“We don’t know what the future holds,” said our teacher. “We don’t know how the next presidency is going to treat us.”
As I sat there, I felt the weight of the world press down on me. Memories of me leaving Iraqi Kurdistan with hope in my heart for Kurdistan finally achieving its independence filled my soul. I was thinking that things were going to change. A week or two later, I would see the West’s apathy towards the country being denied its rightful independence and that denial leading to violence erupting in the region. It took me a few months to recover from that experience and to get into the normal flow of everyday life.
There I was in Colombia nine months later.
This delegation of Christian Peacemaker Teams was focused on women’s perspectives. We heard various stories from multiple organizations about how women were sexually, physically, and emotionally violated in the name of war. We heard their genuine fear about the coming government and the election of Duque, and how they dread how he is going to treat human rights leaders.
“In the 90’s,” the teacher went on, “paramilitaries came into our house, beat us nearly to death, and stole everything inside of it. We continued on because of the Gospel calling of standing with the poor.”
We heard about Plan Colombia, a policy enacted under President Clinton that was supposed to stop the “war on drugs.” Included in this were fumigations of coco and opiate fields. These operations did next to nothing to stop the trade. The farmers would wait a few hours before going out into their fields and taking off the leaves that were doused in chemicals. This had long term consequences, with birth defects and water supplies being contaminated. Farmers are put into a position by paramilitaries and drug cartels where they are forced to grow those crops in order to survive. We heard the dread in their voices again as they talked about how the current government is once again planning these fumigations in cooperation with president-elect Duque.
Under Plan Colombia, the government would kidnap homeless people in Bogota and take them out into the forests. They would dress the homeless people in military uniforms and then execute them. They did this to help increase US-funding on their part to disguise the real problems that were occuring. The investigations into the corruption during this period on top of the Civil War marks tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of cases where women were beaten, raped, or killed.
We visited a river community of Guayabo. They are a threatened community that has been under attack by both paramilitary and government forces. The government is attempting to push these communities out for more development plans. Astonishingly, this community in particular has been somewhat successful in resistance – but not without their scars. A family showed the delegation a house that was torn down by government forces. We knew we were standing on holy, sacred ground as the woman wept about what happened. They showed a delegation member footage of the house being torn down, with a child’s screams on full blast and the sounds of a family in tears begging the soldiers to stop.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.
I had the opportunity to preach at a protest by an organization that specifically dealt with women and helped raise them out of poverty so they wouldn’t be dealing with horrific options such as prostitution or the drug trade. I had no idea what to say. The faith of these women who regularly stood up against drug dealers, sex traffickers, paramilitaries, and government corruption was beyond what I could comprehend. In Homiletics, they don’t teach you how to preach to a group of Catholic women who can’t speak English. I managed to say a few words of comfort and support, knowing my status as a clergy member could help them. I talked about John 1 and the concept of the Light conquering the darkness, as well as Mary the Mother of Jesus being the first Gospel bearer (something I stole from a late night talk show host named Bill Pierce.) This sermon was followed by a performance of “Redemption Song,” a song that has always had a spiritual meaning to me.
I closed my eyes during the song and remembered an interaction I had back in Guayabo. It helped me to center myself and remember why I was doing what I was doing. When we were standing in the house that was torn down, I saw a phrase written in Spanish on the walls.
“What does that mean?” I asked our translator.
He fought back tears and his voice quivered a bit:
“It says… God is love.”
I opened my eyes again and looked into the eyes of the women resisting tyranny and oppression. I realized that God, in His infinite mercy, never abandons us – but that does not leave the Church without responsibility. When church history examines how the American Church dealt with international matters and oppression, I pray that our testimony reflects that of Christ and not of fear or personal agendas.
Written by Nate Perrin