Kansas might seem a world away from Colombia, but the distance got a bit shorter last month when two members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) spent several weeks with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia.
Ted and Nancy Collins of the Presbytery of Northern Kansas volunteered with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s accompaniment program, spending most of February in Barranquilla, located in northern Colombia.
The accompaniment program is a short-term mission program that allows U.S. Presbyterians to stand in solidarity with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) as it works for human rights.
“Since we’re a connectional church, reaching out to our brothers and sisters in Colombia was really exciting,” said Ted Collins, who had been an accompanier three times before.
While in Colombia, the Collinses worshiped with IPC congregations and met with several groups of internally displaced people. Colombia’s decades of internal conflict have led to almost 5 million people being displaced within the country.
The Collinses met with members of one community of displaced people facing an eviction notice during the visit ― multinational corporations want to claim the land to use for development.
In Kansas — and the rest of the United States — such a move might be seen as progress, Nancy Collins said. Big corporations bring jobs and modernization.
But “in the process, these people are losing their way of life,” she said, adding that small farmers in Colombia want to continue being small farmers.
The accompaniment program encourages accompaniers to share their experiences with their church and others when they get back home. The Collinses acknowledged they still have much to learn about the free-trade agreements that allow multinational corporations to claim land in Colombia and the role the United States plays in such agreements, as well as how U.S. military spending affects Colombians.
“To explain to folks out here in rural Kansas that the U.S. has done things of which we shouldn’t be proud is very difficult,” she said.
The Collinses also hope to share what the IPC taught them about the church’s role in advocating for peace, justice and human rights.
“Some people want to have a faith that is personal. A lot of people want a church family that cares for them and that’s all well and good, but I think there’s a call from Jesus that we work with those in need and be supportive and helpful in whatever way we can,” Nancy Collins said. “I personally feel I was called to go through my faith.”
While many U.S. Presbyterians understand mission trips as opportunities to build houses or other physical projects, the accompaniment program focuses more on a ministry of presence, in which accompaniers stand in solidarity with the church and displaced people.
That can be a hard concept for many in the United States to grasp, but the idea is starting to take hold, Ted Collins said.
“That was real significant for us to just be with the community there,” he said.