No, it’s not a typo.
And if you could hear what we have heard, seen what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched, you would know hope in Colombia too.
You may not know much about Colombia, but from what you have heard and seen from a distance, chances are you’d know there is coffee in Colombia (though you’d probably not know there’s a coffee strike in Colombia—my luck, eh!).
You’d know Colombia is a major source of drugs. And you’d know there’s been war and violence in Colombia for a long time (50 years long).
But hope in Colombia?
Ask one of the millions of people displaced by the violence, the war on drugs, or by any of the ecological disasters caused by many of the large scale foreign mining companies, and many will tell you, “There’s no hope in Colombia, especially in Colombia’s poorest province of Chocó.”
While in Chocó we were enjoying Colombian hospitality at the Mennonite Brethren church in Istmina. A shy small humble looking man sat down at our table to join us. With help from Bekah, our MCC guide and translator, we exchanged basic facts and pleasantries.
But somewhere along the way we realized we had stumbled into a story, the very personal story of one of those millions of “internally displaced people” that we had heard about in the statistics.
Suddenly, the “statistic” had a name and face – Jose. Jose graciously allowed us to probe the details of his recent past.
Less than three years ago, a paramilitary group arrived in his village of Chocó, holding him and the 73 families in the community hostage in the centre of the village. For two days they endured the constant threat of death, accused of “supporting” a different paramilitary group.
With their lives hanging in the balance, a brave brother from his church, Pedro, challenged their captors to release them, underlining his community’s innocence, and calling for their release.
Miraculously they were released, but had to flee with only the clothes on their back and shouts from their captors, “Don’t come back or you will be killed.”
As they fled along the river on a 15 km journey to the town of Pie de Pepe, they were caught for a time in a crossfire with another paramilitary group. “But thanks be to God,” says Jose, “no one was killed.”
They finally arrived in the neighboring village, terrified and homeless.
But hopeless? No, they soon discovered they were not hopeless.
Their sister church in the village took all of the displaced community in (73 families of 6-8 people per family) and helped them start rebuilding their lives.
With the gift of work and the caring of Christian people, he and his community are finding hope and healing in Colombia.
As Jose says with a big smile on his face, “Thanks be to God.”