Experiencing the Delegation from the Other Side

Rebekah Sears, MCC Colombia (Policy and Education)

Spring seems to be “Delegation Season” with MCC in Colombia with the three delegations planned for 2013 scheduled from March to June. Organizing all of the nit picky details takes much time and energy, and can be very overwhelming and frustrating at times.

Canadian MB group in front of the MCC office in Bogotá.

Canadian MB group in front of the MCC office in Bogotá.

But the real reward of this work shines through when the delegations are actually here in Colombia – especially with a group like these Mennonite Brethren pastors and leaders from Canada.

This has been the fourth delegation to visit Colombia and our partners’ work in the year and a month since I started my work in the MCC Colombia office. And we were all so impressed with the level of engagement and the determination on the part of delegates to learn about Colombia while building connections with Colombian Mennonite Brethren.

Early on, one of my colleagues asked me how it was going. “Well,” I said, “the only problem I can see right now is that group members are asking so many questions and engaging in the topics so much that we’re never able to stick directly to the schedule. We’re always running behind,” smiling, “But that’s a great ‘problem’ to have!”

A big part of my job is to connect visiting groups, mostly from Canada and the U.S., but also from other Latin American countries, to Colombians: MCC partner organizations, pastors and church representatives, and our friends. I love watching people build relationships and find common ground across cultures and national boundaries.

The Canadian group doubled in size as Colombian MB leaders and Colombian MCCers joined them. Here, we are visiting a MB / MCC community fish raising project.

The Canadian group doubled in size as Colombian MB leaders and MCCers joined them. Here we visit a MB/MCC community fish raising project.

From day one, delegates were asking each other, and the Colombians they were encountering, the tough questions – looking to discover Canada’s connections, both good and bad, to Colombia, as well as thinking constantly about how they could encourage and receive encouragement from our Colombian brothers and sisters in Christ.

This occurred in all spaces of the delegation as Colombians from across the country joined the group and walked along side them to visit various churches and projects.

And this was also evident in all places of the delegation – from the MCC office and the offices of MCC’s principle partners in Bogota, to the host family homes, to the slums of Cazucá just outside of the city and finally to the churches and communities along the San Juan River in Chocó.

As we all know, after a delegation like this, life can’t help but start up again, as normal. Family, church and work commitments take over and it would be impossible to maintain the same energy for promoting the work in Colombia.

DSC06893But I am confident the connections made and the stories shared, on this blog and in other spaces, will last a long time and will have a lasting impact on those involved.

So, on behalf of the MCC team and our Colombian friends and colleagues we want to thank this group of 9 people for taking time out of their lives to walk with us in Colombia for a time, and be open and willing to build connections and relationships. The enthusiasm and dedication were an inspiration to our team here in Colombia, as many of the reflections have been an encouragement to folks following along at home in Canada.

Gracias y Dios les bendiga! (Thanks and God bless you all!)

The author, apparently directing music on the bus! :-)

The author, apparently directing music on the bus! 🙂

Clear and Present Danger: Day 10, post 12

By Ken Peters, pastor of Saanich Community Church (M.B.), near Victoria BC;               also on behalf of Gerald Hildebrand, Pastor of McIvor Avenue M.B. Church, Winnipeg,    and David Esau, pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship (MB) in Vancouver, BC

It is our last full day in Bogotá on the Colombia Learning Tour 2013; a country popularly described in Tom Clancy’s novel as a place of “Clear and Present Danger.”

marketA morning of debrief and strategic planning for our return to Canada will be followed by a few hours this afternoon in the City’s markets; a celebratory cap to an exhausting but exhilarating twelve days.

Twelve days is a fair amount of time to acquire a read on people and at this juncture of our journey, a fitting disclosure is appropriate.  The disclosure pertains to our sisters and brothers working in the MCC Colombia office, the Mennonite World Conference office and the network agencies personnel.

I speak confidently on behalf of the nine-person Canadian delegation that “our” MCC personnel, to a person, exhibit an exemplary demonstration of faithfulness to Jesus Christ IMG_9852and the Gospel in their professional responsibilities as well as their personal spirituality that has been infused into everything we have done on this trip.

We heard Colombian Church leaders comment repeatedly of MCC’s integral role in their church-planting, community building and leadership development efforts.

Being an Anabaptist follower of Jesus takes on accent and inflection in this environment.  I remember years ago living in Fresno for three years that that American experience heightened my awareness of what it meant to be Canadian.

For me this trip to Colombia has heightened my awareness of what it means to be an Anabaptist.

There are distinct characteristics of Anabaptism (I will not attempt to list them all here) that shine in this context.  Namely, there have been two that have surfaced for me:

  • a Christocentric orientation to life that refuses to separate theology/confession from one’s incarnational presence;
  • and second, an obstinate refusal, an inability to distance the authority of the Word of God from everyday decision-making in the face of state-sanctioned or state-ignored violence.

In my years of pastoral ministry within the Canadian MB family, including my time serving on the Board of Faith and Life, I came across those who freely offered criticism of MCC, its programs and personnel.  Accusations and complaints were volleyed at safe distance from real life interaction.  MCC has consistently turned the cheek and engaged critique with an open heart to act in concert with MB concerns.

In our life and work we often search out and stumble upon people and organizations that inspire us – we are drawn to admire and even more to emulate them.  In Colombia we found examples to model our own life after: to follow them as they follow Christ.

So I invite both MCC Canada and the Canadian Conference of MB Churches in Canada to consider an opportunity to pattern our institutional relationships after what we have observed in Colombia.  Christ remains the centre around which all relationships flow.  Let us move towards a level of cooperation and intimate synergy witnessed in Colombia.

Naive Wandering: Day 8, post 11

By Gerald Hildebrand, Pastor – McIvor Avenue M.B. Church, Winnipeg

The regional and national Colombian M.B. Church leaders gathered at the Jerusalem M.B. Church in Istmina, Chocó at the the time that our Canadian contingent visited Chocó. Istmina is the location of the oldest Mennonite Brethren church in Colombia, founded in 1946.

IMG_9433There appears to be a renewed commitment of the urban church leaders to walk more closely with the oft-forgotten Chocoan Christians. One Cali pastor commented that it was her personal desire to vitalize the relationship and engagement with our brothers and sisters.

Why is this so important?

Washing clothes and bathing in river polluted by mega-mining.

Washing clothes and bathing in river polluted by mega-mining.

It is evident that the Chocoan people feel marginalized – geographically, politically, socially, economically and religiously. They have experienced the terror of displacement, the environmental destruction of their lands and rivers through abusive resource extraction practices, the near absence of social services, the indignity of poverty and isolation from Christian sisters and brothers.

Yet, their churches are filled with hopeful, motivated people who love God and each other. Although most Chocoans have never have traveled outside of their immediate community, they long for a vital connection with the global church.

Zion MB congregationThey feel neglected and forgotten.

Some of the first missionaries to Colombia came from Saskatchewan Canada, yet the Chocoan churches have not experienced a visit from Canadian M.B. church leaders in some 20 years, even years before the last expatriate M.B. missionaries left Cali in 1998.

They lament this loss of relationship. We were humbled by the warm welcome we received and the keen interest they expressed in our lives.

IMG_1175It was late afternoon when I, together with two other team members, naively wandered down Istmina’s Main Street. Only a half block from our hotel, we set out to view the merchandise from wide assortment of small shops that crowded both sides of the narrow street.

Apparently we wandered too far, crossing the invisible line into territory that was unsafe for tall, pale foreigners. We had passed the first foot bridge and entered into a sector where the para-militaries were known to live.

Unaware to us, several M.B. Church members spotted us and they sounded the alert through their Christian network. The appearance of our camera only heightened their discomfort. In their concern for our safety and well-being, they contacted a Jerusalem M.B. Church member, who works in the neighbourhood. He quickly located us and, without alarm, casually escorted us back into safer territory.

MB Pastor Rutilio with author Gerald Hildebrand

MB Pastor Rutilio Rivas, Regional Chair of the Chocó MB churches, with author Gerald Hildebrand

We are often naively unaware of the danger we may be in when we wander in isolation from relationships with our global sisters and brothers. They desire relationship with us, but in our independence we are ignorant of the protective presence they afford. Suffering people are often more aware of the need for connection with the global community of believers.

We also need our global sisters and brothers to help us understand what it means to be devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We can’t do this alone. We are part of their Christian family, as they are of ours.

Weaving Hope: Day 7, post 10

By Dan Siebert, Saskatchewan farmer and member of MB Church at Main Centre

 and David Esau, pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship (MB) in BC

boat2This morning we left Istmina by boat, heading through the jungle on the San Juan River to a place where the Mennonite Brethren churches have partnered with MCC in an exciting agricultural and community development venture.

What you need to know is that it’s virtually impossible to make a living as an honest campesino (small-scale, subsistence farmer) in Chocó.  While years ago growing coca (for cocaine) was localized to mainly one area in Colombia that is no longer the case.

When the Colombian and USA governments decided to take care of the problem with aerial spraying, coca growing spread throughout the country, especially to the isolated jungle areas of Chocó where a number of our MB churches are located.

IMG_9609Honest farmers in the church suddenly found themselves unable to survive due to the soaring cost of living; those growing coca inflated the cost of most goods because they had extra money and because growing food crops went down.

Your basic options: grow fruit that sells for $0.35/kg or coca that sells for $1000.00/kg.

What’s an honest farmer to do?

MB land with rice processing plant in background.

MB land with rice processing plant in background.

Enter project “Weaving Hope”.

As we climb out of the boat and onto the 3.5 hectare parcel of land, the first thing we see is a rice processing plant built on the tailings of a spent gold mine.  It looks more like a field of gravel than a field of dreams.

But on this plot of land the MB churches and MCC are weaving hope of a value added agricultural project.  By processing the rice for market themselves, the local farmers are able to sell directly to consumers.

Rice processing machine

Rice processing machine

This project, however, almost didn’t happen.  There were numerous obstacles along the way such as buying the land, getting power to the facility, and inspection approval.

But the biggest hurdle along the way was the local para-military group demanding money for protection – a security payment.  Known as a “vaccine”, every Colombian knows this is code language for “give us a significant cut.”

After much prayer, the key church leaders went to meet with the para-military commander. They underlined that this project was owned and operated by and for the community.  As leaders of MB churches they repeatedly emphasized how they could not and would not support any armed group, period.

Pastor Rutilio said “Mennonite churches have been committed to nonviolence and peace-building for centuries.  We will not support any armed groups, not even the State Armed Forces.… We will not support you, even if it costs us our lives.”

Pastor Rutilio telling us the story of confronting the para-military commander.

Pastor Rutilio telling us the story of confronting the para-military commander.

After tense negotiations broke off, the pastors prayed yet again. 15 minutes later they received a call from “the boss” that they and the community were free to proceed with their project.  “Thanks be to God!”

In addition to the rice processing plant, we toured their small fish farm and their growing nursery of cacao trees (for coco/chocolate) that will be transplanted on farms in local communities.

With 80% of the beneficiaries being outside of the church, the MB churches and MCC are weaving hope for honest farmers in the Chocó.

The Lord Reigns in Istmina: Day 6, post 9

By Ken Peters, Pastor of Saanich Community Church (MB), near Victoria, British Columbia

istmina streetThis 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:

  • IMG_9326MCC 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.

Zion MB congregation

Zion MB church

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.

Zion MB church

Zion MB church

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.
Washing clothes and bathing in polluted river

Washing clothes and bathing in polluted river

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.

Jerusalén MB church in Istmina, founded in 1946

Jerusalén MB church in Istmina, founded in 1946

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. 

Know Hope In Colombia: Day 4-6, post 8

david esauBy David Esau, pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship (MB) in Greater Vancouver, British Columbia

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? 

Chocó river polluted by mega-mining.

Chocó river polluted by mega-mining.

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.

Bathing and doing laundry in a Chocó river, polluted by mega-mining.

Bathing and doing laundry in a Chocó river, polluted by mega-mining.

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.”

Chocó MB church leaders meeting at the Jerusalem MB church in Istmina - the first MB church plant in Chocó, formed in 1946.

Chocó MB church leaders meeting at the Jerusalem MB church in Istmina – the first MB church plant in Chocó, formed in 1946.

My heart is full: Day 4-5, post 7

by Carol Siebert, MB Church Main Centre, Saskatchewan

We have been in the Chocó Region now since Friday morning, Mar. 8.  It was difficult to bid farewell to our very gracious hostess in Bogota that morning.  Our ride came at 4:30 am. in order to catch the early flight at 6:30. A flat tire on a taxi and missing ID card added to the drama of the morning and challenge of arriving at the scheduled time!

Our flight over the Andes was smooth and breathtaking and my thoughts went to the first missionaries who came here. They were from my home province of Saskatchewan and I remember hearing stories in church about the work here in the Chocó. I was deeply impacted by the tragic plane crash that killed the Dyck’s on their flight from Cali back to
Istmina.

Today on our walk through the town we passed the building which housed the first missionaries as well as a medical clinic and school. Earlier in the day we had met pastors from the region- the fruit of those first missionaries.  The churches and pastors here continue to reach out to the community caring for people in a wholistic way as those first missionaries had done.

I am overwhelmed, humbled, honored and privileged to be here.   My heart is full.

by Dan Siebert, farmer, from the MB Church at Main Centre, Sk. Canada

The events of each day have exceeded my expectations and today that happened before breakfast was over.

Yesterday we caught an early flight from Bogota to Quibdó, the capital of the Department of Chocó which is home to between 150,000 to 200,000 of the 460,000 people in the Chocó. We were graciously received by the pastors and people of the MB church there and given a context of the region and walking tour of part of the city. Then we took a two hour bus ride to Istmina, where missionaries arrived from Canada in 1946 and established the first MB church in the region.

This gets me to Saturday breakfast in the Iglesia Jerusalén MB where we dined with a pastor and heard his story- one of violence and hope and how the church is being a witness to both victims and offenders. In these situations MCC partners with the churches to provide psycho/social counselling and help address resettlement needs.

It was a blessing to meet with pastors from all over Colombia, worship with them, and hear of their joys and struggles. It is amazing to see and hear how God’s people are being salt and light – both which enhance their object. The people are showing Jesus to the world.

Finding Gold in Colombia: day 1, post 2

By David Esau, Pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

I’ve only spent my first full day in Bogota and already I feel rich.

Not rich in the way many Canadian gold mining companies plundering Colombia’s resources feel when they strike gold.

I feel rich in the way my friend Pete felt rich when he went across the continent a few years ago to meet the family he never knew he had (Pete was adopted as an infant).  He discovered a family so warm and welcoming and rich in history and stories that he felt he had struck gold — relational gold.

Meeting members of my global Anabaptist family in Colombia today, face to face, was finding gold in a relational vein that has been untapped for far too long. The richness of their hospitality and the wealth of their stories have this unlikely prospector already more than overjoyed that he came.

pastors sharingLet me share with you a nugget.

It took place in a village of only 200-300 people with a church of 30 people. In the conflict over coca, the biggest losers are those caught in the middle with nothing to gain and everything to lose.

When an armed group showed up one afternoon the situation looked bad. When an opposing armed group showed up on the other side of the village two hours later it got ugly.

With the village and the church literally in the middle of a war zone the pastor agonized and prayed over what to do.

No one could have predicted what happened next. Call it moral imagination.

The pastor decided to turn up the volume on his prayers, pointing the loudspeaker in his church out the window at full volume, praying for everyone in the conflict. After two hours of praying at full volume the fighting stopped and the warring groups left.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted that outcome but God.

Want some great foreign investment advice??

Invest in spending time getting to know your global family of faith in Colombia and you’ll strike it rich — guaranteed!

An inspirational first day: day 1, post 1

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 Bogota-Colombia(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.

Praying for Alejo at the end of our conversation

Praying for Alejo at the end of our conversation

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.

Mining and Resource Extraction in Chocó, Colombia: Pillage, Destruction, Violence and Misery

By José Rutilio Rivas Domínguez,  Pastor, Mennonite Brethren Church of Chocó, Colombia.

Translated by Tim Schmucker, July 2012

Pastor Jose Rutilio Rivas Dominguez, regional president of the Mennonite Brethren churches in Chocó

The department [province or state] of Chocó has historically been recognized as a mining area, so much so that has deserved recognition as the richest department in gold and platinum. Yet, in reality, Chocó lives within a paradox, for in national statistics, the population, largely made up of African descendants, lives in extreme poverty.

Chocó has a 200 plus year history of mining pillage; perhaps this is one of the causes of extreme poverty that its inhabitants live in. The wealth that has been extracted from Chocó’s hills and underground is incalculable, but has brought no benefit for the region, perhaps not even for the country.

Between 1916 and 1926 Colombia was the largest exporter of platinum in the world, during a time that the price for platinum was exceptionally high. Most of that platinum was extracted by the Pacific Chocó Mining Company from the Condoto River. However, Colombia received no royalties for the extraction of the metal.

Most of Chocó’s riches have been extracted by foreign companies. Currently, the vast majority of Chocó’s mining territory has been granted to foreign companies by the national government by way of legal titles without prior consultation with our local communities. (See table at bottom that shows the titles and applications of foreign companies here in the Department of Chocó.)

In recent years, the government has begun to regulate mining more and more, and has been requiring small local miners to get mining licences. This has triggered a series of complex situations. The local informal miners have experienced the government measures as abusive, as the requirements for getting a mining licence are unattainable for small miners. This in turn shows them the clear bias for large mining companies.

Although there is space in the process of self-regulation for a certain level of functionality in the daily life of local miners – due to limited state intervention –community interests are often dismissed while those of ‘special interests’ [the foreign mining companies] are abusively imposed using the political and financial power along with extortion and violence.

Currently, small-scale mining in Chocó municipalities is carried out by 1) local artisan miners and 2) informal mechanized foreign mining:

  1. The former are part of the community councils of black communities; they carry out mining using various small and traditional methods, such as mini dredges, pumps and elevators along with manual sifting and sand washing.
  2. The second group carry out mining with heavy machinery, bulldozers and large dredges in river basins, but without mining licences or environmental clearance. Generally, these mining actors are extorted by illegal armed groups, who charge “vaccines” to sustain their illegal activities.

From a reflective overview, the way mining activities in the department of Chocó have developed historically has caused irreparable damage to the people of the Chocó, both socially and environmentally.

In the first place, the government has not been consistent with its public policies in relation to the development of mineral extraction. It has facilitated the entry of foreign mining companies, yet without putting in place any control and monitoring of them.

Secondly, large foreign and domestic mining companies have plundered the riches of the department [province], without generating any development for our people, all with tacit and explicit permission of the Colombian government. Their activities have increased political corruption, prostitution, labor exploitation and the violation of human rights.

Thirdly, informal mining without environmental authorisation, with the use of heavy machinery – dredges and retro-diggers – in the river basins are causing irreparable environmental damage. The soil is being destroyed irrationally, rivers are being filled with sediment, and the use of mercury that threatens human health.

And lastly, the presence of illegal armed groups has increased. They control informal mining activity in order to sustain themselves; they determine who can work in mining and who can’t. This whole situation has caused chaos in our area of Colombia. And to this, we have to add the presence of illicit crops cultivated by illegal armed groups along with political corruption.

The Mennonite Brethren Church of Chocó has been affected by all these problems, because the majority of her members make their living by informal artisanal mining, and many have been victims of extortion, exploitation, abuse, theft of property, and displacement by illegal armed groups. Indeed, many also find their faith is weakened by the actions of injustice to which they are subjected. But thanks be to God, who sustains us through difficult situations.

Thus, thoughts such as those of King David become relevant in these contexts:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4.

Equally relevant are the words of the Apostle Paul when, inspired by the Spirit of God, he encouraged the church at Corinth saying:

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Cor. 10:13

As church we recognize that we are salt and light of a society that every day is declining into the moral abyss of massive environmental destruction, whose sole purpose is the enrichment of the wealthiest at the cost of exploiting the poorest. Thus, our role as Mennonite Brethren church is to accompany and guide both our members along with the community at large to develop mining activities responsibly and with social justice, with the understanding that God has placed us as administrators of creation with the responsibility of using natural resources rationally and intelligently.

We affirm that mining is part of the history of humanity and cannot be separated from it. In fact, in some contexts mining is necessary for the socioeconomic development of communities; indeed, it is the foundation of the economy, as is the case in the Chocó. To take a position as church thus is complex, especially when in the Bible we find no explicit instructions on mining. Yet in early biblical history we see the use of precious metals, such as gold, and they’re usually found underground. Now, how they “mined” them we do not know.

But in God’s thinking the principle of land care is very clear. He legislated rest for the land.

“Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.” Lev. 25:3,4.

With this, God is teaching his people to care for the land, to not use it indiscriminately, that to do will bring disastrous consequences.

In the midst of this situation I describe, our church seeks to respond with a gospel message filled with a holistic vision, building bridges of relationships between the various actors and stakeholders in this situation. In order to do this, we seek allies from other experiences and latitudes who will help us discern as we work toward solutions.

HECTARES BY COMPANY

125,541 – Anglo Gold Ashanti

56,095 – Explorciones Choco Colombia Sa

10,502 – La Muriel Mining

5,251 – Anglo American Colombia Explo.

5,007 – El Crucero Som

3,552 – Vikingo S.O.M

2,512 – Corporacion Minera De Col.

1,802 – Carla Resources

1,502 – Condoton Platinum Colm.

1,502 – Rio Tinto Mining

SUMMARY

213,267 – Total hectares under foreign control

84% of all mining done by foreign mining companies

16% of all mining done by Colombian companies

It is also important to note the applications in process by foreign mining companies in the Department of Chocó, a total of 628,565 hectares applied for. (Statistical information from “Current analysis of mining in Chocó and the projects: Chocó Mining Federation Fedemichocó”.)

Votoratim Metais Col. – 324,015 ha.

Anglo American Exploration  – 76,991 ha.

George  Patrick – 58,713 ha.

Robert Daniel Taylor – 51,002 ha.

Anglogold Ashanti  40,831 ha.

Grupo Bullet S.A. – 35,867 ha.

Continental Gold – 10,438 ha.Proyecto Coco Hondo – 30,708 ha.