Learning about violence and peace in Colombia

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March 5, 2014

What does active pacifism look like? What exactly is violence when you get past the classic images of guns and combat? What unique insights does my Christian faith have to offer in an interfaith conversation about injustice and oppression? These were just a few of the questions I found myself reflecting on during my summer 2013 training with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).

Before I launch into a description of my thoughts on these topics, I’ll give you a little background about me. For starters, I’m 22 years old, and a graduate of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Conrad Grebel University College (Waterloo, Ont.). I first discovered my passion for international peace work on a five-week service and learning trip to Guatemala that is connected with Mennonite Central Committee.

I know what you’re thinking—my life is a Mennonite cliché. What makes me unique, I guess, is that I was raised agnostic. In my late teens through early twenties, I travelled the world, learning about different religions. I settled on Christianity, did some serious church hopping, and concluded that the Mennonite church was my spiritual home. I have always looked back on my time in Guatemala as the catalyst that made that all happen.

Joining CPT Colombia feels like a natural way to reconnect with that region of the world.

I completed my month-long training at the main CPT office in Chicago, where we participated in a number of workshops including conflict transformation, anti-oppression, consensus decision making, and Christian approaches to peacemaking. Working with a diverse training group whose members approached nonviolent direct action from a variety of different faith perspectives—ranging from Aboriginal spirituality to Quaker and Mennonite traditions—was both challenging and life giving.

As far as my reflections on the three questions above, I haven’t come to any conclusions. Here’s what I have as a starting point though: I keep coming back to grace as Christianity’s unique contribution to peacemaking. I think that the core of violence is dehumanization, and as far as active pacifism goes, I’ll keep you posted!

For the next three years, I will spend nine months a year in northern Colombia. My time “on team” will be broken up into four- to five-month stints, with month-and-a-half-long breaks in between to come home to Canada, recuperate, and visit churches.

My first stint will involve two months of intensive Spanish classes at a university in Bogotá and two months of time served on team in Barrancabermeja, where I’ll live in a Christian Peacemaker Teams community house.

The CPT team there has four primary partners that they work with, though they support several others. The two that involve the most active presence are farming communities called Las Pavas and Garzal. CPT also accompanies a federation for small-scale subsistence miners and farmers called Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation, and an organization that protects the human rights of rural communities affected by national and paramilitary conflict. More to come about these communities as I meet them in the upcoming months.

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