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We Are Seeds

A Letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

Winter 2021

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“They tried to bury us, but they didn´t know we were seeds.” Conrado Olivera spoke these oft quoted words of resistance in his farewell to friends and colleagues in La Oroya, Peru this past month. As Director of our global partner, Red Uniendo Manos Peru (UMP), Conrado has been instrumental in turning a local struggle for environmental clean-up in La Oroya into a national movement for human and environmental rights for communities affected by mining contamination. But now, after twenty years of service with UMP, Conrado is entering into a new and very well-deserved chapter of his life: retirement.

I first met Conrado twelve years ago when I arrived in Peru as a mission co-worker. We gathered in the lobby of a hotel in Lima, both of us exhausted from recent travel – myself from an eight hour flight from New York and he from a twelve hour bus ride from the central Andes. From day one of our friendship, it was clear that he would always put forth what seemed to me more effort than I merited to ensure that I felt welcome and appreciated. Over time I came to learn his grace abounds with all those who join him in the work for justice. Over time, I also came to learn that a twelve-hour bus ride along winding mountain roads is hardly an exceptional event in Peru. Such rides became routine for us in the work we shared, and they gave me privileged time to glean his wisdom.

The road to La Oroya is perhaps the road we most frequented together. Still considered one of the most contaminated places in the world due to the toxic emissions from a now dormant metals smelter once owned by a U.S. holding company, arriving there is nothing less than a stark reminder of the darkness we humans can too easily turn a blind eye to. Indeed, over the course of decades a proud people had been buried under poisonous ash; a green-mountainous landscape had been white-washed by acid rains; and a once fertile land had been left for dead with toxic metals. Almost nothing grows in La Oroya. Almost.

Conrado has many gifts: wisdom, compassion, and quick wit among them. It may be his perseverance that is both most remarkable and endearing. He refused to give up in La Oroya when so many questioned what could possibly be done and when so many more simply resigned to living a less than bountiful life. Like the most loyal of Jesus’ disciples, Conrado knew the risks and dangers involved in proclaiming Good News for the poor and oppressed, standing up to a billion dollar industry and the authorities that defend it. Yet, he persisted in his calling, and he trusted. He trusted that the will to live life in abundance still burned fiercely among residents of La Oroya and actors in the church, and he stoked those flames. He kept the buried seeds of resistance alive until they cracked through the barren earth like fresh signs of Spring.

When I myself began to question our continued presence in La Oroya, it was Conrado who preached to me in his gentle way. He acknowledged that we may be nothing more than mere molecules of water in a grand ocean of humanity, but when we come together and move together, we create ripples, and when ripples come together, they become waves. Waves are energy. Waves are change. Waves can create something new.

There is a wave flowing over the landscape of La Oroya today. It is a green wave. It is a wave of trees and plants that have taken root in a patch of land being restored by a people unwilling to accept a fate of anything less than eternal life. This green wave of resistance has spilled outwards beyond the borders of their town, bringing together dozens of communities across Peru that are affected by toxic metals contamination from the mining industry. Together they have made space for themselves at the negotiating table of the highest levels of government where they are presently designing new legislation to protect the millions of people in Peru threatened by poisons leached into their land.

Conrado has been a driving force in this movement, and he will be dearly missed. But perhaps the most amazing gift he leaves us with is a contagious passion for truth and justice. The wave will not come crashing down as he steps into retirement. To the contrary, I believe the wave is just beginning to grow. One very important reason for this is you.

This past year, you awed and humbled us with your generous support of this gospel ministry we share. We could not be more grateful. Thank you!

Our prayer and hope are that you continue to walk with us in the months and years to come. We humbly ask that you continue to support us financially, accompany us prayerfully, and act with us courageously right where you are. Together may we grow the seeds and ride the wave to a land of abundant life.

In Hope of the Risen Christ,

Jed and Jenny


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