Save the Date: Call for prayer and action for Colombia on April 18 & 19

—Joining with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the International Brethren in Christ Association (IBICA), the Brethren in Christ Church in North America encourages congregations to take part in the MCC-sponsored Days of Prayer and Action on April 18–19, 2010, on behalf of our Colombian brothers and sisters.

Soldiers, heavily armed, patrol the area outside the BIC church plant in Medellín, Colombia.

The theme of the initiative, “Face the Displaced,” emphasizes the dire situations of the nearly 5 million internal persons who have been displaced over the last few years due to armed conflict between government forces, newly re-assembled paramilitary group, guerrillas, and drug cartels, all vying for power and territory, according to CODHES, a Colombian human rights organization.

The center of the violence has been in Córdoba, a city in the northwest corner of Colombia. However, Trevor Main, a missionary in Colombia with BIC World Missions, reports that the volatility has had significant effects on Brethren in Christ churches across the country. In October 2009, more than 30 people were brutally murdered near a BIC church plant in Medellín, which lies about 200 kilometers (100 miles) south of Córdoba. Most of the deaths were linked to battles between gangs and drug dealers. In December of last year, a rise in gang activity forced some BIC families to leave the area and others to face the realities of continued violence and family estrangement.

To counteract gang violence, the BIC church plant in Medellín, Colombia has begun afterschool soccer and peacemaking programs for area youth.

And on April 3 of this year, when Main visited the Medellín Church, he observed that “During the children’s activity and the church service, heavily armed soldiers patrolled the street and ‘stood guard’ in front of the building for most of the time we were there.”

Accounts of more serious danger in nearby parts of the country reached Main through a Medellín church member whose wife had travelled to visit her family in a part of the country suffering from high levels of insecurity. “He [the husband] said that while she was there, two bombs were detonated in the town and that, according to her, whole villages in the area were being displaced due to threats on people’s lives,” Main recounts.

Much of this unrest can be attributed to the country’s inequitable distribution of wealth, with two-thirds of the population living in poverty, according to the Colombian National Institute of Administration and Statistics, while a small portion is wealthy. Across the country, municipal and departmental governments are compromised through paramilitary links. Analysts and church communities report that powerful economic interests in the drug trade and other big business, such as palm oil and mining, are behind the violence and forced displacement.

These economic injustices exacerbate the four-decades-long conflict, producing grave violations of humanitarian law, displacement and a high murder rate—some 2,500 to 3,000 a year, according to government, international news and human rights sources. Between January and October 2009, paramilitary groups, which were allegedly rearmed, assassinated six church leaders and caused the displacement of five communities, a total of 1,230 people.

On Sunday, April 18, Colombian Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches ask congregations, faith-based groups and organizations to worship, reflect, and pray for the victims, perpetrators, and peacemakers.

On Monday, April 19, churches are asked to make a public witness by sharing stories, speaking with government officials, holding public vigils, and participating in other advocacy activities. As a part of the “Face the Displaced” campaign, organizers are asking groups to prepare by assembling portraits of the faces of displaced Colombians for public display. After April, the “faces” will be sent to Washington, D.C. for display and presentation to policymakers.

Click here for more event information and resources—including a five-day devotional, a bilingual litany, and ideas for worship—from MCC.

Adapted from news story by Jenny Dillon released by MCC on March 5, 2010.