His life and livelihood have been threatened for over 17 years, and he still can smile and laugh.
For the last two weeks we had visited our daughter Hannah in Colombia. Her work is to accompany people in the area of human rights. They are to walk beside people who might lose something. Hannah and her team partner brought us to two farming communities to see what their work is all about.
The first group of farmers had been given the land almost 30 years ago. The landowner was a risk taker, and eventually it did not work out, and he went bankrupt. He gave the local farmers the opportunity to receive the land he owned, to farm. Now his son, and other powerful military and economic forces want it for themselves. The farmers grow corn, sugar cane, some fruit, and milk ccws. Many of them live in the small town nearby, and go out to their land everyday. Hannah and I had breakfast with one couple, while Shirley and Pierre Shantz ( also from Elmira ) has breakfast elsewhere. The farmers that I shared the meal with has been under threat for 30 years, first by the communist rebels, and now by the right-wing paramilitaries. He and his wife have a beautiful flower garden around their house, and they have a wonderful view of their farm. They have no children, so they hire people during harvest.
On the day we visited with this community, Hannah and Pierre spent 5 hours trying to resolve a legal issue concerning the land. This has been in court for years. How would, if you are a farmer or business owner , feel if you never knew when your livelihood would be taken away from you ?
The second community is facing the same issue, that someone who has almost unlimited resources wants their land. The local pastor is the community leader who had led this group of farmers for over 17 years. His life has been threatened , and at times he has had to leave the community for his own safety. He has used all his skills to bring many international organizations to know about the case. He even got a Swiss aid group to help them to begin to raise cacao beans that would be turned into chocolate . Hannah told us her role in the this community is to provide pastoral care. They often come for a week at a time, and talk to the farmers about their lives. When we were there, we visited four or five families to listen to their lives.
In the afternoon, we listened to the pastor’s story. We talked to be about his work as a farmer, a pastor and a community organizer. The church is in the process of building a new church. It will be twice as big, and they are looking forward to being in the new place . The pastor is also a bricklayer, so he was laying brick in the new church the day that we were there. He talked what is like to have his life threatened. The local government has assigned him a bodyguard 24/7, to keep his safe. God has been with him and the community through this process. In the morning, we listened to his wife’s story about how God has called them to this church and community. She also talked about listening and following the voice of God. Life is difficult, but good.
About 4:30 pm the day we were there, the pastor told me through Pierre that he felt a prophecy from God that I should preach at the service that evening. How could I say no. Hannah had told me that they might ask me. So what would you say to this community ?
I am white, wealthy, a man and from Canada. I have all the privileges of the world. My life is not threatened by richer people than me. The pastor and his wife have said that they have trusted in God. That is all you need. So, I told three stories from our community about trusting in God. It seemed to be so out of context, but I did get a few amens.
But, this is what the Gospel is, telling stories of God working in our lives. Nothing more…nothing less. AMEN. AMEN.