A Call to Work for Peace in Colombia
conference points to Peace Fellowship Accompaniment Program as a new model
Over 600 Presbyterians gathered in Louisville on October 2
-5, for "World Mission ’07: A Celebration of Grace." The meeting, sponsored
by Presbyterian World Mission, the newly formed world mission agency of the
Presbyterian Church (USA), focused a great deal of attention on concerns for
developing and supporting mission in new ways, in response to changes in the
church and in the broader culture.
One impressive development was the recognition of
"accompaniment" as a very helpful form of mission for this new day. The
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship thus received acknowledgment of the
Accompaniment Program it initiated three years ago in the violence-torn
nation of Colombia, as it sent people there from the U.S. for short periods
of time, just to "be there," a presence with Colombian people and especially
church leaders whose lives have often been threatened because of their stand
for justice and peace in their country.
Anne Barstow, a long-time leader in the Peace Fellowship
and one of the leaders in establishing the Accompaniment Program, was at the
conference along with a number of other PPF members.
She sent this brief report of
About 650 people gathered in
Louisville last week for an update on where the financially hard-pressed
PCUSA stands today on its mission work. We knew there have been huge
cut-backs. What happened there in regard to the Accompaniment Program
has left me nearly speechless.
Our program was looked upon with skepticism in the
beginning by some, as risky and not in line with traditional mission
thinking. Because the IPC had asked for accompaniment, PPF went
ahead anyway. Now, 3 years later, we are being called "one of the new
ways of doing mission." We were singled out at the opening plenary by
the new head of Missions, Hunter Farrell, asked to stand, and were told
that by making ourselves vulnerable to risk, we were truly "standing
with" the IPC. And he gave a powerful prayer for our safety.
This was picked up by Presbyterian News Service. This
affirmation is a boon to us! We want to help to establish accompaniment
as a regular part of the PCUSA’s service to the world, and to have this
public acceptance is wonderful. It happened because of the integrity
with which you all have served and the effort that IPC has put into
welcoming us and teaching us. I wish that everyone of you could have
Those who were present were: Phil and Lorie Gates, Cat
Bucher, Sarah Henken, Linda Eastwood, Ted Collins, Barbara Clawson, Jo
Ella Holman, Shannan Vance-Ocampo, and myself (maybe Tom and Mardie
Milligan? I'm not sure, people were coming and going.)
Vilma Yanez' comment is apropos: "Accompaniment has
become so much more powerful and helpful a program than we ever
imagined." We North Americans would say the same, Vilma.
Another item that PPFers will be interested in: at the
Colombia Mission Network, which met concurrently with the bigger
conference, we managed to surprise Alice Winters (well, almost). It is
her 30th anniversary of serving the IPC, so Cat and Henry Bucher
arranged a gift for her: a beautiful crystal plaque from the
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, thanking her for all she has done and is
The over-all "feeling" at the conference was up-beat.
People said "we have turned a corner, we will rebuild the structure of
mission work, and it will be done in new ways."
In other e-mails I want to share what we learned about
the whole mission network structure - because it is based on volunteer
work, costs less than other forms of mission, feeds off of grass-roots
energy and passion, and yet is determined to stay within the broader
compass of the PCUSA, it is indeed the voice of the future in our
The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship invites
you to join a delegation to ...
the Presbyterian Church of Colombia
A partnership between the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship of
the Presbyterian Church (USA) and
the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) on invitation from the IPC.
Dates: September 21 to October 2, 2006
Why go to Colombia?
Colombia continues to be embroiled in a civil war that has
lasted for 40+ years. In recent years the war has taken on new and
frightening characteristics – more violence, more people displaced, farmers
losing their land. And the Presbyterian Church of Colombia has been targeted
for its humanitarian work among the displaced and its work in the area of
civil and human rights to the extent that many ministers and lay persons
have had to go into hiding to avoid death.
In partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia,
the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the World Ministries Division have
program of accompaniment
through which the PPF trains and sends persons to accompany the church in
Colombia providing them a veil of protection against the worst of abuses.
More information >>
Or contact Parrish W. Jones, Delegation Leader
at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at 202-262-1850
Five weeks in
Colombia -- and going back again
Jane White reports
on her 5 weeks of accompanying persecuted Presbyterians in Colombia to
provide some safety. And she’s going back again. [9-21-05]
The latest news of
the accompaniment program in Colombia -- with a report from
accompaniers Marilyn White and Jane Wood, and a request for help in
maintaining this vital program. [8-19-05]
|New accompanier reports -- with photos and
lots of detail [6-9-05]
Britt Johnson has posted his daily reports (with lots of
photos) from his time as an accompanier from April to June. You can
jump to each page of reports directly from here:
ending June 2nd
sees the realities of life in Colombia
Erik J Mason of Santa Fe, NM, returned to the US a month
ago after spending 5 weeks in Colombia as part of the PC(USA) effort to
provide North American Christians to accompany sisters and brothers in
Colombia whose lives are threatened because of their work for peace and
He offers a moving report of the realities he
We were "accompanying" Maria, a human rights volunteer with the "Association
of Solidarity with Political Prisoners," a good friend of the Presbytery of
the North Coast of Barranquilla, Colombia. Our visit with five of the
prisoners in the jail at Santa Marta had been disturbing. It had been built
with a capacity of 250, but 673 persons were presently incarcerated there
including 49 women, one with a new baby. There is not enough room even on
the floors to sleep, and often there is no water in the few showers. One of
the prisoners had recently been strangled, and there were rumors that
another murder was planned. Although we had talked sotto voce, the
five persons we had interviewed had continually looked around fearfully and
once directed another prisoner who had moved too close to move away–some
prisoners are paid informants.
To me, four of these prisoners had seemed mere children,
but with unbelievably beautiful, intelligent, educated faces. One had been
convicted and sentenced to sixteen years for storing a "suspicious"
telephone number on her cell phone. Before we departed, the only adult, at
age 42, had told us, "Remember us. In truth, we are rebels, but there are no
protections here for persons who disagree with the government."
While we drove back to Barranquilla, Maria received a call
on her cell phone–there was an emergency at Atlantic University requiring
In an empty classroom the young and frightened Francisco
admitted he had previously attended some leftist rallies, but for the past
six months he had been concentrating on his studies. This afternoon,
however, he had been accosted by two men, in civilian clothes but with short
military haircuts, who showed him xeroxed copies of his identification
papers and copies of photographs of his home, his parents, and his presence
at political rallies. He had been offered a deal–join the government’s
information network and earn $600 a month. If he helped them arrest his
friend Antonio, who had gone into hiding a month earlier, he would receive a
$1,000 bonus. Refuse, and there would be "consequences" for him and his
family. He had taken refuge at the university.
I walked very close to him as we left the university and
climbed into our vehicle. At Presbytery, whose Executive Secretary was in
Geneva, Maria and Francisco were told that Presbytery had no safe houses, so
they left. I was rapidly expanding my vocabulary–amenazas, threats,
rehen, hostage, secuestrado, kidnaped.
Several weeks later Maria told us they had found a
relatively safe refuge for Francisco in another city. Then she showed us a
flyer, just received, announcing that the following-named 19 human rights
workers had been declared "military objectives," a sentence of death. They
had no funds for 19 more safe places. Maria herself has received so many
death threats that she is being strongly advised to go into hiding. She
became emotional, explaining that it is difficult not to be able to visit
her mother or sister for fear of putting them in danger. "Yes, I am afraid
that I might be killed but that’s part of our work. I’m mostly afraid for
our youth, like my teenaged son who marches in street demonstrations with a
She had brought with her many photographs of her human
rights work over the last twenty years. One by one she held up about 25
photographs of professors, students and union leaders assassinated in
Barranquilla in the last several years. In a flat, emotionless voice she
recited the data fixed in her mind for each photo, "Juan Jose Torres, union
worker, assassinated March 25, 2002; Diego Avila Zavala, professor at the
Atlantic University, assassinated January 17, 2004." Her voice trembled
several times, "Oscar Manuel Vargas, union worker, assassinated April 19,
2003, tortured while in prison, burned with acid, a horrible death; Jairo
Perez Barrios, student, assassinated October 18, 2004, a wonderful boy, he
was like a son to me."
This is the reality of Colombia, which our US Department
of State has recently taken off the "poor" list of countries in human
rights. When my team partner, Ted Collins from Kansas, and I passed a
lighted torch to Britt Johnson and Danna Larson after our five weeks of
accompaniment in Colombia, the Catholic priest conducting the ceremony told
us, "Your presence is enough; your presence is eloquent." I was grateful for
his comment, but "presence" is not really enough . Our protest and advocacy
Erik J Mason
"Accompanier" 26 Feb-4 Apr 05
Member, Westminster Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe NM
Names above have been changed
|Accompaniment in Colombia
We have received this note from Len Bjorkman,
Co-Moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and we encourage you
to consider this challenging call. [10-15-04]
Jane Hanna, former President of the Witherspoon
Society, seconds the invitation.
Greetings, One and
information about this opportunity to those who attended the Ghost Ranch
Seminar in 2001, [and to anyone else who wants to work for peace in
Since we met Alice
Winters then and heard so much about Colombia, and since quite a few of us
whom I know are very involved in seeking to be in solidarity with the
Presbyterians (and others) in Colombia, I thought you might like to know
about these recent developments, and wish to help.
In the late spring,
the Rev. Milton Mejia, the Executive Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of
Colombia, appealed to the Presbyterian Church (USA) for accompaniers to help
them as they continue to face death threats and other serious dangers. (For
one news article about the dangers, you may
this article on the PCUSA website.)
Earlier this year,
Susan Andrews, the Moderator of last year's General Assembly, visited
Colombia, and our interest and involvement there increased. But at the time
of Milton's request, the PCUSA was not in a position to respond with
accompaniers. In late August, Rick Ufford-Chase, the current GA Moderator,
visited Colombia, and when he reported to the General Assembly Council in
September, they were able to make the basic commitment to provide an
accompaniment program. Since then, there has been a very encouraging flurry
of activity to bring that program to reality, in both the short-term and the
Several GA offices
are working on this, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has undertaken
(in full consultation with Louisville) the task of getting the program
started so that some accompaniers can go to Colombia hopefully in November.
This is an exciting
development in the Church's ability to respond beyond the usual ways to a
request from a sister church. Most importantly, this program can mean life
for Presbyterians and others in Colombia whose lives are regularly
In order to
accomplish this, funds are needed to cover a stipend for the temporary
coordinator, and some of the costs of the orientation of the volunteers, to
assist the volunteers if they can not raise funds sufficient to cover their
costs, and to begin to build a special GA fund for Colombia Accompaniment.
We are extremely
encouraged that so much has been done in the last month! For instance, a
coordinator has been found, several volunteers have come forward, and many
administrative details have been worked out. Plans are being made for
orientation and training to take place in Washington, D.C., in early
November. Toward the costs, $3075 have already been raised.
If you would like to
be part of this effort, you are invited to do so by sending a tax-deductible
P.O. Box 271
Nyack NY 10960
Mark it for Colombia
If you have
questions, or would like more information, please contact Anne Barstow <email@example.com>;
she's taking the lead in organizing this for the Peace Fellowship. (And of
course you may respond to me!)
Peace, Len Bjorkman
Jane Hanna, former president of the Witherspoon
Society and one of the organizers of the Ghost Ranch seminar mentioned
above, adds this note:
Hi Fellow 'Spooners,
This is a project
that would be good for Witherspoon to join, support and promote. The
concern for Colombia arose from the Ghost Ranch seminars which we have
con-sponsored. In addition, our members often wonder "what they can do" to
be more proactive around peace and justice concerns. Here's an
It is encouraging
that the national church is really trying to help our Presbyterian friends
in Colombia. A number of the people we met with on our trip in 2003 have
been assassinated, wrongly jailed, and threatened with death. Church and
human rights workers, union leaders and journalists are those whose lives
are most threatened. Whatever we can do to help them as they work for
justice amid such violence is part of what Witherspoon claims to be about.
Hope you'll agree
with me, Jane
|PC(USA) seeks accompaniers
Church leaders there continue to be harassed, threatened
by Alexa Smith, Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE - October 28, 2004 - Dozens of volunteers are now being sought to
serve as accompaniers with the Presbyterian Church in Colombia (PCI) to curb
violence against its pastors and church workers.
The PCI has been asking for help for more than six months. During its
September meeting the PC(USA)'s General Assembly Council approved sending
accompaniers under the joint auspices of the Worldwide Ministries Division
and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
Teams of two or three volunteers will go into the region for stints of four
to six weeks until a full-time mission co-worker is hired to host mission
groups and provide pastoral support for the PCI. The church is ministering
amidst government repression, guerrilla warfare and brutal paramilitary
Colombia is home to what many call the hemisphere's worst humanitarian
Although PCI executive secretary Milton Mejia has repeatedly insisted that
the PCI does nothing illegal, it appears that Colombian authorities are
trying to link the church with Colombia's guerrilla movement. This puts PCI
workers at risk and scares off folks in need who would ordinarily turn to it
According to Mejia, the harassment is a way of stopping the church's human
After a number of displaced men were arrested and accused of bombing a
department store owned by a prominent Colombian politician, PCI leaders
learned that the church's synod office in Barranquilla is apparently under
video surveillance. Interrogators showed to those arrested video clips of
people entering and leaving the church offices.
The church also operates a small human rights program in which volunteer
lawyers help displaced people apply for government assistance and document
human rights abuses that forced them off their land. The coordinator of that
program, Mauricio Avilez, was arrested in June and charged with subversion,
which his interrogators equated with human rights work.
Although the charges are still pending, Avilez was abruptly released from
jail last week.
Mejia's life was threatened by an anonymous telephone caller who tried to
extort roughly $4,000 from the church - money the caller said should not be
spent on helping the displaced.
"If we had someone who could leave tomorrow, we'd have them in Colombia
within two weeks," said K. T. Ockels, who directs the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s
Mission Service Recruitment Office (MSRO). "[But] anyone who goes needs
training, unless they've served with an organization like the Christian
Peacemaker Teams (CPT) or have experience on the ground in Colombia."
Potential volunteers should contact the MSRO by phone at 502-569-2530, or by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications may be obtained by using the "One
Door" online service at www.pcusa.org/onedoor. Once there, click on
"Search," and then "International Service/Latin America" to find links to
the job descriptions or type www.pcusa.org/msr/application.htm.
Volunteers will help the PCI to minister to Colombia's massive refugee
population, which has been displaced by the violence that has wracked the
country for more than 40 years. They will document human rights abuses,
accompany church leaders as they speak with government authorities, and file
reports that help interpret the conflict for the wider church.
The cost to each volunteer is approximately $2,000 to cover expenses,
including airfare. The PC(USA) will provide risk management insurance and
medical evacuation if necessary, but not standard health insurance,
according to Maria Arroyo, the PC(USA)'s area coordinator for Latin America.
The PCI will provide housing. Fluency in Spanish is preferable and
volunteers must be at least 21 years old.
"We need someone there yesterday. Really quick," said Arroyo. "The church is
calling us constantly to put someone there. It is urgent. The church feels
very vulnerable, that surveillance of [its ministries] is continuing."
"People who apply for these positions need to be mature and have
self-confidence and a very strong Christian background that is committed to
nonviolence. They also need some knowledge of the situation. They cannot go
if they do not realize how risky this is," said Arroyo. She added that she
has the utmost confidence in the PCI to orient the accompaniers thoroughly
upon arrival in Barranquilla.
Training for accompaniers is being developed now by the Presbyterian Peace
Fellowship, based on elements of several international accompaniment groups,
including the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), Witness for Peace, and the
Fellowship for Reconciliation. A former CPT accompanier in Colombia and an
active Presbyterian, Charles Spring, will lead the first training in
Washington, D.C. beginning Nov. 11.
The Peace Fellowship is also recruiting candidates for accompaniment and
raising funds to defray some of the cost.
Rick Ufford-Chase, General Assembly moderator - who is already CPT-trained -
was in Barranquilla and Bogota in mid-September accompanying Mejia and other
church leaders. He prodded the GAC to get the accompaniment project under
way when he returned.
Arroyo said the goal is to put a full-time accompanier in Barranquilla in
January and that the denomination will accelerate the placement process to
do so. Ockels said it is a tight timetable.
The denomination has opened an Extra Commitment Opportunity account
(#051763) to help defray costs for travel and insurance. Donations may be
sent to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Individual Remittance Processing,
P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.
The PC(USA)'s mission service policies clearly state that the church does
not pay ransom if its personnel are kidnapped or held hostage.
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!