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A letter from Jed Koball in Peru

Advent 2013

In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! – Isaiah 2:2-5 (Reading from First Sunday of Advent)

The metals smelter in La Oroya continues to emit high levels of toxic gases into the air

It was nearly three years ago when we were attacked on the mountain. The children of CAMBIALO, accompanied by university students from the U.S., were painting a mural in their hometown of La Oroya, high in the central Andes of Peru. In this town, often referred to as one of the five most contaminated cities in the world due to the pollution from a metals smelter, the kids of CAMBIALO wanted to share their hopes of a healthier, cleaner and greener world by painting a picture of green mountains and blue waters on a wall in the middle of the town. When they were not even half-way done with their mural, a mob of over two hundred men representing the lead smelter attacked us – stealing our buckets and paint brushes and turning them into weapons against us, along with their rocks and fists.  It was a dark day in La Oroya.

A year later, a ray of light shined through that darkness when the university students from the U.S. sent the kids of CAMBIALO a replica of the mural they tried to paint that day on the mountain. The students had visited churches in their presbytery, telling the story of the plight of the children of CAMBIALO and the horrid conditions in which the people live in La Oroya. The people from the churches responded, each one painting a piece of the mural, letting the children know that they are not alone in their struggle and that their voice has been heard.

The YAVs enjoy playing games with the CAMBIALO kids.

Nearly three years later the struggle continues. For a time, it appeared that the government of Peru would enforce new and stricter environmental laws in La Oroya. Indeed, a law was passed to significantly reduce permissible levels of toxic emissions by the end of 2013. However, when the owner of the lead smelter (a U.S. citizen) filed an international lawsuit for $800 million against the State of Peru, claiming that its enforcement of new environmental regulations would cost him profits, and thus violate his rights as foreign investor as stipulated in a Free Trade agreement between Peru and the U.S., the new law was ¨re-interpreted,¨ and the company is no longer being held responsible for excessive toxic emissions. What does this mean for the people of La Oroya and the children of CAMBIALO? It means they continue to breathe poisoned air. And to add salt to their wounds, the company has now painted its own murals around town – pictures of green mountains and blue waters, claiming that they are restoring the environment in La Oroya.

But, amidst all the lies, treachery and injustice, a voice of truth stands out.

Two CAMBIALO kids present their plan to build a rooftop garden.

Not long ago, Jenny and I traveled to La Oroya to introduce our friends from CAMBIALO to this year´s group of Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs). We expected to hear their story of struggle. What we did not expect to hear was their voice of renewed hope. Today the children have a new plan – a vision. If the company and the politicians and all the other citizens of La Oroya will not actively work to restore Creation in La Oroya, then they will do it themselves. Their plan begins with their very own rooftop greenhouse garden. As of this month, they are learning how to start an organic garden, care for it, and harvest it. Soon they will not just be planting seeds, but Hope.  Soon, they will not just be nurturing plants, but Peace. Soon, they will not just be sharing the bounty, but Joy.  And, soon, they will not just partaking of delicious and healthy meals, but communing in Love.  

For your prayerful support and gracious giving towards this ministry we share, I thank you! And I pray that the Hope, Peace, Love and Joy proclaimed from the mountaintops may fill your lives this Christmas so that together we may continue to walk in the light of the Lord. 

With heartfelt gratitude,
Jed

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 31
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