By Ken Peters, Pastor of Saanich Community Church (MB), near Victoria, British Columbia
This evening we shlopped through wet muddy streets, our pathway illumined by the strobe of bouncing headlights from motorcycles and moto-ratones (motor-mice), the small three wheel taxis that weave their way through the alleys with grace and agility.
Did I mention it’s pouring out? Rain – beautiful really, taking the edge off the humidity and heat.
We are en route to Celia’s and Carolina’s, MCC SEED workers here in the Chocó; they are hosting us this evening in their apartment. They’ve prepared for us a small feast of croissant, cold cuts, cheese, fresh papaya, coconut and pear. But first we have some debriefing to do and how very important these moments are.
We are reconvening from a day of ministry in the area churches. When I say “we”, I mean our Canadian MB delegation of nine has been enhanced by:
- MCC staff from the Bogota’ office,
- Colombian MB pastors,
- Mennonite World Conference staff and
- MCC SEED workers from the Chocó’.
At times, we are up to 18 people – strong, gifted, passionate followers of Jesus. We are fast becoming good friends.
We listened to the humour of translation faux pauxs, stories of Chocóan worship practice: boisterous singing, perseverance in prayer and long sermons. A number of us preached one-hour messages with translation. Others provided testimonies to complement the sermons.
A few of the churches in the outlying regions were only accessible through rough roads. Vehicles broke down. Motorcycles were dispatched in relief but not before one group of four had to walk down jungle paths in an area where armed combatants have been known to disappear the vulnerable.
Three different ministry groups spoke of the sobering reality of life in the villages:
- dilapidated housing,
- extreme poverty,
- ecological devastation of pristine jungles and polluted rivers clogged with toxins – all from Canadian Mining firms operating in the area.
Some churches are the residue of displaced communities forced out by guerrilla and paramilitary operations linked to the mining; others, internally displaced and fearful fractions of families whose fathers’ and sons’ bones litter the jungle floor.
Any one of these stories is enough to break the heart. When piled up on each other in one sitting it shatters what’s left.
To comprehend our complicity as a Canadian in these people’s misery is a hard reality to accept. The last word, however, is not despair but praise.
To suggest the Chocóan MBs are resilient is an understatement. Their creativity and hope enables them to eke out lives of dignity contrary to all powers working against them.
Here in the city of Istmina, David Esau and I preached to a church of 200 faithful who have organized a plethora of social programs in the void of government support. It is one of 10 MB churches in the area with six more church plants along the way serving 1400 people.
God has graced these saints with courage, strength, faith and vision that some Canadians can only dream about. It is pouring in Istmina and it is God who reigns.