Saturday, October 8, 2016

Si Creo En La Paz

I'm sure you all thought I was done. I did. As it so turns out I've found myself working alongside a Man of God and his story needs to be told.

In July I accepted an invitation by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
to follow one of their Peacemakers: Pastor Luis Fernando San Miguel, a Colombian Presbyterian, who participated in the peace negotiations between the FARC Insurgents and the Colombian government. Pastor Luis is traveling around three different presbyteries (Presbytery of Grand Canyon, Presbytery of East Tennessee, and another Presbytery in Wisconsin.) They asked me to travel with him and translate his presentations at the various churches, presbyteries, and universities we're visiting with. At the time I was in Uyuni, Bolivia so I accepted the call. It was work when I had no work planned.

We've been on the road a week and a half now. I've translated his presentation (in all it's various forms) over fifty times now. I can give you all the whole lecture, but let's do the basics.

1948 - Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (Liberal party political leader) is assassinated, kicking off Civil War and 68 years of violence.
1953 - The Civil War between the Liberal party and the Conservative party comes to an end. Many guerrilla groups reside in Colombia at the time.
1964 - The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) form.

2011 - FARC enters peace talks with the Colombian government.

26 September 2016 - Both FARC leader Timochenko and the Colombian President sign the 297 page peace treaty.

02 October 2016 - The people of Colombia vote to ratify the accords. In a Plebiscite vote the Colombian people vote No.
Pastor Luis shaking hands with President Santos

Pastor Luis had been sent on behalf of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia to accompany these peace dialogues. He spoke with the guerrilla leaders. They asked him to go to their encampments deep in the mountains and talk to their infantry about peace and reconciliation (which is especially unique if you acknowledge that FARC is an anti-religious group.) So he went. So he spoke. So he made many friends.

Well, the Colombian people voted no. Then the President announced he would honor the ceasefire agreement until the 31st of October. Pastor Luis says that it's highly likely that on November 1st (All Saints Day) the Colombian army will attack the Insurgents. The Insurgents will respond and war will open again.

President Santos and Guerrilla Leader Nobel Awards
Just yesterday the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to President Santos partly to honor those who died in this horrible 52 years of guerrilla war, and partly to motivate President Santos to continue seeking peace. Between myself and Pastor Luis we both feel reasonably hopeful that an accord can be reached before the deadline.

Just in case, however, FARC has asked for leaders of Civil and Religious groups to come to their encampments and offer their protection for the FARC soldiers. FARC is committed to peace now. They are asking for these men and women to shield them with their bodies. Pastor Luis got the call. If he has the chance, on the 30th of October, he will be deep in the mountains offering his pastoral care for their 500 years of reformation service. I've traveled with the man for a week and a half now. I can read his moods fairly well (we think a lot alike) and I can tell he's worried about it too.

Speaking at a church in Phoenix, AZ
Here's a man who believes in radical love. A shining example of God's love on this Earth. He has this passionate way of speaking in superlatives. 'We HAVE to do something.' 'We DON'T have a choice.' He's not exaggerating his work. If anything I think he's playing it down. He always shares these beautiful moments and he hates talking about the sad statistics of the never-ending violence in Colombia. He always finishes his speeches by saying Colombians are happy, spirited people who love to dance. 

Entire generations of Colombians have grown up not knowing peace. There was a point (according to Pastor Luis) that they were unfazed by news of massacres. I can understand why they would consider voting 'No.' After all, the leaders of this guerrilla group massacred innocent civilians. These leaders would be pardoned if they confessed to a special tribunal. Make no mistake the government proved equally as violent at times with over 2,500 people kidnapped from their homes, killed, and buried away forever hidden. I can see how you would not want to forgive someone who killed your mom or dad and took your lands from you.

At the same time Pastor Luis makes a good point: Who doesn't want peace? Colombia might be the only country that gets the luxury of asking itself if it wants peace. Jesus preached radical love. That's why he was always with the tax collectors, lepers, and exiled. He never maintained the social order. He preached for peace, but a peace by social justice. That's exactly the sort of work Pastor Luis does. He does it on behalf of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and in partnership with many other faith traditions. The church he so lovingly talks about is the church I'm incredibly proud of. A church that's inclusive for everyone - guerrilla fighters and government employees. A church that shares it's services amongst other faith communities. A church that preaches a radical kind of love. It's this kind of message that makes me proud to say I'm presbyterian.

There's a lot of concern going forward surrounding Colombia. The No vote is still so fresh that each day brings it's own wonders. We never know, and not even Pastor Luis (who has had such an integral role in these peace talks) knows what exactly is going to happen. But as Pastor Luis likes to say: we live every day as children of God in the best way we can. That means he spreads his message and shares the stories of Colombia while I translate as best I can. Tomorrow we'll be in a church. Monday we're in Wisconsin. Our mission takes us all over, but it's work we're called to do. We don't get much of a choice. We have to do it.

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