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The Struggle for Life: Reflections on the International Peacemakers Program

Wilhelm Piérola Iturralde, President, UMAVIDA, JH Bolivia, as translated by Chenoa Stock, Companionship Facilitator, Bolivia

Wilhelm and Chenoa with San Francisco Presbytery partners. Photo courtesy of Chenoa Stock.

The mission of the PC(USA) is inspired by a vision of a world where peace exists between nations and families are spared the pain of violence. I traveled to the U.S. in the fall of 2013 as an international peacemaker with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.  I was invited to participate because as the President of the Bolivian Joining Hands Network, UMAVIDA, I feel committed to the teachings of Christ to love our neighbors and to work towards reconciliation with Creation.  These teachings should be integral to our life, our work as Joining Hands and our work as the Church.

It is important to celebrate the International Peacemakers Program and its global impact. The peacemakers come from many different countries, some in permanent violent conflict where rights to life are violated daily, and where human beings have become objects to be thrown away. We are carrying out a noble mission and one which requires a global commitment, as the struggle for life and human rights is vitally important.

At the beginning of our month-long journey, due to my doubts of being with people who spoke a different language and had different customs, my colleague Chenoa, an American mission co-worker, and I carefully worked together to coordinate our message to be focused on the struggle for life. Life is not the contamination from transnational mining activities and its disastrous impacts on the natural habitat of rural farmers and indigenous communities, human health, the mortality rate of animals, and the loss of crops in the surrounding areas.  “Water is life”-we need to fight for our rights and to have pure and free water to drink, irrigate and in order to create and sustain life.

Our message was listened to attentively in the different places we visited in Alabama, Oregon, Kansas and San Francisco. We were given the opportunity to present in a variety of spaces to youth, University students and leaders of the Presbyteries. These visits were great experiences where many participated and learned about UMAVIDA and its campaign on mining contamination and environmental justice.

I especially enjoyed the personal time after each service or event where we could speak with those who were present, answer their questions, and share our message at a deeper level. We were always well-received, both by the different groups, as well as each of our host families, where we shared fellowship and formed friendships over meals, discussing Bolivia and the global issues that are now affecting us all. We felt like we were at home.  I even felt like a Presbyterian during the times shared together!

We found all of these encounters to be very interesting and enlightening and each of them increased our determination to share our message with the next group. I am proud to say that in the end we were energized to continue this journey a few more weeks.

In the UMAVIDA Network in Bolivia, where I am President and help to develop its activities, I believe it is important to put into practice that which we learned during this time with PC (USA) congregations, as well as our Joining Hands partners, especially concerning this message of peace. UMAVIDA, since its creation 10 years ago, thanks to the efforts and orientation of Hunter Farrell, the first Joining Hands companionship facilitator in Bolivia, has defined Social Justice and Human Rights as the core of its strategic work.

After our time with so many members and leaders of the PC(USA), I feel that the International Peacemakers Program has helped to clarify that we are in a position to rededicate ourselves to organized and coordinated actions with our US partners as we work together towards a common goal for environmental justice.  We are messengers of peace, of reconciliation of Creation, and only together can we confront those situations of violence and turmoil with shouts of peace and unity. Through Joining Hands, we continue to share that message and struggle for a just and sustainable world and hope that those congregations we have met along this journey will join us in that struggle.

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