September 2012


For anyone looking for things to do this weekend, the Guardian has published a couple of great articles on a couple of countries where I work – all worth reading and situations definitely worth praying for:

On questions of justice, stolen land, NGOs and the importance of long-term solidarity in Colombia, specifically Uraba which was one of the regions I visited in August, and where the Church has suffered enormously but continues to carry out important prophetic work despite the risks: As Colombia Jails Army General, NGO’s Combating Land Grabs Should Take Note

On the insanity of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan (as a rule, blasphemy laws are nuts, even in countries in Europe where many are still shockingly on the books, but Pakistan has made their prosecution and implementation a special art form) and their impact on religious minorities, including Christians but also on non-Sunni Muslims and others: How to Commit Blasphemy in Pakistan

On the real impact of the drug war in Mexico (and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, though Mexico is the focus of this article), touching upon the actual real life effects of the North American and European recreational drug habit and political policies on actual real life people in those South American countries. For those wondering what this has to do with religious freedom – consider that in 2010 over 1000 Catholic priests in Mexico reported being under threat from organized crime involved in the drug trade; rates are probably similar for the Protestant churches though no comprehensive study has been possible, mostly because people are so afraid of the consequences of speaking out: Breaking Bad Doesn’t Show You the Real Drug War Drama

The increasing marginalization of women from the political transition and reform in Egypt. This is particularly on my heart as one year ago I was in Egypt running a training on human rights advocacy to a large group of young Christians, the majority of whom were young women, who love their country and were so hopeful for a future that included inclusion and the active participation of women and religious minorities: From Virginity Test to Power

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 I am back at home, my comfortable, quiet, safe home, after eleven days in Colombia. These abrupt transitions can be challenging to process mentally and emotionally and I’m still not really there yet. Part of me wonders if it might have been healthier in the olden days, when one had a weeks or months long, physical journey during which to think it all through before arriving back to one’s everyday life.

It was an intense eleven days, as a few colleagues and I traveled to four very different parts of the country, meeting local partners, viewing projects and listening to lots and lots of personal testimonies. I’ve visited Colombia so many times in the last eight years that I’ve lost track of the exact number, but, as always, the country continues to surprise me and teach me new things. Who knew, for example, that the drug wars of 1980s Medellin could be traced directly back to Woodstock[1]?![2]

It was a trip of contrasts, as Colombia always is, of alternating tears and laughter throughout each day. We facilitated a workshop run by one of our Peruvian partners, working with local Colombian partners on care for staff who are all too often overloaded with the trauma of the issues and people with whom they work. As a couple of the local staff volunteered to share what they were feeling and experiencing, their stories of helping others blurred over into their own histories and personal experiences of atrocities, massacres, forced displacement, threats and loss. Later that night, we walked with a few of them, and our Peruvian partner, to watch a soccer match between rivals from two of the major cities and spent a laughter filled night, highlighted by a random snack vendor who apparently found our group fascinating and inexplicably hilarious.

Towards the end of the trip, we sat at the front of a rural church, facing around seventy or so people. It wasn’t the safest area and our time there was limited so they, before we had arrived, had selected five people to give their personal testimonies as representative of the others. The majority, if not all of them, were forcibly displaced people who, at different points over the past decade had been forced to flee their homes – which for them represented all they owned in the world, their sustenance, and their future – because of attacks by illegal armed groups. They had come to this place of very relative safety (the armed groups were still present, just not as blatant in their activities – one woman told me how in that same town five of her brothers and sisters had been murdered over a seven year period) and built up a church that looks outward into its community – a church which, despite the ever present risk and with limited resources, still manages to offer spiritual support and material care for the masses who arrive on its doorstep seeking the very basics: shelter, food, clothing as well as spiritual and emotional support and affirmation.

I still find myself thinking about the words and voice of one of those who was chosen to share her testimony. An elderly woman, she told a story of intense hardship – of threats, violence, forced displacement and loss but she concluded by giving thanks, “I have lost much but I have much to be thankful for. I give thanks to God for this church, for these clothes that I am wearing, for food I have to eat, and for these hands with which to work.”

Every time I go to Colombia I am deeply challenged by men and women like her and like the partners and friends at the workshops who told their stories. People who’ve lost pretty much everything but still praise their Maker. People who’ve experienced horrific trauma, who would have every right to shut themselves away from the problems of the country and focus on themselves but, filled with God’s love, keep reaching out in love to others who’ve been traumatized.

While, in theory, I know the answer, I still wonder just how they do it, especially after so many years, decades, and so much horror.

I do know that I, we, are called to do it with them in small and less small ways – at the very least and maybe the very most, in prayer.

“Help us to help each other, Lord, each other’s load to bear; that all may live in true accord, our joys and pains to share. Amen.”

Adapted from a prayer by Charles Wesley


[1] The 1969 music festival, not Snoopy’s avian sidekick – though that would make for an interesting Peanuts strip.

[2] For the record, this direct connection may or may not exist – but it certainly wasn’t a theory I was familiar with…