Around the world | Presbyterian World Mission
Standing with displaced Colombians
Mamie Broadhurst and Richard Williams emphasize the importance of accompaniment and advocacy
Mission workers Mamie Broadhurst and Richard Williams often hear people in Colombia say, “You never know when the rabbit will jump.”
It’s their way of talking about the unpredictability of violence in a country involved in a five-decades-long civil war. Being suspected of having sympathies with one of the parties involved in the war—the paramilitary, guerillas or the military—can be fatal. Working land desired by one of the warring factions can present farmers with the choice of giving up their land or being killed. The United Nations refugee agency reports that 3.8 million people in Colombia have been displaced by the conflict.
Williams and Broadhurst, a married couple, have served alongside the Presbyterian Church of Colombia since 2009. They assist a program that sends short-term volunteers from the United States to Colombia to walk with displaced people and the Colombians who work with them. (See “Ministry of Presence,” page 32.)
“The accompaniment program is about brothers and sisters in Christ accompanying one another through difficult times,” Williams says. “Jesus was here on earth to walk alongside humanity, and the accompaniment model is following that path.”
The volunteers hear stories that displaced people are afraid to share with other Colombians, Broadhurst says. Widespread fear and suspicion, she explains, have “created a wall of silence.”
Yet the sharing of stories helps displaced people deal with the pain, she says. “You just can’t bottle up that much pain and horror and not have it ooze out in unhealthy, unfortunate and discouraging ways.”
The accompaniers’ job does not end when they leave Colombia. “The hope is that they will go back to the United States and continue the accompaniment through advocacy, because U.S. policy has much to do with the situation in Colombia,” Williams says.
Knowing their stories will make it to the United States encourages the Colombians and motivates them to talk, Broadhurst says. “You hope that through information you shared something will change.”
When the accompaniment program began in 2004, leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia were receiving death threats because they dared to speak out against violence and for the rights of displaced people. Williams and Broadhurst say the accompaniment program was one reason the threats ended. “The people who were doing the threatening saw that the church was not alone,” Broadhurst explains.
In addition to its prophetic role, the Colombian church also has an important pastoral dimension, Williams says. “It is a refuge and offers people a place where they can trust one another, where they can be made whole, where they can be full members of a community.”
Pat Cole is a communications specialist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
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