By Ken Peters, Pastor of Saanich Community Church (MB), north of Victoria, British Columbia
It was an inspirational first day for a Canadian Mennonite Brethren delegation in Bogotá. We were treated to warm hospitality at the MCC office in the bustling metropolis of 9-10 million people (depending on who you talked with). Gathering ourselves from our billets’ homes across the city, we passed endless construction projects, as well as cracked and seemingly irreparable roads. We passed ultra-modern office complexes, sports/football stadiums, miles of low two-storey heavily gated buildings and parks while our driver wove skillfully through traffic that is governed not by laws and rules as much as by relationship.
Our Colombian MCCers provided us an orientation to the work within the capital region and the country as a whole. I got the distinct impression they were but skating over the surface of the information, knowing how much we would yet have to ingest for the rest of the day. For me, more important than the work described, were the stories of the personnel themselves; how the Lord moved each of them through life to be brought together to serve the people of Colombia at this time. The work of MCC will no doubt impress me later on this week.
A certain highlight was hearing Alejandro (Alejo) Perez, a Brethren in Christ follower of Jesus whose work as a sociologist in the Choco Department (province) where I believe the MB have 13 congregations. Alejo provided a balanced perspective of the political tensions within the country, the continued war between leftist guerillas and rightwing paramilitary and the national armed forces.
Alejo spoke passionately about the crippling effects of mining, poverty, the coca industry and government spray programs to eradicate the lucrative crops and the ironic challenge of having no safe drinking water in one of the world’s regions receiving the most precipitation.
Alejo asked us to empathize with the pastors of the region whose people are lured into coca growing at the risk of imprisonment and at the expense of other food crops. Coca supplies growers infinitely superior cash flow compared to say, fruit or rice production. The churches and their pastoral leadership are officially against coca production, but have needed to offer pastoral care and counsel to those trapped in the drug’s economics. We will witness firsthand the pastors’ ingenuous approach to rice production and cooperative management of the area’s opportunities.
Given the complexity, poverty and terrible trauma especially to children, I asked Alejo where he found hope and joy. He responded that it was witnessing the Spirit-led creativity of Christ’s community on the ground in small otherwise undetectable ways: community processes that neither the university nor the seminary could have foreseen or imagined but brought about by the Spirit of God.
It is a gift, a sheer gift, to call these people our brothers and sisters.