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The Prophetic Call of the Church in Colombia

“If you go to any small town and ask about the local church, it is certain that you will find one…the church has been an important space for all those who have suffered from acts of violence. Listening to them, you can understand how their faith as allowed them to process what has happened and support their acts of resistance,” says Angelica Rincon, reflecting on her work in the Political Advocacy and Historical Memory program. Angelica of Justapaz, a Mennonite association that works for justice, peace, and nonviolence in Colombia, along with her colleague Michael Joseph, of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Churches of Colombia, have experienced Colombia´s conflict through their documentation of the realities people face each day. They have also seen the faith and prophetic work of the same people and churches as they strive for peace in the midst of violence.

The program, a joint effort of Justapaz and the Peace Commission, has gathered information from non-Catholic churches to document human rights violations due to the armed conflict for the past ten years. The program began, explains Angelica, “Through the concern of the Commission and Justapaz for the impact the conflict was having on the churches, different signs began to appear: a displaced church member, a displaced family, the theme of recruitment. The organizations responded with the beginning steps of political advocacy and awareness raising. During these attempts, a void in documentation was noticed, as people began to ask, ‘Okay where did this take place, when, who was responsible, etc.’”

From its beginning, the program gained a reputation for both the quality of its information and the widening of documentation categories in Colombia. In the beginning of the 2000s, social organizations began to document human rights violations occurring in different populations: women, Afro-descendants, children, and Indigenous people. As Michael explains, however, “within the categories, there only existed only one religious category. There was no differentiating if someone was Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, etc. There was a need, therefore, on our part…to be able to say how many pastors, how many leaders, how many members of which communities and which churches, of which denomination, in order to better describe the impact of the conflict within our sector of evangelical churches.”

During the following years, the program grew from a small newsletter to the publication of nine annual reports called “A Prophetic Call” which include information about the context, statistics, cases, and policy recommendations. A network of trained documenters from local churches, committed to documenting local cases, now exists in five of Colombia’s regions. Many different organizations have taken note of the statistics, especially outside of Colombia; the State Department of the United States uses the data for their information on religious freedoms. Various embassies have also shared the program´s cases and statistics. 

Despite the importance and quality of the information, it has been difficult to see concrete changes in public policy and the victim’s situations, with one notable exception. Michael tells of one experience working in southern Cordoba with communities at risk of displacement. The Ombudsman´s office, using documentation from the program along with the work of various other organizations, published a report on the situation that was finalized as the current Victim’s Law. Even with the creation of this law, however, the situation of the communities has not changed.

For Angelica and Michael, however, is it important to not only speak of victimization, but also of the churches’ actions and peacebuilding initiatives, found in the Seeds of Hope section of the Prophetic Call. If denouncing violence is a prophetic call, the work of peace is, as Angelica says, “the announcement of the good news…even when the situation is adverse, violent and complicated.” In every corner of the country, churches are working for peace, from soup kitchens, to accompanying children, to nonviolent direct action and political advocacy, to speaking in favor of the dialogue process. In areas with no infrastructure or state presence, the church can be found working for peace.

In light of these situations, hope comes through faith. For Michael and Angelica, documenting and listening to so many stories of pain is difficult, but they have learned much from the work of the churches. Michael states, “I have spent almost seven years working, reading and accompanying cases of victimization without necessarily seeing improvements; this is a little exhausting. For me, faith is extremely important in the sense of believing that God is on our side, God is accompanying us. I see this in each particular case, and see God reflected in their lives. This is the key, having hope by having faith. I think I would lose hope if not for my faith in God and in a God who is a God of justice.” Angelica adds, “One asks how victims can have faith in these scenarios when everyday they live in a situation of risk where there is no hope? But people say yes, that they have found their faith in God and that is their motivation to continue on. This encourages us to continue as well.”

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