Michael Joseph - Colombia
"Miguel," Pastor Rosendo Romero sheepishly called me over as I was preparing to leave our meeting and quietly asked, "Can you send me some Bible study materials?" I wasn't sure how to respond, Rosendo had caught me off guard.
I had just finished having lunch with Rosendo, and heard him tell the harrowing story of how he had recently been threatened by paramilitaries for the second time. My heart was heavy with concern for Rosendo's safety, with frustration at how he has had to curtail his community organizing due to the threats, and with the guilt of knowing that I was leaving to the relative safety of the city of Sincelejo, while he would return to the risky, exposed isolation of his farm.
Getting him Bible study materials would be easy. Keeping him alive to use them, and doing something about the lawless impunity enjoyed by illegal armed groups in the area where he lives, and pastors a Baptist church, would be much more difficult. But I guess this is what being a "critical presence" in a life-threatening situation is all about. In a nutshell, Pastor Rosendo, and many others like him, are why I am in Colombia.
Of course the truly critical presence is Pastor Rosendo. He pastors a Baptist church in the rural community of Flores Arriba, which is part of the area known as Santa Fe de Ralito in the Department of Cordoba. This area had long been a paramilitary stronghold, and was chosen as the location for their demobilization, a process that began in 2003 and officially ended in 2006. Churches, mostly evangelical, were about the only social organization to survive the period of the paramilitaries' violent control.
The community relies on Rosendo for much more than their Sunday sermon or the occasional pastoral visit. He is the person you turn to if your having trouble with an armed group, he organized several communities to create work brigades to level the dirt road that is the only way to get their crops to market, and he was chosen by the Organization of American States to be trained in conflict resolution for this community that has no police presence.
Rosendo's community leadership is what is seen as a threat by the paramilitaries who continue to control the drug and weapons transportation corridor that runs through Santa Fe de Ralito, connecting the Atlantic Coast with the Magdalena river valley and much of the rest of Colombia. That is why the paramilitary hit men showed up at Rosendo's church and farm last February. Fortunately Rosendo was in another town (with the nearest phone), making a call that likely saved his life. Later that night, a church member from a nearby town and representatives of the Organization of American States, showed up to escort Rosendo and his wife and kids to relative safety.
A few months later, I was able to visit Rosendo at his farm, with the two-fold mission of letting him know that we care about him and want to accompany him through this time, as well as demonstrating to the paramilitaries that Rosendo has national and international friends that won't be happy if anything happens to him or his family.
The Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia works to support ministers and lay-leaders all across Colombia as they seek to be salt and light in the midst of Colombia's internal armed conflict that has raged for more than forty years... people like Rosendo.
The Peace Commission and its sister organization, the Christian Women's Network for Life and Peace, work in four main areas: Theological Education and Training, Holistic Human Development, Gender and Youth, and Political Advocacy (including the publication of A Prophetic Call which documents human rights violations against protestant and evangelical churches in Colombia).
It is through the Peace Commission that we mobilize national and international support for pastors and church members, such as Rosendo, who daily face life-threatening situations as they preach, and live, the gospel.
A few days ago I read Psalm 27 and immediately thought of Rosendo. The first three verses became my prayer for him:
"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh - my adversaries and foes - they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident."
Blessings and peace,
Michael Joseph serves with the Restoration, Life and Peace Commission of the Council of Evangelical Churches (CEDECOL) in Colombia, South America. He provides a pastoral critical presence to church leaders and lay people who are living in life-threatening situations.