Saturday, September 16, 2006

Continuing the Work

I have now been stateside for two weeks. My placement for field education this year has already been a blessing in terms of understanding what I do with this experience and readjusting. I work for a minister who lived in South America for years, in a congregation that is bilingual and has shown an overwhelming interest in justice and peace issues. As part of my responsibilities, I have been asked to assist with a local organization, the Kentuckiana Interfaith Task Force on Latin American Concerns (KITLAC). I cannot imagine a better context for re-entry.

For those of you who may still look this up, I have some announcements for you all in the coming weeks. This Sunday, in Louisville, an organizer who has worked in the flower industry in Bogota will be speaking at Old Louisville Coffee House, from 7-9 PM. In addition, Vilma Yanez, Moderator of the IPC, will be itinerating here in Louisville the weekend of September 29 through October 1, including potlucks and various speaking engagements. I have already arranged to help with her visit, and I would love to see y'all there.

This will be my last post here at Del Cristo Desplazado. However, I continue to write and contemplate and work for the realization of Christ's reign on earth in a vision of justice and peace. If you would like to read the rest of my ponderings, you can find them at my permanent blog, Catechisms and Cataclysms. It's not updated very often, but when it is, I like to pretend that it's worth reading. Please continue to remember Colombia in your prayers; I remember them every day.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I have arrived

After traveling 25 hours straight (including an overnight layover), preparing for the wront flight time, losing the name of my hotel, almost leaving behind my passport, discovering I'd been given the wrong visa and had to pay a fee 1 1/2 times what I should have, and getting part of my baggage lost by the airline, I am home in my dorm room. I'll let you all know more soon about the end, the process of readjusting, and the last few details of the week. For now, I'm going to sleep....

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ya salgo

Tonight, I leave the Universidad Reformada, in order to return to my official studies. I fly from Barranquilla to Bogotá, where I will stay overnight before flying home to Louisville.

I have spent two and a half full days this week translating complex documents about human rights, historical memory, and organizational development. While I find the topics fascinating, if I did not have a background in political science, I don´t think I would have understood them enough to make sense. There were a few instances where I had to look up the definition of the English words that had been assigned to their Spanish counterparts! 20 points go to anyone out there who can correctly define "usufruct" without looking it up in the dictionary. Needless to say, that´s left me a little exhausted on the writing front, which explains my week-long silence.

Yesterday, for my last full day in town, a friend of ours invited us over for lunch. We left for his house at 11:30, and returned at 8:30 PM. In the meantime, we enjoyed each other´s company, had sodas at a place called "The Singing Fish," and explored a human-made peninsula extending out into the place where the Río Magdalena and the Atlantic Ocean, in a region called "Boca de Cenizas," or "Mouth of Ashes." One of the locals taught Rachel and I how to fish with a kite, we saw scads of fossils, and had a grand old last day. That night, a small group went out for my official going-away party, where we played pool and had ice cream. It was quite the pleasant celebration.

Today, I am spending my last day as an accompanier in and out of a conference dealing with women´s rights and mobilization, and translated my last lecture as we spoke with a professor here about the intricacies of the current political news and examined approaches to their interpretation when we arrive home. While I look forward to seeing all yáll in the states, I´m not quite ready to leave. We´ll see if maybe, one day, I can return...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Like Wheat Arising Green

Work has picked up the last few days. At the request of staff here, I have begun translating the articles Alexa Smith wrote for the Presbyterian Outlook (see Great Day for the Outlook), so they can be used for publicity work here in Colombia. It involved laborious usage of the American Heritage Larousse Spanish Dictionary, but I think I´ve written something for the first article that (with heavy editing, naturally) is usable.

Friday was spent in interviews with Alexa, including a discussion with Vilma Yanez (current moderator of the IPC). They spoke about the situation of the church in general, the status of certain ministers that Alexa had interviewed, and Vilma´s upcoming trip to the states as a Peacemaking Partner. As an unsolicited advertisement for all y´all living in Louisville – Vilma will be in our neck of the woods in September, and should be a delight to hear. I´d love to see everyone there!

That evening, Alexa had originally been given an interview with union organizers from the local Coca Cola plant, in order to speak with them (in part, on behalf of Mission Responsibility Through Investment) to find out more about the current status of labor conditions in the bottling factories. If you are not aware, there is a long standing boycott of all Coca Cola products because of a history of assassinations, disappearances, and intimidation aimed at labor leaders in the local bottlers here. You can find out more information at it at the Killer Coke website, which has been a central spot for information for the US campaign. I was eager to participate in this particular discussion (or, more accurately, funnel it between the participants), as I have heard conflicting reports about its current status. However, we received another one of our torrential rains that night, and so the union leaders failed to show up. Very sad.

However, that timing did allow us to sneak in an interview with a professor here, Milciades, which was a great blessing. Milciades teaches here at the University, is the pastor of a church downtown, and is the father of two of our better friends here. His wife is also a local minister who works with the displaced. He is respected throughout the Presbytery as one of their resident theologians and strong leaders.

Approximately 11 years ago, in part because Milciades has taken on the challenge of using the bible as a criticism of social sin, and because he has worked on behalf of the oppressed, Milciades´ name was placed on a list of enemies of the state, a list that includes a rotating roster of human rights advocates and peace workers falsely accused of guerrilla activity. He saw those with whom his name was listed disappear, one by one, with no stated warning letting them know their time had come. The presence of his name, among theirs, was a threat in order to quiet the truth. Other incidences have occurred as well; for example, in the last few years there a very public accusation made by one of Milciades´ co-workers that he had embezzled from the government agency for which he was working. There was no trial, he was never convicted, and his track record outside of that agency points to the presumable falsehood of those charges. However, in a nation essentially controlled by various forms of militias, where the rule of law is a farce, it is the accusation alone that can destroy the victim.

Indeed, a few years later, when Milciades was continuing his theological studies in the United States at a presbyterian seminary, his name re-appeared on the aforementioned list of enemies. There were many close to him who counseled him to stay in the states; that it was too dangerous for him to return. However, his simple reply to such discussions is that if all those who receive threats for doing the work of God were to leave, it would mean that the forces of violence had won. He stated that it is his Christian responsibility to continue his work in the faces of such threats, while maintaining a reasonable assessment of the commitment he has made to his family and others.

In the midst of such turmoil, Milciades´ primary metaphor was that of waiting for the dawn; of knowing that the night will soon pass and cannot last forever. It is a message of interminable hope and dedication. He spoke of the necessity to actively work for the construction of peace, rather than simply denouncing that which is wrong. He spoke of finding the alternative approach even in the darkest hours. I, too, saw the sunrise in his words. I saw the potential for social redemption and transformation. I am waiting anxiously for the dawning on which he elaborated so eloquently. I do hope to see it myself.

This same message is echoed in the hymnology of Colombia, which treats sowing and reaping and growth and the coming of spring as a theological act. They related injustice to the winter that will pass, and the work they are doing now as the planting of seeds that will burst into fruit in the coming months. This too is a message of hope.

In Surrey England of 1928, in another agrarian culture, John McCrum capture this sense of hope in a hymn that has captured for me what it means to trust in the midst of winter. He wrote “Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain; Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been; Love is come again like wheat arising green.”

We wait in expectation for this wheat to bud, break through the frosty earth, and show us again that we have the potential for a culture that emphasizes of kin-dom over empire, reconciliation over violence, and life over death. I long to see the fruit of that potential, which is already beginning to flower.