Colombia’s Mennonite churches are again calling on congregations in the United States to join the cry for justice, peace and healing in Colombia during the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace on April 18 and 19.
In response to the call, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Washington Office has prepared activities on the theme, Face the Displaced, for congregations and other groups to use. The activities include calls to prayer and opportunities to witness to the violence and injustices in Colombia.
With nearly 5 million internally displaced persons, according to CODHES, a Colombian human rights organization, Colombia is home to a severe, yet hidden, humanitarian crisis. Many people have fled their homes in the face of the armed conflict between government forces, newly re-formed paramilitary groups, and guerrillas, all vying for power and territory.
In October 2009, The Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action (Justapaz), an MCC partner, and other organizations participated in a delegation to observe the humanitarian and human rights situation in the southern district of Córdoba. The findings from this mission represent an alarming precedent. They illustrate the growing humanitarian crisis, a deterioration of respect for human rights in the area and increased violence as a result of burgeoning paramilitary actions.
Colombia suffers an 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 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 doing 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.
Instructions for hosting portrait-making gatherings are included in the MCC U.S. Washington Office’s packet of worship resources and advocacy materials. The packet also includes prayers, a bulletin insert and a sample letter to lawmakers. Sign up to participate and/or to learn more at washington.mcc.org/days, or contact Theo Sitther at the MCC U.S. Washington Office, 202-544-6564, firstname.lastname@example.org.