by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation
“One of my greatest dreams is to learn how I can be a peacemaker. But before I go to the peace academy, the best way for me to learn is from other communities. I want to learn about their pain, their happiness, dreams, frustrations, and concerns. So I want to learn about you,” says Javier Márquez, an intercultural communication associate with Franconia Conference this year.
Javier is a member of Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). His placement is to work with the Conference communication team and record immigrant stories. IVEP is a yearlong volunteer work and cultural exchange opportunity for young adults.
“I have been considering this opportunity with IVEP for a long time. I am so excited to have this amazing work,” Javier shares.
Javier grew up in his ancestral home of Suacha, a city in the center of Colombia. He now lives in Bogotá, the capital. He has four siblings and his family is large, “like most Latin families,” Javier says. He is part of Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogotá, and he is proud of his community because they take very seriously the call to be peacemakers.
Javier has also taken this call seriously; he refused Colombia’s obligatory military conscription for young men, and in doing so entered a two year legal process. With the support of the Mennonite church in Colombia and the nonprofit organization Justapaz, Javier finally won his case as a conscientious objector. “I believe that the nonviolent path of Jesus goes beyond refusing to be a part of wars and violence but also to work for peace with passion and commitment,” Javier reflects.
Four years ago with friends and the support of the Mennonite church and Justapaz, Javier began an activism project about becoming a conscientious objector. The group is now called CoNova and is comprised of many different kinds of young people: students, writers, nurses, DJs, lawyers, psychologists, and more.
“Colombia is the land of coffee, salsa and Vallenato music, orchids and emeralds, traditional dishes litke sancocho (soup), aguapanela (hot sugary drink), arepas (cheese and corn flour cake), ajiaco (chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob) and bandeja paisa (fried pork belly, red beans, plantains, and more),” Javier says. “And it is impossible not to mention that Colombia is the land of Love in the Time of Cholera (a classic novel by Gabriel García Márquez) and of Macondo (the fictional town in another famous work by García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude).”
Javier arrived in Pennsylvania in mid-August and is living in South Philadelphia. Each morning he drinks Colombian coffee and tries to read a poem in English to learn new words. He is still learning what a typical day will look like; so far he has tried to always listen with intense focus and open his eyes to everything around him so that he can understand the different ways of doing things here.
“I have learned that the streets are too similar here; I say this jokingly because I have gotten lost twice. Never in my life have I learned so many new words, but at the same time, I’ve never been so quiet. I have learned a lot,” Javier shares.
Javier has been visiting immigrant churches such as Centro de Alabanza, Philadelphia Praise Center, and Indonesian Light, to connect with people and write about their immigrant stories. He hopes to meet others who dance salsa, as he loves to do. When he returns to Colombia after his time with IVEP, Javier would like to work in community-oriented journalism.