Muddy Blessing

A letter from Sarah Henken serving in Colombia

January 2017

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I just had to laugh. Rain kept pouring from the dark night sky, but nature calls, so there I was, muddy up to my shins, balancing a flashlight and umbrella as I perched on an open-air toilet at the edge of a cornfield. Nothing had gone the way I’d planned, but it had been an amazing day.

I’d been asked to offer a session on diaconal ministry with displaced campesino farmers for a group of 13 teens and young adults from the churches of Barranquilla and the town of Pital. They were going on retreat at the farm where some of my campesino friends have been living and working since their eviction from El Tamarindo a year ago. The land that was dry and untilled when they arrived is now lush and thriving, thanks to hard work, gifts of seed, and abundant rain. Little by little, the families are setting up more permanent houses, now that they know the lay of the land and the places prone to flooding.

We arrived late morning, and the rain started at noon and kept pouring down steadily for 20 hours, swelling the creek that runs over the gravel road and turning my half-day visit into an unplanned weekend on the farm. After making arrangements for a colleague to celebrate communion in the morning, I eased into the unexpected blessing of this immersion in God’s timing.

Instead of rushing back to the city, I was able to see youth getting to know the campesinos and the land and learning to recognize the plants that provide one of Colombia’s staple foods, yuca. They talked with the campesinos, the early risers helped milk a neighbor’s cow, and they assisted one another frequently in de-muddying their shoes and feet. The current Young Adult Volunteers were there, too, forging friendships and practicing their conversation skills alongside the presbytery youth.

This visit with the campesinos felt like an affirmation. Not only did my spirit rejoice at seeing the flourishing of the fields, but I also felt the promise of a future filled with hope. No one will come and take this land away from my friends. The air in María Jacinta is free from the pervasive unease that characterized El Tamarindo in 2014 and 2015 before my friends were finally evicted.

And still, in spite of having the deed in hand, it’s hard for the community’s spokeswoman Marisol to trust that, this time, she can put down roots. I can scarcely imagine what it’s been like for her, leaving a hometown plagued with paramilitary violence, moving from place to place seeking safety and peace of mind, and then having her home bulldozed under the watchful eye of a police brigade, the local government sanctioning her unjust and inhumane eviction. She still hesitates to speak of the long view, and yet I see that the tension has eased from her face, and her full-bodied laugh tumbles out more readily these days. I’m eager to see the future that Marisol and her neighbors will build over the coming years, with God’s help. And I’m looking forward to being a small part of that story, a friend on the journey.

As we enter into a new year, I give thanks for the opportunity to enter into a new mode of ministry. After six years serving as regional liaison with our partners and mission personnel in the Andean countries, I felt a deep yearning to dedicate myself more fully to the ministries of reconciliation that the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) undertakes. After careful discernment and prayerful conversation with our partners in the IPC, I have now been appointed to serve as promoter of peace initiatives and will be working in collaboration with the IPC’s synod peace commission and in ministries of diaconal service and reconciliation as invited by the presbyteries. I will be continuing to work with the Colombia Young Adult Volunteer site, but with thanksgiving have handed over the regional role to my colleague Dennis Smith, who is now liaison for all of South America. Please keep him in your prayers that his work with our ecumenical partners and mission personnel might be a blessing for many.

I hope you will continue to partner with me as I transition into this new role, offering the gifts and passions I bring in this crucial time for the work of peace in Colombia. Many of you have written in recent months to express your hopes and prayers for Colombia’s peace process, which is under way surely if haltingly. Your ongoing prayers and encouragement will keep me energized and focused on this ministry. I also have a long way to go in meeting the funding goals that will help ensure I can continue this work as long as it is God’s call.
• If you made a gift toward my sending and support costs last year,
thank you. I hope you will consider another gift this year.
• If you have never contributed financially to my support,
I invite you to partner with me through a gift, large or small. Recurring donations can be arranged through the website.
• If you are in a position to consider increasing your giving,
I will be praying for your discernment.
• If your congregation or presbytery would be interested in supporting me,
please invite them, or put us in touch.

On the bus back to Barranquilla after our weekend on the farm I was reminded of these words by Horace Everett, from Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living”:
The promise of growing
With faith and with knowing
Is born of our sharing
Our love with our neighbor.

It is a great privilege for me to give a face to that love we share with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, its members, and the communities it serves. Thank you for being part of this journey.

With thanksgiving,

Sarah


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