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A letter from Chenoa Stock in Bolivia

September 28, 2012

Bound Together

Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

As I thought about this newsletter, the song, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” written by John Fawcett in the late 1700s, came to mind. So I thought I’d use these phrases to reflect on the activities of the past couple of months.

UMAVIDA Bolivian delegation at the JH International Conference in Chicago- Chenoa Stock - Facilitator, Clotilde Loza - Coordinator, Wilhelm Piérola - President

Blessed be the tie that binds

I serve as Companionship Facilitator with the Joining Hands Network UMAVIDA (Uniendo Manos por la Vida—Joining Hands for Life). UMAVIDA is part of a global family that includes sister networks in El Salvador, Haiti, Peru, Egypt, Cameroon, Lesotho, India, and Sri Lanka. In August we had a joyful family reunion in Chicago, with all of the networks, for an International Conference to reflect, evaluate, and plan. Each country was represented by two country delegates, the facilitator, and representatives from their U.S. presbytery partner.

So what brought us all here? What is the tie that binds us to this commitment? A sense of call: to love our global neighbors, to advocate for justice, to restore the wholeness of God’s Creation, not only locally but in those places where governmental policies and transnational corporations affect the marginalized and vulnerable communities of developing countries.

During this time we discerned focus issues that were the most critical in each country. As we discussed these issues, we narrowed them down to five campaign areas: water privatization and pollution, corporate and governmental land grabs, trade imbalances, exploitative practices within the extractive industries, and the loss of local control of the food supply, or food sovereignty. This call for justice, this global tie that binds us, begins with these issues.

Our hearts in Christian love

After a week of planning, sharing, and worshiping, our Bolivian delegation—UMAVIDA Coordinator, Clotilde Loza, UMAVIDA President, Wilhelm Piérola, and me—headed to Oregon and San Francisco to visit our U.S. presbytery partners there.

Bolivian delegation with San Francisco Presbytery partners

The message I love to share about the mission of Joining Hands is that we are not alone. We are not one individual country, struggling in a single campaign. We are in partnership.  We are working together on similar issues in Christian love, an unconditional love learned from Jesus. As we met and shared meals together, church members, sessions, and environmentalists listened and asked questions. As we visited local ministries to learn about poverty, injustice and outreach in the U.S.A., we, in turn, listened and asked questions about the system. As we visited the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon and learned about the life and struggles of Native Americans, we realized their problems are not so different from those in Bolivia.  As we visited government representatives, talking about our concerns and need for involvement in trade agreements and the ongoing environmental audit in Bolivia, we felt supported and encouraged by the positive commitments made. As we closed our time in a Bolivian restaurant, where Wilhelm recognized a musician to be his high school friend from Bolivia, we experienced the smallness of the world and the ever-present need to bind our hearts together in Christian love because we are not alone.

The fellowship of kindred minds

It was a busy two weeks, but the results were very rewarding. Not only did we have time to connect with old friends in the partnership, but we also had the opportunity to share with new friends the story of Bolivia, our work as UMAVIDA, and the upcoming activities where we can work together. One of those activities was advocating for the release of the environmental audit in Oruro, which has been ongoing since 2009. It was due to be released in April and, after many postponements, was finally released September 7.

The audit’s purpose was to assess the contamination of water, land, and communities from the Kori Kollo mining operations. This operation, which has been excavating gold and silver for nearly 30 years, was owned by the U.S. Newmont Company but was sold a few years back to a Bolivian subsidiary.

Bolivian delegation with Cascades Presbytery partners at Warm Springs Reservation

According to the audit’s Terms of Reference, once the audit is released, the community has 15 days to make comments or complaints about it, which are then submitted to the Vice Minister of Environment.  In these weeks it has been difficult for our partner organization in Oruro, CEPA, and the community organization, CORIDUP, to explain or share the information with the communities, due to its technological language, shared only on CD, making it impossible to present it, as some communities do not have electricity.

The beauty of these past weeks of comment gathering has been the literal "fellowship of kindred minds." Our commenting team includes volunteers from CATAPA, a Belgium non-government organization that works with CEPA, Jessica Lawrence from Earth Justice in San Francisco (a connection made by our presbytery partners there), Dr. Fernando Serrano, a professor of Environmental Health in St. Louis University, some of our presbytery partners, community members, and those working in CEPA and CORIDUP. The correspondence, the organization and passion to be as effective as possible has been beautiful to experience. Though we are in different parts of the world, it is this fellowship, this responsibility to work with global neighbors and family, that has helped bring together these minds in this campaign process.

Is like to that above

This campaign, Environmental Justice for Communities Affected by Open Pit Mining, is our struggle in search of heaven on Earth. It is a struggle to create a world where there is abundant life for all—people, land, water, and all beings.  It is a struggle for justice that can be achieved only when we are bound together by our Christian hearts and kindred minds, proclaiming our faith in solidarity.


Chenoa Stock

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 24

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