Isaiah 14:3 “In that wonderful day when the Lord gives his people rest from sorrow and fear, from slavery and chains…”

I’ve heard it said, again and again, that Colombia is a land of contrasts. It is a place of fabulous wealth and riches, where at least 4.5 million internally displaced people live in abject poverty. It is a country of stunning natural beauty and the backdrop for horrifically ugly acts of violence. A country that every year tops the “Global Happiness Index”; whose people love to smile and laugh and dance, that has literally only known a couple of years of peace in its two hundred year history.

When the only thing that you’ve ever known, or that your parents or grandparents have ever known, is violence; when bloodshed becomes so deeply engrained in a nation’s culture, how do you hang on to a faith in a God who promises peace? How do you go a step beyond that, to preach it, to teach it, especially when the men of violence all too often rise up and kill those who do so?

These are the questions I ask myself every time I visit Colombia and they were brought home again when, the week before we were to visit Southern Cordoba with a group of supporters, I received the news that another young man had been killed. He was the cousin and close friend of our partner, Pedro, who was to act as our host, and the brother of a young man I know well. Pedro, who heads up our documentation project in the Atlantic Coast region, has seen multiple members of his family killed over the past few years even as he documents the ongoing assassinations of and threats against church leaders, most of whom he knows and personally supports, in the region. Even so, he carries on through the sorrow, the pain of loss, and anger at the injustice and apathy of the government – and every time I see him I wonder how he does it, where he finds the strength or the will to continue hoping in the God we both believe in.

I’ve known personal loss and I experience some of the anxiety and pain that comes with doing this kind of work and seeing so many good men and women of God persecuted and killed for their faith. But I do this and experience this from a desk in Brussels and visits to the field a few times a year. I have the luxury of attending church on Sunday and not having to worry that an armed group will storm in and murder the pastor and two small children in front of me as happened earlier this year in Northern Colombia. Unlike Pedro, or Jairo, or all of our other partners in Colombia, I can do this work each day with the assurance that it is unlikely that I and my family are being watched and followed, my e-mails and phones are not being monitored, and I and my loved ones will probably not be killed because of the work I do. I have tried and I cannot imagine what it would be like to work in that environment; I cannot imagine holding onto hope, surrounded by such darkness and oppression.

And yet, every time I go I am struck by that Colombian contrast again – Pedro not only perseveres but he smiles and laughs and comforts others who are devastated by grief or overcome by fear. The family who lost their son/brother/cousin sang praises and applauded God through their tears at a Sunday service led by one of the supporters we brought. The two recent widows we met, one of whom lost her 9-year old daughter the same day as her pastor husband, smiled at their children and told me that their faith in God is what has kept them going.

This is a faith that defies what we see as reality. It is the faith that led Paul to declare that they were “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair”. It is a hope that is hard, even for me as a believer, to understand.

The Colombians often refer to the promises of the prophets. The world described by Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and the others is all too familiar to them – the anarchic, violent and divided Israel described by the prophets recalls their own situation. In the midst of darkness, violent hatred and despair they “lift their eyes up to the mountains” and look beyond the visible reality around them grasping hold of a different reality, a Hope, that I think they understand far better than many of us who have lived much of our lives in relative comfort.