In Chocó, Colombia, Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren congregations are experiencing environmental destruction of their lands and rivers through irresponsible resource extraction practices, displacement from their homes, and death threats. In the midst of this difficult situation, church leaders and congregations maintain a firm commitment to work for peace, reconciliation and an end to injustice.
In March 2013, a delegation of nine pastors and leaders of Mennonite Brethren churches in Canada visited these congregations, as part of a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) learning tour. The group was inspired by the people they met and the stories they heard. The following blog entries, written during the learning tour, provide a glimpse into the lives of Mennonite Brethren congregations in Colombia and their witness to peace, nonviolence and reconciliation.
Turning up the loudspeakers when praying in a war zone
by David Esau, pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship, Coquitlam, B.C.
It took place in the village of Carmelitas, a community of only 200–300 people with a church of 30 people. In the conflict over coca, the biggest losers are those caught in the middle with nothing to gain and everything to lose. (Note: Coca is a plant used in the manufacture of cocaine; various armed groups use the production of coca to finance their military operations.)
When an armed group showed up one afternoon the situation looked bad. When an opposing armed group showed up on the other side of the village two hours later it got ugly. With the village and the church literally in the middle of a war zone, the pastor, Pedro Mosquera, agonized and prayed over what to do.
No one could have predicted what happened next. Call it moral imagination.
Pastor Pedro decided to turn up the volume on his prayers, pointing the loudspeaker in his church out the window at full volume, praying for everyone in the conflict. After two hours of praying at full volume the fighting stopped and the warring groups left. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that outcome but God.
Prepared to die for refusal to support armed groups
by Dan Siebert, Saskatchewan a farmer and member of Main Centre MB Church in Saskatchewan and David Esau, pastor of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship, Coquitlam, B.C.
As we climb out of the boat and onto the 3.5 hectare parcel of land, the first thing we see is a rice processing plant built on the tailings of a spent gold mine. It looks more like a field of gravel than a field of dreams.
But on this plot of land the MB churches and MCC are weaving hope of a value-added agricultural project. By processing the rice for market themselves, the local farmers are able to sell directly to consumers.
This project, however, almost didn’t happen. There were numerous obstacles along the way such as buying the land, getting power to the facility, and obtaining inspection approval.
But the biggest hurdle was the local para-military group demanding money for protection — a security payment. Known as a “vaccine,” every Colombian knows this is code language for “give us a significant cut.”
After much prayer, the key church leaders went to meet with the paramilitary commander. They underlined that this project was owned and operated by and for the community. As leaders of MB churches they repeatedly emphasized how they could not and would not support any
armed group, period.
Pastor Rutilio Rivas Dominguez said: “Mennonite churches have been committed to nonviolence and peace-building for centuries. We will not support any armed groups, not even the State Armed Forces. We will not support you, even if it costs us our lives.”
After tense negotiations broke off, the pastors prayed yet again. Fifteen minutes later they received a call from “the boss” that they and the community were free to proceed with their project.
This is one of a number of stories of reconciliation that are featured in MCC’s Peace Sunday materials for 2013. The theme of this year’s materials is Ambassadors for Reconciliation andis based on 2 Corinthians 5:17-20. For more information and to download the materials visit: http://mcccanada.ca/peace/peacesunday