Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Community Organizing for Peace and Justice

The St. Paul Lutheran Church in southern Bogota has been searching for ways to reconnect with its surrounding community which, in some ways, has changed drastically over the last 50 years. In discussions with Pastor Nelson and other church leadership, we decided that a congregation-based community organizing model is what they are looking for.

Pastor Nelson Celis of St. Paul Luthern Church in Southern Bogota. Photo by Katie.
While the concept of community organizing is new to the members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, they are very excited to begin a process that has the goal of revitalizing the relationships with the surrounding community as well as strengthening the church’s search for peace and justice in its community. We created a plan for the 2017 year that will involve weekly studies and monthly workshops for the community to strengthen its understanding of community organizing from theoretical, theological, and practical perspectives. These studies and workshops will go until July, when the congregation will come together and make a plan for how to move forward in connecting to the wider community.

Last Sunday, February 12, we held the first workshop after worship. With about 40 people attending the worship service, 22 stayed for the workshop (not bad for an education hour). This group of 22 was also very diverse in terms of age and gender, showing a large range of interest on the topic and the goal. After studying foundational texts and ideas about community organizing, the participants began to map out their surrounding community as well as identifying allies in terms of the search for peace and justice. We left inspired, hopeful and excited to continue studying this topic, and for St. Paul Lutheran Church to reconnect with the community. 

Some of the group that stayed to learn more about community organizing just as we were getting started. Photo by Katie.
Smaller groups mapping out their community and identifying potential partners in their work
for peace  and justice at the community level. Photo by Katie.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Regional Christian Formation Retreats

We are starting off 2017 with a visit to each of the four regions of Colombia where the Lutheran Church has congregations. The retreats are with the Sunday School teachers and the faith formation leaders in the congregations.  

Zulma and I, along with the coordinators in each region have been in charge of these retreats. We have completed three of the four retreats, with the final one this Saturday. It is a full-day retreat focusing in the morning on Baptism, how we live into our Baptismal promises and how we teach the children in the church to do the same. In the afternoon we look at our own emotions and how that affects the ways we interact and teach children. 

In Paz de Ariporo (The Llanos region)  the group always has the meetings in the kiosk outside, because closed indoors is too hot. In this photo the group was doing small group presentations. (Photo by Katie)

In Sogamoso (Boyaca Region), here I am wrapping up the section about emotions and how that affects our work with children. We used the book "7 Desires of Every Heart". I divided the group into 4 groups and gave each group a 'desire' to work through - looking at 4 places in their life: how that desire was fulfilled and not in their own childhood, and then how their are each fulfilling and not that desire in the children in their classes. In every region this has turned into delightful conversations. (Photo by Zulma Ojeda)
The other piece, as I mentioned, is looking at our Baptismal promises and how we live into that. At the end of the whole day, in an activity of closure, I have lead an activity of remembering your Baptism. In my experiences in the states, this is a normal/common activity for us, or at the very least, nothing new. That is not the case here. I gave everyone a piece of paper with summary and key points from the day, on the bottom of the paper, in big italic letter is said (in Spanish of course): Remember your Baptism, you are a beautiful child of God, in your Baptism you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. 
Above, Juliana is marking Pastor Sergio in the retreat in Bucaramanga (Eastern Region). (Photo by Katie)

Photo of the participants in the Boyaca Region, (Photo by Katie)

Participants in the retreat in the Eastern Region, (Photo by Belky Hernandez) [We forgot to take a photo of the group in the Llanos Region, and haven't had the Central Region retreat yet.]

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Human Rights Retreat

Last year (2016) the human rights program of IELCO along with the Lutheran School of Theology hosted a series of video forums titled: Cries of Creation (Gritos de la Creación, in Spanish), where once a month we would watch a documentary that helped shine light on the interconnections between human rights, poverty and the environment.  A steady group of interested people began to form as we discussed these documentaries from a theological perspective as well as the possible ways local congregations can become involved in the issue of each documentary (consumerism, GMOs, fair trade, indigenous peoples’ rights, climate change, etc.).

To kick off this year with this same group, we planned a retreat into the Iguaque national park in the mountains of the Boyacá region of Colombia. It was a time to strengthen the group, to continue in learning about the issues, and to celebrate together the accomplishments during the forming of the group.  The retreat included training for each member to host workshops in their local communities, discussions and debates on the issues, distribution of toolkits, as well as good food, positive time together, and a hike up to a beautiful lake at the top of the nearby mountain.

Some members of the group after recieving their toolkits for leading workshops and discussions on the issues of the videoforos. Left to right: Sergio Lara, Javier Mora, Marian Coy, Mauricio Chala, Jairo Suarez Preciado, Liria Suarez Preciado. Photo by Curtis.

In the middle of an activity debating globalization and a focus on supporting local economies. Looking at the camera: Liria Suarez Preciado, Jairo Suarez Preciado, and Mauricio Chala. Photo by Curtis.
Just as we reached the summit. Curtis with Jenny and Cate Franco, and Jairo Suarez Preciado. Photo by Liria Suarez Preciado.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Colombian Young Adults Headed to Germany

This year, 2017, Lutherans, Catholics, and other Protestants all around the world are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) is proudly sending three of their young adults (still considered youth here) to Germany for the year. Below is an article written by Marian Coy (president of the JLMC - national youth group) along with the three who are headed to Germany: Cristian Bernal, Vanesa Gomez and Diana Vasquez. I have had the opportunity to work closely with all three, especially Cristian (duing ProFILE 2015) and Diana (during ProFILE 2016), they all three are excellent leaders and I have no doubt will take their responsibilities seriously and make IELCO proud! The three leave tomorrow, please keep them in your prayers for safe travels as well as a wonderful year full of learning, teaching and a lifetime of memories. 

(left to right) Cristian Bernal, Vanesa Gomez, and Diana Vasquez,
photo submitted by Cristian Bernal
(Letter translated by Curtis)

The year 2017 brings with it an anniversary of global connotation, an event that changed the Germany of the middle Ages. The reform was carried out by Martin Luther, who not only changed the way of seeing the Church in society but also changed society itself and its absence of intellectual criticism of its context.

In 1517 the monk and theologian Martin Luther published 95 Theses on the system of commerce of indulgences in the Catholic Church. His criticism was directed at the preaching and practice of “indulgences” and counteracted this system with the power of faith that relies only on the grace of God. Because of this, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the Protestant Kirchentag (DEKT) are organizing the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, for which they have created the organization "r2017".

This event, being of great importance in Germany as well as globally, the organization (r2017) made a call addressed to 300 young people from all over the world, who would like to work as volunteers in the planning and execution of all the events from February to November of 2017.

In February 2016, Cristian Bernal (Coordinator of the Llanos Region of the Lutheran Youth Mission of Colombia, JLMC of IELCO) was the first to find a Facebook publication that Caroline Bader (FLM youth secretary) posted, and he was the first to apply. Subsequently, the JLMC, understanding the importance of this event and the possible opportunity for the young people of Colombia, decided to join the campaign. They sent a letter to all congregations, missions and preaching points of the national church, informing about this opportunity.

For the Lutheran Youth Mission of Colombia, it is a pleasure to inform you that after a long process, Cristian Bernal (leader of the Santiago Apostolic Mission of Yopal), Diana Vásquez (leader of the Congregation Divine Redeemer of Bucaramanga) and Vanesa Gómez (at the San Pablo Congregation in Bogota) have been accepted to participate in this great celebration and traveled on January 26, 2017 to the city of Wittenberg, Germany to begin their volunteer work.

These young people will be working on a project called the “World Reformation Exhibition” which includes “Confirmant and Youth Camps" and "European Reformation Youth Map”. The "World Reformation Exhibition" project is a large exhibition that will take place in seven cities in Germany and will run for four months (June-September). There will be art programs, concerts and many other events in which these three young people will assist.

It is worth mentioning that the process to participate in this project was carried out directly with the organization "r2017" and its call was open to all young people in the world (Lutherans and non-Lutherans), interviews and formalities were carried out via e- Mail and skype with the selection committee in 2016.

It is noteworthy that these young people will travel through the organization ICYE (International Cultural Youth Exchange) at the request of the organization r2017. The ICYE organization helps them with the visa procedures and prepares them in a camp the third weekend of January 2017.

As JLMC we feel completely represented by these three young people and we know that they will do an excellent job. We hope in the love of Christ that this be one of the best experiences of their lives.

Mesa Coordinadora Juventud Luterana Misionera de Colombia 2015-2017

Friday, December 30, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I had high hopes of getting a Christmas card sent out this year (like I do every year), but it didn't happen this year (again, as I have never actually succeeded in getting one sent out - but as an optimist, I keep hoping).

Our 2016 Christmas photo. Us after worship on Christmas Eve at Vida Nueva in Bogota.
Photo by Daniel Lara
As this year comes to a close, we have a lot to reflect on throughout 2016: In January my parents were here to visit, and we had the chance to do some tourist things and traveling with them. The year continued on a high note in March when we renewed our contract both with the ELCA and IELCO to stay in Colombia for two more years. In May, a new coordinator was hired to accompany Curtis in the Human Rights program. Our whirlwind of Home Assignment from mid-May through the beginning of August, where we had the opportunity to visit the congregations and people who so generously support us and our work here in Colombia, as well as, of course, the chance to visit family and friends. October brought the death of Laura, the niece of my closest friend and co-worker here, and November brought health issues and surgery for me. November also saw the final signing of the peace agreements in Colombia after more than 5 years of negotiations. In December we took a quick trip to the coast to visit my uncle who passed through on his honeymoon. December also has brought us some much needed time off, where we took a trip to Cali (southern Colombia) for a fun get-a-way. This has been a full year (aren't they all), with so much to be thankful for. Thank you for sharing this year with us!

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year to you all! Thank you for your support to us, be it financial, through your friendship, prayer, or by reading our blog - it is all really important to us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Annual Evaluation of Diakonia

Last week, the national diaconal ministry of IELCO held its annual retreat to evaluate all of the programs, projects and activities that took place during 2016. The ministry is divided into four programs: Environment, Human Rights, Holistic Health and Sustainable Development. Out of each of these programs there are various projects which: offer direct service to local communities; develop networks of like-minded people and organizations, nationally and internationally; involve members of IELCO in advocacy opportunities; and train church members in relevant subjects. The overall objective of the national diaconal ministry is: “To contribute to the diaconal development of IELCO in its different contexts, for the improvement of the quality of life of the communities, expressed through service, the lived experience of justice, and the preservation of creation”.

The evaluation was held in the historic town of Villa de Leyva in the department of Boyacá. From right to left: Curtis; Julie Pinzón, participating in the evaluation as representative of the national youth ministry; Rocío Varela, coordinator of the senior citizens project, serving a very vulnerable population just south of Bogota; Zandra Nino, coordinator of the project called ECOVIDA (Ecology and Life), working with poor peasant farmers in the Boyacá region, especially to regain an agricultural lifestyle lost with the coming of coal mines, which are now leaving due to plummeting coal prices; and Jorge Díaz, coordinator of the communications department of IELCO. 
Photo by Pastor Jairo Suarez.

Sara Lara, coordinator of the human rights program, presenting on the activities of the program during the year. 
Photo by Pastor Rocío Morales 

Right to Left: Curtis; Fabián Bello, coordinator of a food security project as part of the Environmental program;
Pastor Rocío Morales, Vice Bishop of IELCO and coordinator of the ASIVIDA project which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness; Sara Lara, coordinator of the human rights program; and, Julie Pinzón, representative of the national youth ministry. Photo by Pastor Jairo Suarez.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

DIPAZ Conference: Military Doctrine, Non-Violence and Peace-building

In light of the approved peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), DIPAZ (Inter-church Dialogue for Peace) held an important conference on Colombia’s military doctrine and non-violent grassroots efforts.

The advertisement for the conference, designed by Daniel Padierna,a conscientious objector 
and member of the Emmaus Lutheran Church in Medellin.
Colombia practices obligatory military enlistment for all males 18 years old. It is almost impossible for young men to find legitimate work or enter into university or higher education without being able to present the document demonstrating that the service has been completed. There is, however, the possibility of declaring oneself a conscientious objector based on religious beliefs. It is a long and difficult process, but many have done it.

This DIPAZ conference was based on the idea of conscientious objection. However, it also was looking for and defining other possible paths towards the demilitarization of the country and its culture...the idea of a non-violent lifestyle. As Colombia looks forward to building peace after more than 50 years of armed conflict, this is a very important issue, and one of the pillars my work here, as well as that of DIPAZ.

Andres Alba, member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bogotá, and technical secretary of DIPAZ,
 introducing the second day of the conference. Photo by Curtis.
The participants of the conference were asked to bring a symbol of their peace-building work. 
To start the conference they presented their symbols and placed them in the center of the room. 
Photo by Curtis.