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Better Together provides a space to share experiences with – and strategies for engaging – three critical global issues that PC(USA) global partners are challenging us to address together as the body of Christ.  These three issues are 1) addressing root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children; 2) sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and 3) working for reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own.  The purpose of Better Together is to feed a conversation to shape concrete action strategies at the October 2012 “Dallas II: Better Together” consultation and beyond. 

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September 27, 2012

Violence and Reconciliation

Rev. Mamie Broadhurst is currently serving as a mission co-worker in Colombia, South America with partners in the Presbyterian Church of Colombia. Appointed in 2009, she has been a pastoral accompanier for human rights and displaced people and also helps interpret the reality of Colombian life to people in the United States. She will finish her term of service this year and return to the United States for mission interpretation with her husband Rev. Richard Williams and her daughter Nora Elena. You can read more about Mamie's adventures and experiences here.

“In the midst of a culture of violence, we choose to live the resurrection.” That is what Germán told me when I asked how he was able to move so quickly between tears and laughter. We were visiting communities that had returned to their land after being pushed off by paramilitaries and who still lived in fear each day come nightfall. As we drove between huge multinational palm plantations that supplanted the local farmers and contracted the paramilitaries, I was keenly aware of two things. First, of the many armed men that I could not distinguish as army or “security guard” and second of the huge gap between the housing and subsistence of the local farmers versus that of those who controlled the vast majority of their land. What I realized later was the strong tie between those two realities.

You see, the three themes, or Critical Global Issues, of Presbyterian World Mission are not really so very distinct or discrete. They are more like a braided strand which often makes them that much more difficult to untangle and follow. As Rev. Diego Higuita of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) said in an earlier post,> “It is when the church gets involved in complex, contentious issues like hunger, poverty, exclusion, injustice, inequality, and violence in all its expressions that it is really evangelizing.” And as I read Sarah Henken’s testimony, I would say the work of the IPC evangelized her all over again. So it is too that poverty, and its root causes, has reflection in each of the other axes. In the case of these farmers and Colombia, violence and poverty are tremendously intertwined.

Part of the challenge then is to see how we in the United States are a part of this, and how we perpetuate some of these problems internationally. There is always the issue of US resource use (overuse) as well as our stubborn insistence on increasing our own economy rather than considering a part of the greater world economy (see Josh Heikeilla’s reflection), but there are also ways in which we directly contribute to the impoverishment and violence in which people in Colombia (and around the world) live. Take palm oil, for example…

“What came as a shock, though, was that the specific palm oil projects Macaco was delivering had received funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of an "alternative livelihoods" strategy meant to wean farmers off growing coca leaf. The U.S. agency, however, had neglected to look beyond the formal list of members of the cooperative to see the violence and human rights violations associated with the projects. USAID had halted similar projects with another company around the same time after U.S.-based groups raised concerns over its alleged paramilitary ties, and claimed to have instituted better procedures to screen land projects. But its failure to adequately implement them in the Macaco case reinforced concerns that the United States seemed willing to turn a blind eye to rights abuses.” Click here to read the full article.

I think part of living the resurrection is figuring out how not to participate in creating further scenes of death for the farmers I visited with Germán through monitoring our own government’s spending and holding it accountable. Through this and other means, my fervent prayer is that we can help create a more just society which philosopher John Rawls says is one in which “if you knew everything about it, you'd be willing to enter it in a random place", and that we could do so globally. If we did, I think we would see reductions in violence and the good news would truly be proclaimed.

Other interesting links:

If It Were My Home - a web page that allows you to compare living conditions in your own country with that of another.

Called to Colombia – the Economics Remix – from our website, but with all the posts that have “economics” tagged. You can explore whatever other topic using the tag cloud to the right of the blog text.

Tags: cgi, colombia, dallas ii, ipa, mission, pcusa, peacemaking, pma, reconciliation