On the second floor of the MCC office in Bogota there are shelves of books. When I pass through I always snag one or two to bring back to the coast with me, the most recent being ¡Gracias! by Henri Nouwen. The book is Nouwen’s diary recording his time in Bolivia and Peru in the 1980s. As I read, I was struck by the similarities between his reflections and my own here in Colombia in 2014.
“This experience of belonging to each other by our common love for our Lord and common awareness of our task can create the space where God’s Spirit will descend and from where we can go out in many directions without ever feeling alone. After all, the first and most important witness to them who can say of us: ‘See how they love each other.’” (November 14, 1981 p. 43)
Nouwen came to South America with the Catholic Church; I came to Colombia with the Anabaptist Church, and more specifically with SEED. Living this experience with the other SEEDers has been such a blessing; we have become a group that truly loves each other. Having a foundation in which I tangibly experience God’s love has been a tremendous support for me, even if we are spread out around the country.
“I am not poor as my neighbors are. I will never be and will not ever be allowed to be by those who sent me here. I have to accept my own history and live out my vocation, without denying that history.” (January 20, 1982 p. 116)
In Libertad, I feel my privilege every day. I can go to the doctor and buy all the medicines I need; I have the means to buy fruits and vegetables when I want; I live in one of the nicest houses in town. I may be living here, but the history of these people is not my own and my daily life here is not the same as theirs. Still, I feel called to be here, and, despite our differences, we have come a long way listening, learning, and sharing with each other as neighbors.
“My own desire to be useful, to do something significant or to be a part of some impressive project is so strong… But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and to drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” (February 21, 1982 p. 148)
This pretty much sums up my first year in SEED: learning people’s names, eating with them, listening to stories, and forcing hugs on them. I am so grateful to be here, to have the opportunity to spend two years integrating into this town, and to accompany my new friends in their community processes. As Nouwen says, I have come to not only like them, but to truly love the people of this community.
Nouwen, Henri. “¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal.” Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY. 1996.