Paramilitaries looked for the ex-guerrilla, Juan, in order to kill him. They found him in a small Christian community whose members, far from turning him in, protected him with their own bodies, risking their own lives for one that had caused death and desolation; through this, they saved his life and transformed his existence.
While this story may seem to be fictitious, it is true. Pedro Stucky, the pastor of the Mennonite church of Teusaquillo, tells this story to men and women, victims of the violence, who want to build sanctuaries of peace in the midst of a tense environment created by the armed conflict in which Colombians live.
As part of the Seed team, it has been interesting to study the context and history of Colombia from an academic standpoint, where one reflects on statistics of death and terror. However, it has been even more impactful to listen to testimonies of horror from the lips of the protagonists. Whether it is through direct conversation or through theater, seeing glimpses of hope in them makes me think about this question: What, as a Peruvian, can I do in a Colombian context so marked by violence? How can I contribute?
During a retreat entitled “Construction of Sanctuaries of Peace and Advocacy,” which took place in Cachipay, members of churches and social institutions, led by the Anabaptist working group, met together to analyze their social and community situations in order to prepare themselves to make changes. In order for this to occur, it was necessary to be ready to forgive and receive victimizers, treating them with love, building sanctuaries of peace amongst a people of peace, with a message of peace, in a place of peace.
Facing this scenario, what mechanisms should be used to construct this desired peace? How does one bring reconciliation to people with open wounds? How does one convey the message of forgiveness for those who still live the memories of violence and death? They say that if a war lasts for fifty years, fifty years more are necessary to work towards peace. It sounds logical, but how does one explain that to someone who has lost everything and has not found comfort in the laws of authorities that favor the victimizers more than the victims?
The recently deceased Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemies, you have to work with your enemy; then he becomes your partner.” These words have endured through history and have become hope for those that desire peace – a word that sounds difficult to achieve in a context that has suffered political and social calamities throughout its history.
It is inspiring, however, to get to know the work toward peace that some Anabaptist churches are currently doing. They are sharing their theology of peace, which entails seeing the other as equal, and shouting the radical love that Jesus preached and practiced, including love towards the enemy. This theology accepts the risk and suffering that comes with enduring, tolerating, and understanding others with mercy, kindness, humility, patience, and a capacity to forgive.
Another aspect of the work for peace is nonviolence, and proclaiming that working for social change should avoid violence in any form in order to make fundamental improvements, without putting one’s personal integrity at risk. Nonviolence is not being passive and waiting with one’s arms crossed. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to nonviolence as the resistance to wrong and oppression, that one does not look to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but rather to win their friendship and comprehension. Nonviolence is an attack on the forces of evil, not against the people who practice it; it is accepting suffering without retaliation; it is where love and a refusal to hate the enemy are central.
One of the best examples of nonviolence that I have heard was from my companion Simon. He cited an emblematic case in which Colombian university students, while holding a peaceful protest march that demanded improvements for the students, hugged the members of the police. This impactful case brought positive repercussions for the policies and the population, and it triggered the official withdrawal of the bill about higher education in congress, as was announced by President Juan Manuel Santos on November 11, 2011.
Working toward peace through nonviolence can seem utopian, but it is possible. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, a prestigious Portuguese sociologist, said that reality cannot be reduced to only what exists, but that utopia is also a part of reality. Daydreaming about a Colombia at peace is not ambitious – it is hopeful. What’s more, when we look at the people who attended the retreat in Cachipay, we see people willing to achieve changes without creating violence, not fighting terror with more terror, but rather with love.
As Seeders, coming from different parts of the world, we bring different lenses and perspectives, and the Colombian reality is still foreign to us. Yet I know that we can take off our sandals in order to walk, share, and see reality from a different perspective – from the eyes of the community. I know that the horizon is still stormy, but I am certain that we will learn to live in family, practicing radical love, walking and working hand in hand with our brothers and sisters, and contributing, in an imperceptible way, one grain of sand to the construction of peace, “working as if everything depended on us and praying as if everything depended on God.”