By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst
We’re only at the end of day two in Bogotá, and already the lessons learned are filling all available room in my brain. It’s getting a little bit crowded in there (at the rate we’re going, I may need to take out a lease on some additional mental space!).
With every encounter, our Anabaptist brothers and sisters are weaving a rich tapestry of Colombia’s political, social, and religious realities. From all that we’ve heard there are many colourful, dangling threads to unspool, but if you’ll permit me to tug on just one of these for a moment…
This morning we had the privilege of hearing about the truly impressive and holistic work of Mencoldes and Justapaz—the development, and justice and peace organizations of the Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Churches in Colombia. These meetings gave us plenty of food for mental chewing (and, thanks to Colombian hospitality and culinary skills, a lot of delicious food for literal chewing as well!).
In our encounter with these partners, we learned about Mencoldes’ tireless work to foster social transformation amongst the country’s most vulnerable—tackling human rights issues, supporting internally displaced peoples, providing psycho-social support for victims of trauma, delivering micro-credit to communities in need, engaging in peace teaching, etc. Justapaz, with a focus on transformative advocacy, diligently documents individual stories of those victimized by violence and human rights abuses, provides education and advocacy on conscientious objection to obligatory military service, and so on.
Even this lengthy list gives short shrift to the breath-taking expansiveness of their work. It barely scratches the surface, really. And the breadth of their projects and ministries is undergirded by the incredible depth of their Anabaptist faith, which motivates, guides, and sustains.
We were swimming in information, but to my listening ears a common thread ran throughout much of our dialogue and discussion: the importance of context, of giving a voice to local stories, experiences, and realities.
When we asked Mencoldes and Justapaz staff for more insight into specific socio-political issues, they would respond with, “well, it’s impossible to generalize” or, “that depends on where in Colombia we are speaking about.” When we wanted clarification, they provided nuance. As Mencoldes’ staff stressed, they don’t take a “one size fits all” approach to their work. Rather, each project, every initiative, must take into careful consideration the rich diversity of Colombia’s peoples and the distinctiveness of local and regional dynamics.
Their work, in other words, is both shaping, and is shaped by, the particularities of Colombian reality. This, they said, is what it means to incarnate the holistic gospel of Jesus.
Our faith journeys are like this. They are lived realities, walked within the context of our unique personal, communal, national, and even global stories. In Colombia, this means wrestling with faith in a context where struggle is no stranger—where human rights abuses are systemic, economic inequality abounds, and various government forces, paramilitaries, and guerrilla groups create devastating insecurity and displace Colombians in mind-boggling numbers.
As we heard from our history lesson on the Colombian Mennonite Brethren this afternoon, the theological orientation and peace practices of the churches bear the mark of these pressing socio-political realities. By necessity, churches are responding in creative, Spirit-led ways to the particularly tense circumstances in which they find themselves—tensions that, given my own realities in Canada, I can only ponder, reflect on, and theorize about.
The stories of Colombia’s churches in action have already struck me as a powerful illustration of what it means to be incarnational communities who live faithfully, and with authenticity, in the midst of the gritty problems and perplexities of life.
And it’s only day two…