Ubuntu Journey to Colombia

United Methodist Women members explore dignity and peace with partners in Colombia on an Ubuntu Explorer Journey.

Ubuntu Journey to Colombia
Local women greet the United Methodist Ubuntu Journey team in San Onofre, Columbia, April 2017.

And a harvest of righteousness is grown from the seed of peace planted by peacemakers.—James 3:18 (ISV)

Buenos dias. Bom dia. Good morning. We exchanged greetings in Spanish, Portuguese and English during an Ubuntu Journey to Colombia in April 2017. Our hosts welcomed three pastors from Brazil: Thaiana Assis, Andreia Fernandes and Andrea Reily Rocha Soares, who is also United Methodist Women regional missionary in Latin America. Team leader Paula Morgan and seven others from six U.S. states completed this ubuntu team.

Cartagena, Colombia, a UNESCO Heritage City and ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2017, was our home base for the trip. Stereotypes of Colombia paint it as a violent country full of conflict—and some parts of the country do face a high rate of violent crime, but our experience was a welcoming one. We were greeted by Luvis Diaz Chavez, the national women’s coordinator of the Colombian Methodist Church, and local women dedicated to establishing a culture of dignity and peace.

Chavez provided cultural context and the background for Colombia’s peace processes, mainly between government and rebel forces, and Pastor Denise Cecila Marquez shared how Colombia is working to “heal the wounds of the heart as we gain strength to be peace builders.” She reminded us that we are the salt of the earth and God’s light like a full moon. Familiar teachings sounded different from our rooftop seats near the Caribbean Sea. Sharing communion and the simultaneous reciting of the Lord’s Prayer in three languages was a highlight for us all.

We traveled south to San Onofre and were greeted by Colombian sisters at the Methodist church there. The cross and flame logo at the church was in the shape of a peace dove. One of the women, Alexandra, shared that in her predominantly Catholic country the Methodist church appealed to her thanks to her pastor, Catalina Torres.

Fellowship and spiritual growth

The pastors with us from Brazil presented the Bible story of Hagar (Genesis 16), and we discussed it together in the storefront church. Women spoke of how they could relate to Hagar’s loss of dignity, associating her situation with modern day teen pregnancy: the woman is used, the man is out of the picture and the woman must find her way.

After our Bible study, dancers performed while we sipped delicious Colombian coffee. Their energy filled the room as we learned more about the local culture and our Christ connection. We joined them for church on Sunday morning.

We also visited Flor del Campo and a Methodist church on the outskirts of Cartagena. From the deck of the second floor we could see the surrounding community of government housing for refugees of the narco-paramilitary conflicts. As we toured the church we learned about their community outreach programs: basketball, party center rental and economic education. We met the women of the church of all ages, including United Methodist Women scholarship recipient Melissa Joanna Aldana Morales, who is studying languages.

In contrast to city life, we also were welcomed by the rural community of Brisas del Mar. We visited the Rev. Clinton Rabb Medical Clinic. Local pastor the Rev. Javier Ochoa spoke about how the community has worked to provide a guest house for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams and also a pavilion with a thatched roof for community use.

We walked through the village guided by women and children who lived there. Roosters, dogs and a burro followed us as the residents pointed out their school and their homes. The women of Brisas placed bananas, palm nuts, rice and yucca near the altar. They also know how to plant seeds for peace. One of the women we met was a refugee from Venezuela, and two others had lost their hometown to violence.

The women presented a skit sharing the daily life of a rural woman: gathering water, cooking over an open fire, washing clothes by hand while caring for children. Recently they organized a trash cleanup at the entrance of their village. In response to our team’s acting out the Bible story of the woman who was bent over (Luke 13:10-17), we all shared things that weigh us down and keep us from taking a straighter stand. The entire community joined in dancing, drumming and singing on our final evening. Mother Nature provided an encore: millions of twinkling fireflies.

We exchanged gifts and shared food, having our fill of fish, plantains, arroz con coco (rice with coconut milk) and chicken empanadas.

Our Ubuntu sisters, who taught us “I am a woman; I am peace,” will always be in our hearts.

Kevin Schaner is United Methodist Volunteer in Mission and United Methodist Women member at Church of the Saviour United Methodist in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Posted or updated: 12/5/2017 12:00:00 AM

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