Monday, October 20, 2008

Faith in the Midst of Cruelty. Decade of Servant Leadership Award

Goshen College awarded Janna the Decade of Servant Leadership Award during homecoming weekend, October 3-5. Thanks to the generous contributions of several dozen friends and scattered community members, all three of the Hunter-Bowmans traveled to Goshen so that Janna could receive the award and to spend time with family.

Since a few people have requested it, here is Janna's statement shared at a GC chapel.


Oct 3 2008
Faith defined by hope and courage in the midst of cruelty. That’s what attracted me to Colombia, South America, a country of contrasts in the midst of armed conflict. I had graduated from Goshen just months before I left for Colombia. The Goshen College core values resonated with me then as they do now. We are Christ-Centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens. I was freshly equipped with a social science tool kit, a burden for a hurting world and a fierce determination to be part of the solution. I was captivated by the radical peace witness of Colombia’s Mennonite Church.

In the six years that I’ve worked in Justapaz, the justice and peace ministry of the Colombian Mennonite Church, I’ve held various jobs. I established a sister church program. Later I monitored the impact of the 5.5 billion dollars US military aid package best known as Plan Colombia. Currently I coordinate a national human rights and peace monitoring program.

We record stories of victimization and make known the war crimes suffered by non-Catholic Christian communities, complementing the work of sister Catholic organizations. It takes personal interviews to gather meaningful testimony because phone lines may be tapped and e-mail is not secure. For many, the government’s formal procedure for receiving testimonies of abuse is neither trustworthy nor safe.
Actions perceived as questioning – and therefore challenging—civil order and authority, be it formal or informal, are grounds for harassment and persecution. This includes public criticism of government authorities; assisting war victims and social organizing for peace movement building. These are all forms of nonviolent resistance, as counseled on the Sermon on the Mount.

We also highlight the acts of resistance and constructive alternatives to violence implemented by church communities. Through sowing and living out “seeds of hope,” churches are agents of transformation in the midst of armed conflict. These efforts aim to contribute to a culture of respect for human rights and a nonviolent solution to Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict and profound social injustice.

There are consequences for challenging the ruling powers and seeking social transformation. I have friends who are living under death threats and others who have been killed.

I’ll share a few stories. Investigators have officially made no progress on either of the following cases.

First, one that affected me personally. On June 14 of last year, intruders entered through the roof, disabled the alarm system, and stole two computers from Justapaz. One was mine. What they apparently wanted—given the items of value left behind—was highly sensitive information on war victims, those who document the cases, and local churches working for peace. The hundreds of victims who had dared to share their secret truths with us feared reprisals for speaking out. The volunteers who take risks to document cases were the most likely targets after the political theft. But in their words, “these are the consequences of following Christ in an insecure environment.”

Fear used as a political tool was denied its victory. Justapaz stood firm. “We are convinced that we have no choice but to work toward true reconciliation, not only in this case, but in the thousands of life-stories of violence and victimization that have taken place.” (Justapaz communiqué) And, praise God, we have not experienced additional harassment.

The outpouring of responses from the international community was decisive. Colleagues from other organizations that do not enjoy international support have suffered additional break-ins, attacks and personal death threats. Many of you were a part of that response that contributed to the grace we now know. Thank you.
I want Colombian sisters and brothers “walking through the valley of death” to know that same grace. The advocacy component of our program aims to intervene in individual situations within a longer term goal of just peacebuilding. Emblematic cases highlight failed government policies we want to transform, trends we want to reverse. Or, in the following situation, individual stories shine through the political smokescreen aimed to ensure the continued flow of funds to the government of Colombia and its political and economic elites.

Second case. Location: steamy tropics of Tierralta, Cordoba in northwest Colombia. Tierralta is the site of negotiations between the government and leaders of the paramilitary umbrella organization AUC held in 2004. (The paramilitary are an illegal armed groups on the US list of terrorist organizations.) Date: Events occurred between February 2007 to 2008.

Paster Rosendo was hunted down by four heavily armed men, allegedly rearmed members of a paramilitary group that had formally laid down their weapons and reintegrated into civilian life. When the police went to his town to “investigate” that same day, they travelled in a vehicle owned and operated by the paramilitary commander responsible for ordering his assassination. Later two of his neighbours were killed. Death threats persisted. Pastor Rosendo, his wife and their children eventually fled for their lives.

The widow of a related case said: “…We are fearful that everybody is at risk, because we have dared to speak out and denounce what happened … Now if we go back to our community, I fear we won’t come back alive.” Additional information and action response sheets for this situation are available at the exit. I invite you to participate. Vox victimarum vox Dei: the voice of the victims is the voice of God. Identifying with and responding to people who bear the brunt of violence, enflamed by our government’s official policies, is a meaningful way of being church. I’ve learned that it’s not a matter of “struggling for” the oppressed, the victimized. In important ways, we are the oppressed. In the post 9-11 era we are more aware than ever that our fates are interconnected. Our salvation is intertwined.

Walking with my Colombian community that willingly, passionately “carries the cross” is a privilege. Sharing in their joys and struggle is deeply fulfilling. The faith modelled by Colombian Mennonites has provided a provocative personal and political theological home for me. It invites and challenges a fresh interpretation of personal and social transformation based in Jesus’ message—the Kingdom of God present, Here. Now. Victims who are also prophets inspire hope in Jesus who embodied God’s passion for justice and wholeness in all things (or shalom).

That is something of my passion. What is yours? Identifying your passion will lead you to your truest vocation and the most fulfilling way to live your core values.
Ask yourself, what am I willing to live and die for? According to Hebrews 11, Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see. Find your faith; live inside your hope.

Where is injustice that tears you apart? Don’t run from suffering; go to her. Walk alongside the affliction that makes your blood boil. Let it hurt.

Take risks. Colombia has much to offer GC and its students, and I hope you come to us again. But Colombia, as a geographical place, is not for everyone. But do cross over. Live beyond the half-truths and cosmetic facades shielding you from the brilliant light of Life that exists most brightly at the brink of death.

Go to the place where suffering and hope meet, and live there. Perhaps you, like me, will find your salvation where the two meet. But, and this is important, discern and speak truth in community. This is very different than the peace Rambo approach.

And so I modify the words of Audre Lord that hung in the sociology/anthropology department when I was a senior when I say, “When we dare to be powerful - to use our strength in the service of our vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Through living Hebrews 11-style faith in community, circumstances change.
To students and to Goshen College, I say:
Find your passion.
Cross over to the heart of suffering.
Live in bold hope.
God is with us.

1 comment:

beckarecka said...

Thanks so much for sharing your statement on the blog...it was wonderful and inspiring to read. Congratulations on the award. I hope you three are well.