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Togetherness in Colombia

An interview with Julian David Chavez Uribe, Peacemaker

Joan and Trever Godard currently serve with Multiply in Guadalajara, Mexico, but they previously served for fourteen years in Colombia and tasted firsthand the sufferings of the decades-long civil war. Since they left Colombia in 2001, they have still been involved in church partnerships and collaborative peacemaking initiatives within the country. Three years ago, Joan followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit and invited a group of leaders together to take part in a unique peace camp in Colombia. The camp was a part of a broader catalytic movement that had hosted similar camps in other conflict zones around the world. Joan felt strongly that Colombia was ready for such an initiative. So many people had become tired of war and desperate for peace — people like Julian, who attended last year’s peace camp and, as a result, will never be the same.

Joan: What was happening in your life when you first heard about the peace camp?

Julian: I was struggling. I had just returned to Colombia from the US where I had completed university studies in Restorative Justice. I wanted to be involved in the peace process that had already begun in my country between the government and the revolutionaries. But I was bitter toward the Church in Colombia, because so many Christians had voted against the peace process. In my mind, that was a mistake. I believed that the Church could be central to building peace, but instead they pulled out. I resented that, and I sort of gave up. Fortunately, God didn’t give up on me. He was at work in my heart, healing my hurt and frustration. Through a series of divine appointments, I landed at Torre Fuerte, a Mennonite Brethren church where Tomas Vidal was pastor. Once we met, Tomas told me about the peace camp and invited me to participate.

Joan: What did you enjoy most at the peace camp?

Julian: I loved hearing the stories from the other participants. We all shared very openly. I met people from the Cauca region where the civil war has been the worst. I got to know Lola from a village called La Esperanza, which was the site of a horrible massacre. Her village has suffered so much. It was very intense and emotional for me to hear all the stories and to share my own. We were all very different, but we also shared so much in common. We heard from a former police captain who talked about how he served his country as a follower of Jesus, and then from a young man who talked about his journey as a conscientious objector to military service. One night, we prayed for Lola’s brothers who had served with the rebels but were now involved in the peace process. Then, just hours later, we woke up to her wailing after she heard news that one of her brothers had been murdered. 

Joan: How did you and the others respond to the news?

Julian: Actually, I was surprised by my response. If this had happened in any other environment, this injustice would have caused a bitter scar in me, to hear about the death of a young man who wanted nothing more than to be reunited with his family. But there at the camp, even with the pain we were all feeling, God was present with us, and I could feel his love. That was almost incomprehensible to me. I knew it had to be from God, because that love wasn’t from me. It was a clear call to seek God more and to understand that the only way to build true peace is with the love of God through Jesus Christ. 

Joan: Did that impact your relationship with the Church? 

Julian: Yes, my experience at the peace camp has propelled me into a beautiful process of drawing close to the Church, and specifically into a discipleship relationship with Tomas Vidal and into sharing life and studying the Word with other peace camp participants in my city, Bogotá. I’m also taking courses offered by the Mennonite Central Committee in a local church, and I’m learning that, through God and his body, the Church, we can rebuild our country. There is hope if Jesus is the center of our peace.

Joan: It seems that the armed conflict in Colombia has created a deep divide between the rural population and the urban. Those in the cities seem to be uninformed of the suffering in rural settings. How does your peacemaking chapter in Bogotá want to change that reality?

Julian: We had this desire to build a relationship with the people of La Esperanza, the village in Cauca where Lola was from. We didn’t want to just go and help them with basic physical needs, which could create an unhealthy dependence. Rather, we wanted to help them develop their own capacity and encourage interdependence. 

Joan: What happened when you visited La Esperanza?

Julian: On our first visit, we just shared life stories together, which created an atmosphere of community and trust. Together with the families of this lovely town, different ideas began to take shape about how they might rebuild their lives after years of being victims of conflict and violence. One idea surfaced when people were talking about an old, broken sewing machine in town. There was this desire among several of them to learn how to sew clothing and start a self-sustaining business. That was the birth of a project called “Weaving Hope.” 

Joan: How is “Weaving Hope” a way to build togetherness? 

Julian: We wanted to work together on a common project, to build friendship and understanding. Wherever we’re from, whether rural or urban, our challenges and hopes are similar. Those of us from the city are committed to telling the story of La Esperanza in our urban churches because their story is a reflection of many other rural towns and villages in Colombia that have been damaged by the armed conflict. Together, we need to show what it means to live with Jesus as our peace and to share his love with those around us, especially those who have suffered. 

Pray for peace in Colombia, especially in Cauca where the violence is still the most intense. Pray for the Church, for unity and for mission effectiveness. Pray for young leaders like Julian who believe that Jesus can bring lasting peace to Colombia.

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