Note: The following is the first of two reports filed with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship as part of a peace-accompaniment mission in July 2018.
Apartadó, Antioquia, Colombia | Within 24 hours of arriving in Colombia, we were in Urabá, immersed in the emotional upheavals of a World Cup elimination match between Colombia and England. Nearly three hours after the start of the game, members of the Colegio Americano faculty filed silently out of the school’s computer lab. A couple of young men remained, heads buried in their arms, seemingly inconsolable.
This is old news now. The final between France and Croatia is on July 15. All the Latin American sides, including Colombia and Brazil and Argentina and México, went home before the semifinals. England and Colombia tied 1-1 on July 3, with England advancing by scoring more goals in the penalty phase.
The engagement with which Colombians, even those who really don’t like soccer, support the national team reminds one of the observation from the late English historian Eric Hobsbawm, “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.” He describes a process of extrapolation and simplification that we engage in as accompaniers. From the silence after the Colombia-England game, we leave with the impression that the Colombians value fair play. There were no recriminations, at least audible ones, against the arguably overzealous referee from the United States. “We’re very sad,” wrote one of our hosts from Medellín, “but the teams played very well.”
La Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia ministers, as part of its work, among vast populations of internal refugees. We bring back from visits among church members their desire for permanent peace as well as the intelligent correlation between the life of campesinos and the shape of creation. According to Genesis, creation lacked rain and campesinos to work the land, “para labrar la tierra” (2:5 NBLH). One of the campesinos we met in Urabá, Juan Camilo (all names here have been changed), showed us around a four-hectare parcel he had worked for some thirty years, as violence came to terrorize and to exploit Urabá’s abundance and its unique geographical position. It is called “la mejor esquina de Suramérica” (the best corner of South America). The violence created an internal exodus and a new lifestyle for those who worked the earth.
According to Juan Camilo, community life deteriorated as residents avoided strangers and each other, fearing that they might betray some imagined sympathy for guerrilla or paramilitary units or learn something they’d be better off not knowing. He recalled one paramilitary massacre of an estimated 20 campesinos, who were lined up on a bridge, their bodies tossed into a twisting brown river. Juan Camilo, who has 17 brothers and sisters and no formal education, is one of the most vocal participants in the local Presbyterian church’s dialogue sermons. He has taught himself to read and write and pores delicately after worship over a visitor’s copy of the PCUSA’s El Libro de Adoracíón: Spanish Book of Worship (Geneva Press 2009). “It’s beautiful,” he says.