“The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Facing the Challenge of a New Age, 1956.
When I embarked on the journey to be part of Mennonite Central Committee’s Seed Program in Colombia two years ago, I did not fully know what to expect. This was the very first I had pushed myself to be part of something completely new. The culture, language, country, geographical region, the people, the field of practicing community “development” all were new to me.
The first year of being part of my new assigned community in Chocó, Colombia was particularly difficult for me, due to different emotional challenges I was experiencing at the time. But even then, I was seeking ways that would enable me to fully integrate and be part of the beloved community in rural communities of Chocó. As our different tasks with the Seed Program come to an end in February, 2018, I have been reflecting on the concept of a beloved community.
I first learned about the concept of a beloved community from some of my favorite theologians, such as Henri Nouwen, James Cone and Martin Luther King, Jr. A beloved community is thus described as an inclusive, and diverse community of Christian believers, filled with agape love, forgiveness, and grace. It is also a community where its members seek to live in peace with each other, and when peace is broken, they try to reconcile with each other.
Over the past two years, the MCC Seed Program in Colombia has given me tremendous opportunities to experience what living in a beloved community looks like. It looks like loving and caring for your “neighbor” even when s/he keeps you awake when he plays very loud music at night. It is participating in local peace-building and reconciliation processes. It is fostering an environment of coexistence in a community that is not only diverse in ethnic identities, but also in faith, thoughts, culture, and worldviews, and learning to appreciate and be a part of it. It is sleeping on the floor with your faith brothers and sisters in a small space for four days when you are unable to travel back to your homes because of a civil strike. Thus, from the outset, the Mennonite Brethren Community in Chocó, which I have been primarily a part of, proved to fall into the definition of a beloved community. And the following two ways further explain how I have experienced and seen different elements of a beloved local church in Chocó.
Participating and Accompanying the MB Church in Condoto: In the past two years, I have been attending the MB Church in Condoto, Chocó. There, I have been learning how to sing local praise and worship songs, listening to Sunday sermons, and being intentional with spending the rest of the Sunday afternoon with one of the church members. While spending time with one of the women in the church, for example, Sister Ensa, Lucy, Vilma, or Gloria, I have learned a great deal about the local culture, history, and different challenges experienced by people in Chocó. I have also enjoyed learning how to cook local dishes, and appreciate eating local fruits, and foods I never eaten before such as a cow tongue!
I have also accompanied the church’s “Children for Peace” program located in Buenos Aires, one of the under-resourced and vulnerable neighborhood where most of the victims of armed conflicts in the region are resettled. In this neighborhood, I have not only received love, acceptance and respect from the children and women I have been accompanying but also I have learned a lot from the women who are leading this children program. Through this program the concept of collection action for children development, nurturing, love, and care has been implemented. And the “Good News of Jesus Christ” has been passed onto children participating in the program.
Accompanying Local Small-scale Cacao Farmers: With MB Church’s Agricultural Foundation (FAGROTES), I have been given many opportunities to see Chocó beyond the realm of the local church. With FAGROTES, we not only accompany farmers who are part of the MB Church but also other farmers who have interest in growing cacao or rice regardless of their religious affiliation or ethnic background. This to me, fostered an environment of inclusion and brotherly love and kindness in which the economic struggles of every cacao or rice farmer in rural communities mattered.
Accompanying FAGROTES has been one of my favorite experiences of participating in the Seed Program, mostly because it where I have been particularly challenged and pushed to grow as individual. It is where when you are a woman accompanying a Foundation where many of the participants are men, concepts of gender roles, and diverse ideas have got to clash while at the same time flourish. It is where grace and forgiveness has been practiced because the end of peace-building and community transformation is reconciliation, redemption (liberation from sin/injustices, disagreements, war, etc), and the creation and preservation of the beloved community.
When I look back at many beautiful experiences I have encountered, the lessons learned and unlearned, the relationships I have cultivated in the community, peace-building processes I have accompanied, and the relationships we have restored as Seeders in different communities across Colombia, it is fitting to say that I am happy that I have been a part of this learning, action, reflective, and beloved community of Chocó, the MB church, the Seed Colombia Community, and MCC Colombia at large.