Colombia. This was my third visit to the churches of Urabá but the first time I had left the eje bananero, the highway down the central axis of the valley lined with plantations of banana and plantain as far as the eye can see.
An exuberant welcome awaited us at the church — children hanging on the gate and over two dozen men and women from the congregation standing in the yard. After greetings and a blessed refreshment of cool drinks under the large shade tree, we gathered in the sanctuary to use the sound system so all could hear. Over 40 people, including lots of children, had gathered on this weekday morning to greet us and share stories of life and faith.
Those of us from the United States shared greetings and described the Colombia Mission Network and the Accompaniment Program and what our participation means to us. The local church members told us about their congregation, established 30 years ago in this remote corner of Colombia, and the central role it has played in the life of the community, providing leadership on the Communal Action Board, which oversees and organizes education and services for the community. They have seen their share of troubles from over 60 years of armed conflict in Colombia but carry on to develop the community and ensure good food and bright prospects for their children.
We ate lunch out under the tree and took a walking tour with our hosts, visiting houses, fruit trees and fish ponds under the midday sun. We returned to the church to catch jungle plums fresh from the tree and delight in cool running water as we rinsed them under a faucet. We shared a small taste of life with the people of God in that beautiful place, and it was good.
As I sit to write, my thoughts keep going back to the church band. The singer expressed the effect God’s love has had in her life — how even in the midst of a sinful, indifferent world she recognizes the need for change and to share that love with those who so desperately need it. And something within me says, Amen.
So, what does it mean to look for Jesus the Savior in this world of pain, violence and injustice? And, when we are able to see Jesus in the midst of it all, what is he saying? What is he doing? Who is he with? How can we live today as faithful disciples of the one who said, “Follow me”?
Each time I go to Colombia I encounter these questions. In surveillance by unmarked vehicles that follow our group to see what we’re doing. In backbreaking labor that church members undertake to support their congregation’s ministries. In faces of friends new and old who whisper stories of brutal murders, threats, intimidation. It is all so foreign to my personal story, the life that I know in the United States. And yet I know it is true, after hearing so many brothers and sisters share the experiences lived in their own bodies, minds, and souls.
Even in this Good Friday world, the IPC and its members choose to proclaim the Resurrection. Living with hope and joy, promoting peaceful alternatives for their communities and nation, they insist on the promise and possibility of a different way, founded on their faith in Jesus, who came so that we might have life. How can we, from the United States, do likewise? I don’t have an easy or complete answer, but there are steps we are taking to live in hope and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Colombia.
We do this as a national church, supporting long-term mission workers who accompany the IPC and its partners, listening and sharing stories, and who enrich theological education, giving church leaders tools to relate biblical stories to their context. Individuals volunteer as short-term accompaniers, showing by their presence that the life and struggle of the Colombian people are connected to their own lives in the one body of Christ. Members of the Colombia Mission Network visit the IPC and invite partners to the United States to share their faith and witness. We are all encouraged by the PC(USA) General Assembly to join in prayer for the people of Colombia and in action to redirect U.S. foreign policy and military aid in ways that promote the possibility of peace. These sometimes feel like small steps in a thick forest, but I have confidence that they are faithful.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. Your prayers, notes, and financial contributions give me strength and encouragement; I hope you will continue to accompany me. As you can see, there are many ways to be involved in ministry in Colombia, and I would be delighted to share more details with you, or hear your questions or ideas. After spending February and March with our partners in Colombia and Venezuela, I am back at home in La Paz, rested up, with eyes open and eager to see the next steps that God is preparing on this journey of Resurrection living.
In Easter joy and hope,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 280
Blog: Andean Journey
Give to Sarah Henken’s sending and support. [You can always give online. See the Give box in the left column of every page. —Ed..]