Accompaniment in Colombia and Jamaica

Banner of accompaniment program

Accompaniment is the great theme of the Bible. It is the window through which we should see the whole of the Gospel and the entire meaning of our faith. Accompaniment is what it is all about.

With those words, Tom Driver began a sermon for Maundy Thursday, 2010. Tom was in Colombia for a time of reflection and evaluation of the Colombia Accompaniment Program. The program had begun in 2004 when

The Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (IPC) sent a message to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We are being threatened, they said. If you sent some people here to be with us without weapons, we think we would be safer. We need accompaniment.
As it happened, the call was heard by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and answered by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Presbyterian World Mission. And thus began a program that has brought our two churches closer and closer together from then until now, offering hope to many in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace.

The time of reflection and evaluation affirmed the value of the program and resulted in a commitment to continue and expand the program by people of both churches.

At the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation held in Jamaica, Sarah Henken and I had the privilege to lead a workshop on accompaniment as a model for peacemaking. The participants explored the meaning of accompaniment and shared their experiences of accompanying and of being accompanied. These ranged from being a part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel to standing with neighbors in need to walking with a congregation during the months in which it made the hard decision to close.

Sarah described the situation in Colombia – the circumstances of violence and displacement that led the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia ask for accompaniment and that led the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to respond. It is important to realize that it is the ministry of accompaniment that led the Colombia Presbyterians to call for accompaniment themselves.

Our sisters and brothers in Christ in Colombia have chosen to stand with their brothers and sisters who have been displaced – and in that act of accompaniment have found themselves in peril.

With the help of video provided by Mamie Broadhurst and Richard Williams, Presbyterian mission co-workers in Colombia, we heard from our brothers and sisters. The video included presentations by members of the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia and by individuals who have been displaced by the violence in their country. The Colombia Accompaniment Program places such a high emphasis on partnership that hearing from our sisters and brothers in Colombia was an essential part of our presentation.

Sarah reflected on what has been learned by those who have participated in the Colombia Accompaniment Program by Presbyterians in Colombia, by Presbyterians in the United States, and by people in both places together. Workshop participants shared what they have learned in their experiences of accompaniment. Together we considered ways to implement those learnings in our experiences of accompaniment. Tom’s sermon summarizes some of the most significant learnings:

When the Accompaniment Program started among Presbyterians five
years ago, many people had the idea that accompaniment ran just one
way. Colombians needed accompaniment and had asked for it. People in
the United States should give it. That was true, but only half true.
Experience has made it clear that accompaniment is a two-way street.
Colombians give it as well as receiving it. North Americans need to
receive as well as to give. We need prayer and dialog and the experience
of solidarity.

The workshop closed with an exploration of the theology of accompaniment. As Tom noted in his sermon, the accompaniment of God is a theme that appears throughout Scripture: from Creation where God made night and day, sea and dry land, through God’s promises to be with Isaac and Hagar, through the Exodus when God accompanied the Hebrew people – leading them by pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. Accompaniment appears as central them in the Psalms – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. The theme of God’s accompaniment reaches its crescendo in Jesus of Nazareth – Immanuel – God-with-us.”

Preaching on Maundy Thursday, Tom explores the nature of the day – the day Jesus gives a “New Commandment”:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

He calls it a new command, but of course it was not brand new. It was
already there in the second of the Ten Commandments — that we should
love our neighbors as ourselves. But here Jesus stresses the mutuality of the accompanying kind of love. To be WITH people as Jesus is WITH us, we need to DO loving things for them.

By God’s grace, Presbyterians in Colombia and in the United States accompany one another. By God’s grace, may we accompany one another as God accompanies us.

One way to do so is to participate in efforts to stop the Colombia Free Trade agreement. Opportunities range from advocacy to fasting in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Colombia.

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