Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stories and the Unanswerables, and the Listening Little One

Dear community scattered,

I woke this morning to the playful movements of my baby. What a joy! Before joining workshops participants for breakfast, I narrated the sounds of rushing waters and rustling palm trees and the sweet fragrance of an orange tree grove to her/him as we walked the expansive grounds of a rural retreat center in northwest Colombia.

Field Visits: Stories and Questions. This round of visits to the five regional documentation teams is meaningful and thought-provoking. Rested and renewed since I last wrote, I’m enjoying the opportunity to listen to the anecdotes, advances and new challenges teams in the field experience. Monitoring visits mean the privilege of hearing more truths that trouble and confound. If, as we’re told, Sparkle hears my narration of the beauty of the earth, s/he also hears the difficult tales and unanswerable questions.

So many secrets, complex tales of loss and betrayal, courage and grief. Victims who are caught in a straight jacket of hate and economic dead ends become perpetrators. How do we introduce forgiveness to lives defined by cycles of loss and vengeance when external threats persist?

How do we respond to the new wave of threats and assassinations of demobilized combatants who connected to church communities, refused to rejoin the ranks and so become military targets of their former groups? How do we invite a mentally and physically armed society to lay down weapons, speak truth, repent and repair damages to the victims when peacemaking is as costly as war? The unanswerables strike the heart of faith, the root of and reason to hope and believe the “good news” of costly peacemaking.

The documentation experience in the field is varied. Despite progress in reporting, press work and advocacy, the law of silence for war victims still reigns in many cases. Fear of reprisals restricts, “and we become accomplices to the crime” one volunteer exclaims with pain in his eyes. At the same time, some victims share the relief they experience in giving voice to their tales. As we strive to improve the rigor of our interviews for precise data collection, we’re also challenged to listen with our spiritual hearts in ways that release the stories “embedded in the skin” of the silenced and inch victims to wholeness.

More than a Listening Ear and Political Advocacy? As a national documentation team, we’ve found that listening, recording and channelling stories is insufficient accompaniment. Even in a healing best-case scenario, as somewhat rosily described in the poem below, the victims are often left physically vulnerable, politically disempowered, traumatized and economically desperate. “At the end of the interview, the widow still doesn’t even have bread and panela (sugarcane drink) to give to her children!,” as one volunteer laments. Our next step for the next year is an ambitious, multifaceted accompaniment program for victims.

And now, a few disjointed notes—

Sojourners posted my reflection, “My Pregnancy and Hope Amidst Colombia’s Chaos,” and I’ve been surprised and moved by the responses it solicited. Click here to read it. The most unexpected note came from a woman who interviewed Jess for Al Jazeera a few months ago. Small world.

Click here to share in my favourite mental health break while doing computer work, the 4D ultrasound picture of our baby sucking it’s thumb. For me it goes like this: register two cases in the human rights database, flip to baby.

Prayers for Martha. Martha has been on my mind, in my heart and prayers for weeks. She’s a courageous woman in an extremely precarious situation: she refuses to cede community leadership and physical space to the forces threatening to kill her. Colombia ’s political and economic machinery backs her foes; her faith and community keep her rooted and alive, so far. As we verify information and make the necessary contacts for action plan and alert coming soon, I ask that you hold her in the Light.

Peace and hope,

Yours truly-- and the little listening one

There are stories
embedded in our skin
and words enfleshed in us,
and so may you bless us
with those who by tender touch
release the tales,
trace the lines,
free the words
one by one.
Give to us those
who will listen us
into our own language
till we are hoarse with the telling
and with the laughter
at being released
from the silences we had kept
so long.
- Jan Richardson, Night Visions

Janna shares deeply, too widely?

To read Janna’s latest post on the Sojournors blog, God’s Politics, My Pregnancy and Hope Amid Colombia's Chaos, click here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Interesting Weekend in Bogotá

Belly Painting

We thought it was going to be a relatively low-key and quiet weekend. Jess' ACL reconstruction surgery on his knee was scheduled for Friday, so we thought this would be a weekend of recovery. Well, there was no tendon at the donor's bank for the reconstruction surgery and so the surgery has been postponed--for now until next Friday, November 9. The date depends on the availability of a tendon.

Instead of staying at home, we went to our prenatal class early Saturday morning. While this was Janna's third class, it was Jess' first (due to a Venezuela delegation). We had a blast as the class activity consisted of the fathers-to-be painting the mothers-to-be's belly with something representing what dad hopes to give to their child. Check out the pictures to get a sense of the fun.

Our class

Ice Storm at the Equator

We traveled to and from class in a blazing sun. It was wonderful to soak in the sun, given the weeks of rain we have had here in Bogotá. Just after noon the clouds rolled in. While we ate lunch in the living room, we watched as an unusually strong wind began to blow the trees. Soon it was raining hard. About 20 minutes later it started hailing. The hail finally stopped about 45 minutes later. As you can see in the pictures, it looked like it had snowed. It was crazy and wonderful for Jess--who always missed winter--to throw snowballs in Bogotá.

The storm did knock power about for about 24hrs and damaged some cars and homes.

The view from our window.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Our Baby at 20 Weeks

Last night we went in for our 20 week ultrasound. Both of us were taken aback when the doctor switched the ultrasound over to 3-D and we witnessed our little baby stick her/his thumb into her/his mouth. What a special evening!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why a Blog, Why Now?

I’ve been tossing around the idea of a blog for some years now, but we, especially Jess, had some reservations for security reasons. However, entering the “expecting” phase of life has reoriented some priorities, and now potentially politically sensitive topics are not the only ones that intrigue or seem to merit shared reflection or snap shots. (Not that past emails all have been such, but that was the nature of the concern.) Partly as a result, we resumed the conversation, established some loose guidelines and Jess set up this Hunter-Bowman blog for my birthday. We invite you to share in our lives and times, even from afar, through it.

Hike to Machu Picchu, Peru

Hike. Marvel. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. This essentially sums out our 4.5-day hike winding through some of Peru’s spectacular snow capped mountains, high altitude tundra and cloud forests. In June we met up with Janna’s brother for the fairly strenuous trek and visit to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The majesty of the awe-inspiring mountains leaves little doubt as to why the Incas worshipped them. And despite the thousands of tourists teaming through the pre-Columbian Inca city, Machu Picchu is a well preserved archeological site with the mystery and reverence of the ancient civilization’s sacred center still in the air. Between the splendor of our surroundings and exertion, we were breathless much of the time.

If you have the option, perhaps don’t do the hike with a torn ACL (knee ligament), as did Jess, or while in your first trimester of pregnancy. But adrenalin is a potent stimulant and even if that does describe your condition, we’d recommend that you go anyway!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Couple of Quick Updates

Part I--Basketball and Its Consequences

Some of you may remember that Jess is part of a weekly basketball game here in Bogotá (his 5'10" frame--and approximately an 8" vertical--makes him a small forward south of the border). In July, just before the famed Macchu Pichu trip, Jess hurt his knee during Wednesday night B-ball. Last week an MRI gave us surprising news. Jess has a completely torn ACL in his right knee. We are now considering surgery--which would likely happen in early November.

Part II--Commemorating Che's Death in Colombia!?

You may have missed it, but last Tuesday, October 9th was the 40th anniversary of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's death. It was hard to miss it here in Bogotá. Jess was forced to work from home on Tuesday due to internet problems at his office. Around 1pm, National University students commemorated Che's assassination by heaving papa bombas (small, homemade explosive devices with no shrapnel), molotov cocktails and rocks at the National Police's armored vehicles which in turn attacked the students with fire hoses and tear gas. One student lost an eye in the three-hour melee. The scene repeated itself two days later, to the dismay of our house guests, Aaron and Laura and their two young daughters. (note...photos are from our living/dinning room window)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Life and times of Jess, sparkle, and Janna

Friends and family,

Some time has passed since I’ve written much of an update. Life has held some milestones, challenges, and spectacular displays of beauty in the intervening months. I seem to learn basic life lessons best through slightly ridiculous personal drama, so in classic form of exceeding limits, crashing and then reflecting, I’ve learned that unsustainable life pace needs to change for expectant women, even before the baby arrives. (Note the hotlinks peppering email.)

Some experiences between the June 14th information robbery at Justapaz and this rest :

Milestones. It was a marathon sprint to finish and publish the Spanish and English versions of the 100-page human rights and peacebuilding report, “A Prophetic Call: Churches Document Their Suffering and Their Hope.” The English version is available here. The seemingly endless rounds of violation case review, drafts, and edits, review of tallies and graphs, and translation were my focus for a few months. They became my obsession for the last one.

While finalizing the report texts, I moved into organizing the release event and coordinating with some journalists for the press work. It was “nutso!,” as my Dad would say. I did not know what I was getting into with the last-minute press campaign, but despite our lack of experience, adequate preparation and time constraints it was quite successful! We managed to position the issue of church violations and policy recommendations in the national public eye and establish Justapaz and the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia as resources.

Radio programs started calling at 5:40 am and TV anchors showed up for interviews the day before we were expecting them. I’m just glad I washed my hair that day. I wrote up some quick report cliff notes for the others and interview content was sound. The story was covered four times on TV news and five times by radio stations, a few with outlets throughout Latin America. Ten newspapers from around the country ran stories based on our press packet.

The high level of interest from the press was unprecedented and surprising. An unanticipated contributing factor: the release of our publication coincided with press statements from a self-defined Christian political party reporting that numerous candidates are under threat. We’re in a heated election season here in Colombia, and while there are no existing alliances (or political affinity) with the “The Independent Movement for Absolute Renovation,” MIRA, we are both part of the “evangelical” minority in a Catholic nation. So, apparently we gave each other bounce in the press. I actually don’t trust that audiences listen closely enough to identify the different interpretations of “the signs of the times” and recommendations put forth.

* * * * *

The beauty of birth and new life. During these weeks a few spectacular human glimmers, reflections of the sacred, forced me out of my head and centered me on the beauty that still springs from Eden. Namely, participating in the anticipation and then accompanying the birth of Anna Sofia in our apartment.

Some of you know that my second cousin Laura Souder, her husband Aaron Kauffman and their delightful 2 year-old Abigail live in a small town called La Mesa, just a few hours outside of Bogotá. Mennonite Mission Network sponsors their service at a Mennonite high school. We both sought out the same obstetrician who is renown (in our circles) for holistic pre-natal care and home births in pools.

Laura, Abby and Aaron settled into our apartment several weeks before the due date. I am grateful for the family stay and friendship, especially given Jess’ absence due to work travel. Highlights: Abby’s cheerful morning greetings tugged me from bleary-eyed verification of a murder testimony. Aaron put “It’s a Beautiful Day” on repeat as I translate a graph of the composite of violations—homicide, torture, death threat. Irony fueled that night’s work session. I’m gone long hours, but Sparkle and I eat delicious, balanced meals every day thanks to a very large, but always pleasant, Laura.

The birth itself was all of the wonder, little of the pain and none of the scariness that I’ve associated with labor and delivery. I was more nervous going into the labor than Laura, but three hours and two pushes later, we were eating apple crisp and admiring the little human rose bud, Anna Sofia. Learn more, see pics here. What a privilege and opportunity to witness a delivery with the same team (Dr, midwife/dula and nurse) just six months before I plan to give birth, also in our living room!

* * * * *

Challenges. I’d emptied myself into the work and thought that I would experience a sense of relief and satisfaction when this was all over. Instead I felt depressed and desperate to resolve the shortcomings of the final results. Weariness and pregnancy hormones caught up with me, but there was still so much important work to be done! So I tried to continue through the tears. Dearest Jess, friends and colleagues told me to stop. The admonition that first struck home was, “I tell you this not for you, but for the well-being of your baby.” I listened. I consulted our doctor about some of my symptoms, and he affirmed the wisdom surrounding me. Excessive work wore out this mom-to-be, and I needed to slowdown.

That afternoon I picked up a book recommended by my friend and Justapaz colleague, Paul Stucky. “Cecilia’s Sin” is the historical novel of a 15th century Anabaptist woman who records the persecution of fellow believers. They file into her home and she records their testimony under the cover of night, by candlelight.

“ ‘The story,’ she said, impatiently, almost angrily. ‘My decision. I made it as if there was not choice to make. I chose the story over my own blood, over poor little Belikan, my own flesh. I did it so quickly. But it is my passion, Pieter.” She walked to the window and peered between the slats, pushing the curtain aside as she did, without turning around she said as if to herself, for she knew Pieter could not hear, “I hope it is my callas well.” Then, turning to face him she said, ‘I know it is my obsession, Pieter. But now you must tell me if it is also my curse.’

p. 35, Cecelia’s Sin

In the end she burns all her records—every last page-- before she is, presumably, drowned.

Where am I in this stream of women who record stories of humans hunted like wild game? On one side I have Cecilia, a martyr from 16th Century Amsterdam. On the other, Liliana, a young lawyer accompanying victims here in Bogotá. Liliana’s organization suffered an information robbery five days after Justapaz. But the similarities end there. Unlike our community, the attacks on her organization continue: she and her colleagues suffered additional break-ins and are now living under death-threats. There is fear in her eyes and a shortness of breath when she speaks.

I think that we at Justapaz have the spiritual and political coverage of the international community to thank for the grace we experience, which allows us to continue our ministry without further harassment. Your prayers and actions make a difference. I caress my growing belly and give thanks.

These are critical moments and my understanding is weak. How to balance the cries of the victims, the opportunities to amplify voices of the orphan and the widow, with the needs of little one growing inside me? I reread Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” And yet I’ve clumsily resisted Pete Seeger’s nudging to Turn! Turn! Turn! This emptiness, a little burnout I suppose, is determining some immediate aspects.

Joy growing. These days I find joy in anticipating our baby and in our nuclear family—in planning a mural and laughing as Jess talks lovingly to my stomach in an exaggerated gravely voice. (“It’s because babies can only hear vibrations at this point, but can start to recognize voices,” Jess explains, beaming.) Our reading on our developing baby also deepens the experience. I don’t know how I’d be doing without Jess right now. He’s been firm in pointing out the ridiculousness of an unsustainable workload, but loving and patient in the expressions of my fatigue, despite his own work stress. I am so fortunate.

So, these are the life and times of unconditionally loving Jess, our sparkle at 18.5 weeks and Janna at, gulp, a few days to 30 years.

Peace and hope,


Our 2-inch Wonder: Love and Fear

Friends and family,

What a thrill to share news of new life from Colombia! Jess and I are expecting a baby!

The first trimester has been a time of disbelief, awe, mystery, fear, wonder, and elation. The twelve week ultrasound we had this morning shows a healthy, tiny baby with a strong heartbeat due March 3. Two weeks ago we gasped and wiped away tears as we watched our little one doing high-impact womb-aerobics. Impossibly amazing. Those first images of arms and legs busily moving about are seared into my heart’s memory.

The first three months of the pregnancy have been relatively easy. Our rhythm of life is still fast-paced and sometimes, like today, fatigue catches up with me. But nausea has given way to an increased appetite and a thick waist, and, perhaps most significantly, I’ve moved from trepidation to excitement.

I’ve decided to share my personal struggle to come to terms with a paralyzing fear of losing this little sparkle growing inside me. Conceiving life in Colombia at this time is a powerful emotional and spiritual journey. But, lesson learned: it’s one to be shared.

With delighted joy,


* * * * * * *

July 5th journal entry

Spark of life, you entered from the undercurrent of love and longing, deeper than fear or confusion. You answered our call to the Deep. Our statement of faith, you declare that death will not have the last word. You are my defiance and hope.

Days before you came to be, our community suffered an attack that chilled me to the core—the Justapaz break-in of June 14th. It reflected intimate knowledge of our organizational workings. It ripped from our staff the ability to protect the subjects and collectors of the sacred stories shared with us in strictest confidence. It shredded our desperate desire to believe that doing nonpartisan truth-telling could continue unmolested, even as the world began to pay attention and ask, “What can we do?”

You first made your presence known to me during our meeting at the Vice President’s office. As we talked with high level government officials about the series of information robberies and their response, the director of the human rights program lit a cigarette beside me. A wave of nausea engulfed me and I felt the multiple positive pregnancy test results to be true.

As we responded to this crisis I have clung to the marvelous, mysterious knowledge you—a life inside me. In moments of weakness when dread and fear crept into the shadowy corners of my soul, you helped me chase them away and return to the steadfast hope necessary to carry-on. You are my Hebrews 11:1 baby.

* * * * *

In a striking personality reversal, Jess first wanted to share our news with family and friends. I, the extrovert and external processor, was guarded and reserved.

Nine weeks into the pregnany, and last night I realized with a sudden and emotional crash that I’ve been nursing a gnawing fear that this most intimate and precious symbol of life would not survive. My Hope could die and be flushed away in a torrent of blood, as so often happens in Colombia. If this little spark has been my faith that goodness cannot be extinguished by violent adversity, how could I cope with its loss? My fear of losing our Call to the Deep kept me turned inward with my secret.

She is a tangible, fierce life force.

She is a fragile mystery.

She is not mine and I am not in control.

I’ve long-accepted that I could be physically harmed or even lose my life in this line of service. Secure in my vocation and sense of call, I don’t live in fear. But this life growing inside of me is something new.

Nevertheless, in the past few weeks my body has increasingly exhibited signs that I’m not the only one inhabiting this vessel. During this time I’ve grow more familiar with the little spark as a Being and not just a symbol or concept. As I’ve grown to care for and love this tiny baby, the fear has subsided and quietly traveled from the center of my attention.

Even still, it wasn’t until I read one of the reflections from the Meditations for Expectant Mothers, a wonderfully, sometimes terribly, but always charmingly old-fashioned book that Mom gave me, that I realized what I’d been doing.

I’ve considered this little baby to bear my life-yearning and faith. That’s quite a burden for a bean-sized babe! “Love Casts Out Fear” is the title of the meditation. As I read it the tears began to brim in my eyes, and then I found myself sobbing.

July 9, journal entry

I journaled at the time, “An hour after reading the meditation I sit in the dark of night with my tears and hope. My thoughts are so simple I can hardly write them down,

Hold gently that which we love most.

Faith, hope and love.

I cannot clench these things in my fists, as if they were personal possessions to be hoarded in secret.

I can only live in them. I can make them our home with an open door. If they are to give life and flourish, I need to share them with my community.

How many times must Colombia teach me her lessons before I learn?

Janna, what might have been the outcome if members of the Justapaz staff had turned inward or fled after the attack? While fearful, we responded together and with an extended international network of churches and supporters.

Sharing in the hope and the vulnerability—this is the essence of being a human community living in determined faith. We hope together, or our dreams will whither in a clenched fist.

Maybe it’s just a change of hormones allowing this existential dilemma to find resolve. In any case, now I am ready to share our news—we’re expecting.”

* * * * * * * *

Aug 24 postscript note: Delivering our good news has been spectacularly fun!