Two years to plant the seed of love and peace in communities of Colombia began with two months of arduous preparation: study sessions, devotional times, cultural exchanges, koinonia times (communion), among other activities, were the agenda of these two months.
Initially we had two weeks of orientation in the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia, where I met the other group members of Seed III. One of the wonderful components of the Seed program is being a part of a multicultural community and sharing with young people from other countries, contexts, and different life stories. I remember many neat moments with the group, from sharing meals to playing a good Dutch Blitz match. Over these two months, we have managed to build meaningful relationships between us, “all in one spirit.” Now that the orientation time has now ended, we have parted with much sadness and affection for one another, yet are very pleased and excited by the experience that awaits us in the communities.
When we began our orientation to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Bolivia, I was filled with great pride to serve this organization. Its mission, vision, values, theology, history, objectives and program are great. When your heart has always had the desire to serve and work for a better world and you realize that there are organizations such as MCC, which has the same desire and mission, it is simply wonderful. “Relief, development and peace in the name of Jesus” – that is MCC.
We had the opportunity to travel to the region of the Bolivian Chaco and visit a Mennonite colony and a Guarani village there. For me this was a new world to visit and know, something super interesting and far away from our own reality. I loved the simplicity and hospitality of the Mennonites – and I can’t forget to mention their delicious sausage! The Guarani people impressed me with their struggle and pursuit of happiness over many years.
I cannot talk about my time in Bolivia without mentioning how beautiful it was to find myself in this country with another Nicaraguan, Lissete, who is an MCC country representative in Bolivia. I arrived with a lot of nostalgia for Nicaragua, but meeting Lissette encouraged me. It was comforting to hear about her experiences and receive words of encouragement. It was also comforting to meet our beloved supreme commander, Nathaniel, who is the Seed Colombia program co-facilitator, and had been in Nicaragua for a year; to hear him speak about my country and how he especially loves Nicaragua was very neat.
After two weeks came the anticipated moment of leaving for Colombia. I was very anxious to know what the country where I will be living the next two years of my life is like. A beautiful view from the plane, a very large city with many buildings, very nice parks, a very cold climate, and super friendly people – that’s what Bogotá, capital of Colombia, is like.
We got to Bogotá and had a welcome lunch at the office of CCM. It was exciting when we walked into the office and saw our photos on the map of Colombia designating the places where we would serve. Once there, we were assigned to different families to live with them during the time of orientation. Along with my partner Godswill from Zimbabwe, I was assigned to live with a couple who were the parents of three boys, all who were grown up and living outside the country for various reasons. They really were like mom and dad for us at this time. Living with Godswill was very interesting, mainly due to communication, as he hardly spoke Spanish and I speak very little English – but despite this, we were able to achieve understanding between us. In a group conversation, he said that I had been his guide to everyday life in a Latin American country. In general, we were very different in our tastes in food and music. While I liked to go down the elevator, he always wanted to go down the stairs; I wanted to travel around using the Transmilenio and he wanted to take the bus – that’s how we lived, lol.
Every week we studied two to three different topics in our formal sessions, all very relevant topics for our service in the community. For me, exploring themes that I had never studied before has led me to think about new things. It has been a rich learning time and it is now very exciting to know that we will continue to study short term and long term modules of study when we are in our communities, as well as many readings and practices that contribute to this process.
In these months I have learned a lot about Colombia from a macro perspective – or as my boss would say, from the perspective of “seeing the forest.” We will be working in one tree in the forest, and when we are in the communities we will only be seeing that tree, but it is good to be aware of the larger view. Honestly, before coming to Colombia, I could not imagine, or rather I did not know, the magnitude of many of the situations that this country faces. Now that I am here, I have been surprised by what actually happens. Now my prayers have greater certainty.
The time to travel to the communities has come. San Nicolas and Cazucá are waiting for me. They are both communities in urban settings, mostly populated by people who have been victims of forced displacement. I will be supporting the youth ministry from the Mennonite Church in San Nicolas and the Mennonite Brethren Church in El Progreso. I can say that the seed is ready now that I know the terrain, and I expect that the environmental conditions are ready to proceed with planting this seed.
By Pedro Luis Vanegas