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Finding peace values through pain and joy in Colombia (UM Global Ministries)

December 15, 2023

You show that you are Christ’s letter, delivered by us. You weren’t written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. You weren’t written on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:3 (CEB)

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – “I never received a toy growing up,” the leader of the NAR La Pista community told me at our last visit in October. “I remember the first box of toy cars I received was after signing the peace agreement. I still have it.” NAR stands for “New Areas for Reincorporation” for former members of the FARC guerilla group.

CEPALC has been in relationship with the communities of ex-combatants and peace signers in La Pista and the neighboring community, La Primavera, for the past few years, accompanying them in their peace process and reintegration. After more than 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia, these communities care deeply about teaching their children peace values. They invite us to work with the local elementary schools as well as hold space and activities for the women in the community to talk about their struggles with the ever-present machismo culture, learn about women’s rights and yes, even play a few games and have fun. Peace is not just the absence of weapons; it also requires building a culture of gender equality and respect within the community and beyond.

CEPALC’s pedagogy has always included games, theater, art, music and creative communication methods to amplify messages about human rights. I’ve noticed that the adult groups are hesitant to participate in games and play with puppets. They tend to think that adults have grown out of games, having fun, or laughing until they cry. While hesitant at first, they learn to open up and surrender to joy.

“I haven’t done this since I was a little girl,” the women share after they catch their breath from laughter during one of our workshops. Finding that childlike joy, wonder and creativity is part of the process of imagining a new, more equal and just society.

The commitment to the peace agreement here goes far beyond signing a document and laying down weapons. Former FARC combatants also created the humanitarian organization Reencuentros, (re-encounters), to search for the many people who have disappeared or gone missing during the years of conflict. They recently found in La Pista and La Primavera the remains of people who were believed to have been missing. They went through the process of properly exhuming the bodies, contacting family members and honoring them with a candlelight vigil. They’ve installed a plaque, marking their commitment to the search for others. Located on the main road near the entrance of the community, it reads: “To dream of a different country was just, to find them will be our mission. In memory of all the disappeared persons during the conflict. Every person deserves to be searched for.” 

When I read 2 Corinthians 3:3, I hear an invitation to put our values, faith and witness into action. In the case of the communities that work with CEPALC, it is an invitation to truly live out the values of peace. It requires holding space for the personal and collective traumas while also finding room for joy and celebration for a new path forward. In that difficult balance is where we meet Jesus working alongside us, sharing both our pain and our joy.

Hannah Reasoner is a Global Missionary serving with CEPALC (Latin American Ecumenical Center for Inclusive Communication) as the assistant for partnerships and network development in Bogotá, Colombia. Her first assignment there was as a Global Mission Fellow in 2017.