U-C: What I See

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

An update on accompaniment in Colombia


Though the human rights situation in Colombia continues to be grim, there is much to celebrate in the ever-deepening relationship between the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) and the Presbyterian Church (USA). I recently received a letter from Milton Mejia, the General Secretary of the IPC, and he was unabashedly enthusiastic in his appreciation for the work of more than two-dozen volunteers who have provided continuous accompaniment for more than thirteen months.

Here’s how the program works. Presbyterians who are interested in volunteering (raising their funds through friends, family, churches and presbyteries) go to www.pcusa.org/onedoor to fill out the application for short-term service. Once they are approved as “official” volunteers (meaning we’ve done appropriate background checks, etc.), they go to a three-day training coordinated by Kelly Wesselink, the Colombia Accompaniment Program Coordinator for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

The orientation includes an overview of the situation in Colombia and shared experiences from past volunteers, a description of the basic responsibilities as delineated by our church partners there, and the underlying philosophy of nonviolent accompaniment work. The weekend is, in part, a time of discernment for both the volunteer and for Peace Fellowship steering committee members to determine whether each person there is genuinely called by God to this kind of service to the church. Part of that discernment is to pair the volunteers and assign them an appropriate time to spend a month volunteering with our sisters and brothers in Colombia.

Finally, the volunteers head for Colombia. Their mission is to “see and be seen.” They are to be international eyes and to accompany the courageous church leader, both laity and pastors, in their work documenting human rights abuses and working with those who have been displaced by the violence. During their time in the country, and when they come home, they are asked to share their experiences to help connect Presbyterians in the United States with Colombians who are at risk of being targeted by any one of the armed actors: guerilla forces, paramilitary forces, or government forces.

Milton has asked us to consider expanding the program to send two teams simultaneously in order to be deployed in more than one location. We are hopeful that we will be able to respond affirmatively to his request. We have more than thirty people who have expressed interest in the next training, which will take place the end of February, and we are always looking for more interested persons. You need to be able bodied, above twenty-one years of age, and flexible in attitude. Spanish is helpful, but not mandatory. If you’re interested, please check www.presbypeacefellowship.org for stories of past accompaniers. Contact Kelly Wesselink at Kelly_ppf@yahoo.com for more information about the training.

I will follow this entry with a reflection shared by my friend Phil Gates, who told me last fall that he never would have imagined himself an accompanier, and that the experience changed his life.

This year, let’s change the world for Christ.