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What does home mean for you?

The Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogotá, Colombia has a weekly meeting every Wednesday called “Moment for Peace” which one week in April this year was dedicated to the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia.  To begin, one participant read an acrostic about being displaced in Colombia that she and her two daughters had written. Then the participants divided into small groups to pray for those who are displaced, for Colombian families and homes, solidarity, governments and for peace in Colombia.  Each group raised their voices to God, asking for justice and peace in Colombia.This was followed by a short biblical reflection on Ruth 1:1-22 that showed Ruth’s solidarity with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who was widowed and was therefore an economic refugee. For six years churches in Colombia, the United States and Canada have worked together for peace during the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia in April each year. This year the Days of Prayer for peace in Colombia took place on Sunday, April 15th.

Many church and faith organizations the U.S., Canada and Colombia raised their voices together in prayer for Colombia.They prayed for peacemakers in Colombia, churches, human rights defenders, people who in various ways are seeking healing for their wounds and protection for people who are vulnerable.  They ask for strength to continue working for peace and to speak truth to the powers.  On Monday, April 16th, faith communities and churches participated in political advocacy activities asking their respective governments to  support the displaced in Colombia. They also ask that their governments support a process that will lead to an end of the armed conflict between the government, guerrilla, paramilitary groups and narco-trafficking groups that continues to displace families. 

The theme of the campaign this year was “A Place Called Home”.  A suggested creative activity was to make paper houses based on this theme.  At Moment for Peace in Bogotá each person had a paper house on which they drew images or wrote down words or phrases that symbolize what home means to them.  They decorated the houses with different colors, drawings, words and statistics about displacement and the armed conflict in Colombia along with messages asking for an end to the armed conflict and that justice and peace would prevail.

Then the participants met in small groups again to share about how they decorated their house and why, each person sharing what home means for them.  Many people spoke about nature, water, environment, and family as important parts of feeling at home.  
To close the meeting they watched a video called “May Peace Reign” showing beautiful images of Colombia along with a song written and performed by a music group from a church comprised of displaced people, Remanso de Paz.  The song asks, “Where is my son? Where is my brother? Where is my friend that they took from this town? Where is my farm? Where is my livestock? Where are my crops?  I feel so alone”.  It continues saying “May peace reign, may love reign, and in our country may pain cease”. 

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The team at Justapaz (Christian Association for Justice, Peace and Non-violent Action) in Bogotá, Colombia incorporated the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia into their monthly team meeting.  Since the theme is strongly connected to displacement they reflected upon the actual situation of displacement in Colombia.  According to a report from CODHES, today there are 5.5 million Colombians displaced, more than 10% of the population of Colombia.  Displacement continues to happen today.

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After reflecting on displacement in Colombia the Justapaz team divided into three groups to discuss three different Bible passages: Matthew 2:13-18, Exodus 3:7-12 and Genesis 21:8-21.  They discussed that God is with the poor, discriminated, marginalized and vulnerable.  God always somehow responds to our suffering and petitions.  Out of the biblical reflection came the conclusion that one of the main causes of displacement is power: getting, maintaining, exercising, or expanding it.  In the passage from Matthew 2:16 we see that King Herod is afraid of losing his power to Jesus so he orders all male babies to be killed.  This also happens with the armed groups in Colombia; to maintain their power they violate the rights of the Colombian civilian population.

Justapaz team members built and decorated paper houses with messages of hope in the face of displacement.  The houses were sent to the Chocó region of Colombia which has suffered heavily from displacement to be displayed as an act of solidarity at a meeting on land issues.  The time closed with a prayer for those who have been displaced and for peace in Colombia.

On the Atlantic Coast of Colombia, the church Remanso de Paz (Haven of Peace), celebrated Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia.  Ten years ago the community was displaced from Macayepo and have relocated and found a new home in another town, Sincelejo.  In their special church service to celebrate Days of Prayer and Action, after a time of praise and worship, the Pastor Adelina Zúñiga shared the story of the community’s displacement.  The children made an acrostic that read “I Believe in Peace” and the dance group of the church performed a dance for peace.  Felipe Montes reminded the community that during the displacement there were also times of laughter and happiness.  Then as part of the service they carried out a foot washing ceremony during which they washed the feet of everyone in the church as a symbol of the humility and legacy of Jesus.  Following the church service the church organized a March for Peace in their neighborhood.  They waved white flags and balloons and wore white shirts to raise awareness in the community about the great value of peace.  To end their celebration they had a prayer time and watched a film about peace.  nios-art-amanda

At the same time a congregation in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois focused their Sunday service on the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia.  At the beginning of the service they lit a candle for their Colombian Sister Church.  The worship songs were selected with Colombia in mind and they sang one song in Spanish.  They read a litany about the hope that we have in Christ and the blessings here on earth contrasted with the reality of poverty that we face here on earth, watched a presentation about a displaced community in Mampujan and closed with a collective prayer.  After the church service some people stayed to eat and speak together about their Colombian Sister Church and the situation in Colombia.  
In Portland, Oregon another congregation dedicated their Sunday service to peace in Colombia and to remember their Colombian Sister Church.  Bob Buxman, a member of the church who recently spent a month in Colombia with their Sister Church, shared about his time in Colombia.  A Colombian church member, Gladys Matiz, shared about the persecution that her family suffered during the 1950s in Colombia that many other families also suffered and continue to suffer.  Hearing her personal story made the situation in Colombia more personal for many people in the church. Linda Rush, who lived and worked with their Colombian Sister Church for three years, read a children’s story about a travelling library on the back of a donkey in Colombia.  After the service many members of the church signed postcards to send to the Obama Administration asking President Obama to support peace in Colombia.

123 In the United States, petitions include asking the American congress to provide more support to displaced people and voicing concerns about the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FFTA) between the United States and Colombia.  In order to raise awareness about displacement in Colombia many also made paper houses to symbolize the wish for a safe and secure home for the 5.2 million displaced people in Colombia.  The houses were displayed in community centers and in the streets before they were sent to the government in Washington.  In addition, thousands of postcards were sent to President Obama asking for changes to American policies regarding Colombia.
Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia are a great opportunity for people to join together in the United States, Canada and Colombia around the issue of peace in Colombia.  Many churches in these three countries use this opportunity to draw the attention of their congregations to the situation in Colombia, the need for peace and the fact that many policies in the United States and Canada have negative effects in Colombia.  These churches ask God for peace and ask the government to implement policies and practices that promote peace.
We invite you to participate with us next April in the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia and to continue to work together for peace in Colombia throughout the entire year.
Written by Amanda Guldemond, May 2012
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