Friday, October 31, 2008

Beyond the Headlines & on the H-B Homefront

Friends and family,

Greetings from the Andes . As I write this chilly Sunday evening, Jess is off giving a radio interview on the indigenous march (see below) and congested Amara is finally sleeping soundly. Having a precious daughter means less personal time, so I’ll share a smattering of highlights from our family life and peace ministry with telegraph-style brevity (hopefully).

Beyond newspaper headlines:

v Tierralta, Cordoba (northwest Colombia ) is the municipality where the government and paramilitary leaders brokered a disarmament and reintegration agreement for an umbrella paramilitary group in 2004. You´d hope that the physical location of the peace talks, a sub-tropical setting of small towns and large cattle ranches, would reflect something of the desired results. Unfortunately, the ongoing threats, assassinations, and forced displacement of local church leaders speak to ongoing paramilitary operations in collusion with government officials and armed forces. I’ve been working with local church leaders and international partner organizations to shed light on the alarming situation to our constituencies and the US State Department, which has been highly responsive. Click here for more and an opportunity to repond.

v Colombian indigenous communities in northern Cauca (southwest Colombia) and the sugarcane workers on strike in the neighboring province of Valle de Cauca are asking for an honest dialogue with the Colombian government to address the serious social problems they face. Rather than listening to the concerns of these marginalized communities, the Colombian government- backed by U.S. military funding—has responded with repressive force. Jess is keeping members of the US Congress abreast and helping Witness for Peace call for action to stop the repressive violence.

v On September 25th Pastor William Reyes was traveling back to his home in La Guajira (north east Colombia ) from a neighboring province when he disappeared. No, it was not a whimsical magic act. He had called his wife to report on his travel progress earlier in the day, and he has simply not been heard from since. Idia Miranda, Pastor William Reyes wife, is still waiting to learn the whereabouts and fate of her husband. Forced disappearances are a regular occurrence in Colombia . The victims are taken by one of the armed groups—most often by government forces or the paramilitary. But not always. Click for a sample letter if you’d like to respond. Through accompanying Pastor’s Reyes family we’ve learned about other horrific situations. This perverse tragedy has stayed with me: a pastor’s son was disappeared last year. She heard nothing until just last month when the government investigative unit reported him as killed in combat by the army, who claim he was a guerilla. Problem with the story: the military reported him killed before he disappeared from his home.

On the home front:

v Have I mentioned that we love Amara? Today my grandma asked me if Amara was well-timed. I never asked myself that before, but I am unspeakably grateful for her presence in our lives now. How could I ever have anticipated the depth of joy, sheer happiness and fierce love that I would feel for our daughter? She keeps the calculated cruelty and repression that we deal with from penetrating my bones as it once did. Her laughter, babble, squeals of glee and affectionate pats display the Sacred’s smile and make our days pretty.

Going to Bogota ’s lush fruit and vegetable market with her is my favorite Saturday “chore.” As we approach our vendor friends they greet Amara by shouting, “The Princess has arrived!” “Look, our baby-doll Amara is here!” Yesterday one elderly vendor acknowledged that Amara is good for business, since she attracks potential customers to her stand. A few video clips are available on Jess' utube channel.

v Trip to the heartland, Decade of Servant Leadership Award. I’m still overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the Bally Mennonite church community (and beyond) that made it financially possible for our family to travel so that I could accept the Goshen College Decade for Servant Leadership Award. (Note: There is something uncomfortable, at least, about personal recognition connected to the suffering of others.) The whole experience was humbling and a great fun. My effort to articulate the essentials of what Colombia has taught me and my invitation to GG students is available here, in the acceptance speech.

Trip Highlights: Amara met her Aunt Maria and great-grandparents Witmer for the first time! Lively theological and political conversation around kitchen tables with family and the GC community. Being back in the classrooms, sharing with current GC students and alum about Colombia . Enjoying Amara with family.

An update would not be complete without noting that Jess is pretty excited about baseball season and I’m thoroughly enjoying my seminary classes! Our lives are well balanced. Our cups are full and running over. We give thanks.

Thanks for staying in touch, for your friendship and caring shared across the miles.


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