During a 12-day Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Peacemaking Travel Study Seminar to Colombia, Bill Davnie, stated clerk of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, saw much of the country and participated in a number of discussions dealing with that nation’s La Violencia period of partisan fighting.
Davnie, a PC(USA) teaching elder since 1976, has extensive international travel experience, and served as a U.S. foreign service officer from 1981 to 2007. Frequently called upon by the media and other organizations to speak to international situations and events, he has been the presbytery’s stated clerk for three years.
The Peacemaking Travel Study Seminar programs are offered by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to give Presbyterians the opportunity to learn firsthand about efforts for peace, justice and reconciliation in contexts of conflict, injustice and oppression.
Participants return from these travel study seminars informed and transformed by their experiences, ready to share stories and bear witness to all that they have seen and heard. The seminars are planned in partnership with World Mission staff and mission co-workers and in cooperation with our partner denominations and organizations.
Davnie was one of a dozen participants in the seminar. His summary of one of the group’s visits is contained below.
We tumbled out of bed in the dark and climbed into our bus by 5 a.m. Heading north from Apartado, after 90 minutes we made a left turn onto a gravel road and headed for the village of Totumo. Had we kept going north, we would have sunk into swampland, as the Pan-American Highway that we had been on—no, it didn’t look like much of a highway—doesn’t continue much further north, due to the soggy terrain.
But Totumo was just a few more minutes ahead, and we pulled up to the Christo Reina Presbyterian Church a little before 7, and were welcomed by Pastora Martha Lugo and members of the congregation.
An experienced pastor, Pastora Martha had come to Totumo more than a year ago. The congregation gathers many persons who have been displaced by the violence that has forced so many Colombians from their homes and farms for several decades now, happening in waves in different parts of the country.
One woman had arrived in Totumo 19 years ago with four children under 5 at the time. Now grown, three are on their own and one still at home. The woman herself, asked how she supported herself, said ‘lucha por vida’—struggle for life—the Colombian phrase we heard often for cobbling together whatever income one can from odd jobs.
Another woman had come as a child. She had gotten some education, and worked in a provincial family outreach program, but clearly was not making a great deal.
The faces of church members showed a rich multi-ethnic mix, including Afro-Caribbean and indigenous origins.
After coffee and a warm breakfast of fried bananas, cheese and fruit, we gathered for worship. Referring to the ongoing peace talks between the Government and the left-wing rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—or in Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarieas de Colombia), Pastora Martha said Colombians are hearing a lot about peace these days. While the government negotiates peace, she continued, the church wants the country to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation.
Forgiveness, she continued, offers liberation from resentment and hate; a way to communion with God and neighbor, and the gift of salvation. Citing the Beatitudes, she reminded us that Jesus calls us to love and pray for those who persecute and offend us. We need to do this because it unites us with all our fellow humans, and we come closer to God.
The problem in Colombia, she said, is that in all the talk of peace, forgiveness is hardly mentioned. The state offers forgiveness in the name of the victimizer, but the victimizers themselves aren’t seeking forgiveness. The church, in contrast, wants real forgiveness, and not protection of the victimizer. That kind of forgiveness requires true repentance by the perpetrators and true acceptance by those harmed.
“Those of us who have suffered have heard the message of reconciliation,” she said, “and we understand the importance of true forgiveness.”
Referring to Psalm 103, she said we can forgive because of the love of God, but we must also remember what happened, and where we come from—not with bitterness, but because forgiveness takes us to awareness of the need for justice in order to fully heal. Without justice, without repentance and without forgiveness we cannot have the peace that is so talked about, she said.
Colombia is a deeply unequal society where the powerful get what they want and too many of the rest have suffered violence, displacement and the burden of starting life over, sometimes several times.
The Presbyterian Church of Colombia, while tiny, sustains a faithful ministry that affirms the dignity of all persons, and calls on local and national officials to do the same in the search for a more stable and positive future.