U-C: What I See

Friday, September 17, 2004

check-in from Colombia


This is a very quick note from Colombia, South America. I've spent the last three days here working with leaders in the Presbyterian Church of Colombia in their efforts to secure the release of a young man named Mauricio, who has been doing human rights protection work with the church here for the last six or seven years. The human rights office where he worked, with a special emphasis on supporting Colombians who have been displaced by the war, is located on the property of the seminary and the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church here in Barranquilla (a city on the Atlantic coast way in the north).

Mauricio was picked up by one of the military brigades here three months ago. He's been in jail ever since, accused of ¨terrorist and rebellious activities.¨ He is a young Catholic (24 years old) who was finishing his last year in Law School. He was picked up without an arrest warrant (one was created after the fact) and he is accused of being involved in activities that took place on day when he was with church leaders for a seminar on human rights work.

I was ushered into a small room with two beds in the outer hallway of the prison. Mauricio's family is paying for him to share that room with someone (actually, at first he was sharing it with five people) instead of being with the general population in a cell. His mother, Elly, wept as she held my hand through the visit. He's a sweet guy who wears a cross and has a ready smile - and looks about seventeen years old.

To learn more about his story, go to the pcusa website and check out the stories about him in the Presbyterian News Service by Alexa Smith.

The purpose of my visit here is to begin a program of accompaniment with the Presbyterian Church, with a special focus on protecting them in their work defending human rights. In this climate of fear and suspicion, where armed actors are everywhere (including guerrila, paramilitary and military forces, working to defend the rights of the poor is often considered an act of rebellion. It takes great courage for the church here to be church, where several church leaders and many of their colleagues have been targeted by the government and the paramilitary, and the guerrilla. There doesn't appear to be a lot of logic in who is targeted or by whom.

This week, we've been visiting high government officials in Bogota and local officials here in Barranquilla to let them know that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is paying a lot of attention to what is happening to our sister church and her leaders here in Colombia. Over the next few weeks, I'll be working with our staff in the Worldwide Ministries Division to design a response for long-term accompaniment with our sister church. Stay-tuned for more information.

Yesterday morning, I had a meeting with about a eighteen people who have been targeted, or whose organizations have been targeted, for their human rights work here in Barranquilla. Their stories are compelling. As we opened the meeting, Milton Mejia (the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church here in Colombia) read from 2 Corinthians 6, finishing with theses words: We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see - we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I´ll never read that text the same way again.