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A letter from Jed Koball in Peru

September 2010

Dear friends,

Peace and greetings in the name of our God and our Creator!

A small group of women, sitting in a circle, holding Bibles.

A study group session.

It is election time here in Peru. On the first Sunday of October, the people will cast their votes in municipal elections. Some will travel great distances and wait long hours, in part because voting is mandatory in Peru, but also because people know that participating in democracy is important as the decisions of politicians affect their lives. And, because of its importance, people also find other ways, beyond their vote, to express their voice.

One way that people speak out is through demonstrations. A popular form of demonstrating is to shut down major highways, filling them with rocks, preventing cars, trucks and buses from passing by, thus making the news and calling attention to their issue. Such issues could come from the right or from the left; it is not a strategy limited to a particular ideology.

The central highway that runs through the heart of the Andes, connecting small mining towns to the capital city of Lima, is often at risk for such demonstrations. It’s a road I often travel to visit our partners working in rural areas. On more than one occasion my travel plans have been altered by the blockage of this highway.

It’s a particularly interesting highway because running alongside of its twists and turns through the mountains is a set of train tracks. All day long, day in and day out, trains run up and down these tracks, carrying rocks and minerals and metals to Lima to be shipped around the world.

It occurred to me, one day when the highway was shut down, that the trains kept running. The highway was stopped, but the train tracks were not bothered. Indeed, never do the demonstrators, whether from the right or from the left, ever stop the trains.

Curious as to why, I asked a friend who lives in the area. He smiled and said, “that train is more than just a train! That train is a golden calf.”

That train, carrying rocks, minerals, metals, natural resources is indeed more than just a train. That train is an idol. It’s a seducer of the human spirit. It’s the capturer of the human race.

That train is running down the tracks, full speed ahead, fueling itself, fueling a dream, with the resources of the earth—with oil, with gas, with gold and with silver—leaving a wake of contamination, a pathway of destruction. Food resources are destroyed. Water is poisoned. Communities are endangered. But the train keeps running. The train keeps moving forward, controlled from the left or from the right, always moving forward toward “progress,” toward “development,” toward the tower of Babel, the city on the hill

And inside that train is all of humanity, from the left and from the right and from everywhere in between. Inside that train we debate, we vote, we protest, we discern the ways in which humanity ought to be organized and governed—who sits in first class and who sits in second class, how food is distributed and who controls the distribution, who serves others and who ought to be served. Some sit on the right side of the train, and some sit on the left side of the train, but everyone is on the train. And the train is running away.

Our partners here in Peru are showing us that at the heart of the world’s problems, at the root of poverty, of injustice, of hunger, is not merely the failed ways in which humans relate with one another—rather, the failed ways in which humanity relates with all of Creation. From the right and from the left and from everywhere in between, we are destroying the planet; we are destroying ourselves. We are captive to an industrial dream. We are prisoners on the train.

Last month I was invited by one of our partner organizations, CEDEPAS (El Centro Ecuménico de Promoción y Acción Social), to teach a two-day course to a group of 20 evangelical lay leaders and pastors on the theme of eco-theology. Together we studied the Gospel according to Mark. In particular we explored Jesus’ relationship with nature.

A young woman among the group called attention to the story of Jesus’ healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22–26). She noted that when Jesus addressed the man, he took him outside of the village, away from the people, and into the wilderness. It was there, in the midst of nature and outside of the village, that Jesus healed him.

Indeed, together, we noticed that Jesus often left the village, the town, the city. He often went into the wilderness to pray, to rest, and to heal. For Jesus the environment was not a resource to exploit for “development” and “progress.” For Jesus the wilderness was sacred space. God’s Creation. Where miracles happen.

At election time our choices often feel limited; indeed they rarely feel like choices, rather like picking poison.  But our partners in Peru are reminding us that the gospel does not call us to cower under the choices of the world, rather, to offer a new choice. To follow in the ways of Christ. To step outside the train. Be freed from the train. And step into the wilderness… that our eyes may be opened. That our world may be healed.

With gratitude for this gospel ministry that we share,

Jed Koball

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 294

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