The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s partnership with the church in Colombia is important and mustn’t be taken for granted, the PC(USA)’s vice moderator learned on a recent trip to the country.
The Rev. Tom Trinidad, vice moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012), traveled to Colombia last month along with Presbyterian World Mission and Peacemaking Program staffers. While there, they visited with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia, or IPC), learned about theological education in Colombia and met with internally displaced families.
“It would be easy to take our partnership there for granted because the history is so long — and I think that would be a mistake,” Trinidad said. “Our engagement is absolutely critical for the survival of the ministry there.”
In addition to financial support, the PC(USA) must continue its long-term relationship with the IPC, Trinidad said, adding that it’s important for the two denominations to work together for peace, justice and reconciliation.
While U.S. foreign policy or military programs like the School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) try to influence Latin America through military options, the church is able to work through other venues.
“Our ability as the church is to influence through education and justice and peace,” Trinidad said.
The IPC’s work with reconciliation ministries, especially in the context of its decades-long internal violent conflict, struck a chord with Trinidad.
The Rev. Gloria Ulloa, a pastor with the IPC and the World Council of Churches’ newly elected president for the Caribbean/Latin American region, noted that no one living in Colombia now has ever known a life outside the context of the conflict.
“She was the first person (during the trip) to envision a post-conflict Colombia,” Trinidad said, adding that the IPC is focusing on how to reincorporate people who have always been in conflict with one another into a civil life alongside one another.
The idea of reconciliation also came up during meetings with leaders of the Reformed University of Colombia, the first Reformed university in the country. Through the university and the many schools it runs, the IPC is focusing on education and how it can be a tool to protect human rights.
“Much of it is going to revolve around issues of reconciliation and justice for those who have been displaced,” Trinidad said.
In meetings with internally displaced people, Trinidad learned more about the greed and violence that “robs humanity of its dignity” and has left many Colombians deeply wounded. Even with a new law designed to restore land to those who have been forced off by violence, corruption within the government and legal system can make it hard for victims to enforce their rights.
In addition to providing support, the PC(USA) has much to learn from the IPC, Trinidad said.
In the early 1990s, part of the IPC broke off to form the Reformed Synod. As someone whose home church — First Presbyterian of Colorado Springs, Colo. — left the PC(USA) for the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, Trinidad is familiar with the pain that can come from such a break.
“I hope that what we can learn is to find a way of mutual affirmation,” he said, adding that it’s important to bless the churches who break off while rejoicing with the ones who stay.
While the pain of the break within the IPC is still apparent, Trinidad said he hopes that the PCUSA can find a way to move on and “not allow the justified sense of loss and grief … to remain a toxic element in our church.”