Thursday, April 03, 2008

Colombia Word of Witness

The group of us that went to Colombia last month gave a short word of witness at First Mennonite last weekend. Here is the text for my remarks:


Before I left for Colombia, Jan and Earl Kellong met with the junior high youth to talk about their own trip to Colombia about a year and a half ago. I’m sure they gave a balanced view of the country, talking about both the good and the bad there. But my daughter Chloe came out of that meeting apparently hearing only one thing: Colombia is a dangerous place where people get kidnapped.

So, she unilaterally decided that I was not going. When she was asked by others about by my upcoming trip, she very earnestly told them that I was not going, because she was going to lock me up in the bathroom so I would miss my flight.

I was touched that she was so concerned about her dear-old-dad, but I was already committed to going. So, in the end we reached a kind of truce. We agreed that even though I was still going to Colombia, in her presence I would agree to call “Colombia” “Florida”. “Chloe, when I’m in Florida, you will need to be extra helpful to mom. Dad, when you are in Florida, send us email” etc. This seemed to put her at ease.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about going as well. But even though there was a major border disputed while we were there, going to Colombia with our group wasn’t all that dangerous. North Americans still have privileges, even in a country where 10 people a day die as a result of armed conflict. In fact, I realized that one of those privileges is travel itself. Anyone here can go to Colombia, but it is extremely hard for Colombians to get visas to visit here.

Greg Springer recently wrote on his blog about “traveling with a purpose.” Too often, Americans view/use other cultures as a form of entertainment, or as an outlet for recreation. It would be better to recognize the privilege of travel and use it as an opportunity to grow, to connect with others, to more deeply understand the state of the world. Travel should cause us to learn something, not just about others, but also about ourselves.

Now. It is entirely appropriate for a 13 year old girl to want her dad to go to safe Florida instead of dangerous Colombia. But I think all too often, those of us with more resources and more stature in the world choose to do the same thing. If Dusty and Lefty, our Mennonite Cowboys, were around, they might say this is a metaphor (or a simile), for how we live our lives. Traveling with a purpose is just a subset of living life with a purpose. Especially as Christians, we should seek more than comfort. We should seek interaction and community with others, and to be of service to those in need. And we can only do that by stepping outside into the big wide world, where there is risk and possible danger.

In my own life, I don’t often live up to this. I literally go to Florida for most spring breaks. If I were to look at this in the most uncharitable way possible, I could describe it as taking a break from my life of privilege to relax in a different, more pleasant place of privilege. That’s not even a metaphor – it is what I do.

It may sound like I am about to go down the path of beating up myself and everyone like me about our comfortable, privileged lives, where the end result is to feel guilty, and then mope around for the rest of the week. But it turns out that feeling guilty, in an of itself, doesn’t actually help Colombians nearly as much as I would hope. That’s too bad because I’m pretty good at feeling guilty, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort.

But I also don’t want to suggest that we, as Americans, have the answers to all of Colombia’s problems. Man, if I just stopped going to Florida, everything would be fine in Colombia. They say it takes as long to get out of a war as into a war, and Colombia has been at it off and on for 60 years. We must do what we can, but we must recognize that it will be just one voice in a larger choir, the throwing of one fish back into the sea.

In the end, the important thing about trips like this is not necessarily the actions we take when we come home. It is the nourishing of our relationship with our sister church that probably has the biggest impact on daily lives. Having faces and voices and mental pictures, and walking with our brothers and sisters, even for just a few days, makes the relationship real and fosters a lifetime of advocacy for our friends. A two-way interaction is far more valuable than simply sending money.

Nonetheless, I come back from trips like this convinced that, given my relative position of power in the world, there are some concrete actions I should take. Luckily, MCC has been sponsoring trips like this for awhile, and they know how to help with the transition. At the end of April, they are sponsoring a Day of Prayer and Action for Colombia. They are asking North American and Colombia churches to join together to take some action for peace in Colombia. I’d like to share with you some of the ideas our group had as we processed what actions we could take for Colombia:

  • We can advocate to our government that the US reduce the amount of military aid it gives Colombia, and increases the amount of humanitarian aid.
  • We can choose to pay a little more for free trade Colombian coffee and dried fruit at Ten Thousand Villages, to provide livable wages to some specific Colombians.
  • We can advocate that the US stop fumigating farmland which destroys it for a generation, and introduces health problems to the local populace.
  • We can support the sister church program in Colombia by finding other like-minded churches here in town to start relationships with other churches in Colombia.
  • We can advocate against the Free trade agreement that is being debated in Congress, which will harm Colombian farmers, some of whom already turn to growing coca because of their destitution.
  • We could send someone to EDR to teach English for a year.
  • We can learn Spanish ourselves.
  • We can keep our relationship with our sister church going strong, by continuing to support learning tour missions.
  • And, finally, we can pray.
    • We can pray for the well being of our friends at EDR.
    • We can pray for strength and guidance.
    • And we can pray not just that God’s will be done, but that we will be faithful enough to be God’s hands where it is needed.

    1 comment:

    Fingtree said...

    In regards to travel, a co-worker of mine has created a new blogspot site with his opening Post being mostly about travel. Please welcome him and visit his site @
    Encouraging American's to open their minds and see the world respectfully is much needed right now.