As Seeders, one of our many roles is to be involved in a church community where we are living. To differing degrees, every Seeder has transitioned into a new church culture and is being challenged, shaped, and is having their own beliefs tested. Personally, I have found myself challenged by certain theological beliefs, customs, and ideas that I have been exposed to during nine months visiting different Mennonite Brethren churches in Chocó. Among these differences, I have found it helpful to intentionally identify aspects I appreciate and can collaborate in. One question I keep coming back to is this: How does the church respond to the suffering, poverty, victims of inequality, and abuses of power? Let me pause for a minute and tell you a story.
Ricardo Murillo, 55, is from Bebedó. He is a farmer and a member of the Mennonite Brethren church. In 2004 he was forced to leave for Cali after violence between armed groups erupted near Bebedó. After four years of living in Cali, he returned to his hometown to participate in an agricultural project, just beginning through the MB social ministry. As one of the first members of this project, Ricardo had 2,500 plants that were a year and a half old, nearing production age. Now it’s gone, fumigated by the Colombian government: cacao, plantain, pineapple, yucca, everything. With his land unable to produce for the next few years, his drinking water contaminated, the health of his family at risk, and no way to eat, he once again is being forced to leave; victimized this time by the states ‘fight’ against illicit crops. He has kids in Cali, and so a place to stay at least for now, but he is unsure how he will continue on with limited options and resources.
This story is one of thousands in Chocó, and one of millions in Colombia. Ricardo has benefitted from the church’s social project. But how does the church further respond to Ricardo, a church member? I believe the Good News and the role of the church, especially in a region such as Chocó should be concrete. Through advocacy and practical alternatives it is our mission, as the church, to work for oppressed populations. I believe what the MB church is doing in Chocó – its role, its mission, its social ministry – is vital to a region that in many ways has been and continues to be abandoned by its government. Although we have our theological differences, I am excited to participate in this mission.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19.