Member church and World Service program building hope, justice and peace
(LWI) - Women are pillars of church and society in Colombia. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) has several women in the ordained ministry and leading ministries and projects. Women also play a vital role promoting peace and reconciliation in the strife-torn country. The Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) Colombia-Venezuela country program is led by a predominantly female team.
Participants of the Pre-Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean and North America had the opportunity to learn more about these aspects of the host country.
Striving for healing, peace, and reconciliation
Participating on a panel on the ongoing peace process after about 60 years of armed conflict in Colombia, four women shared their experiences and perspectives. Laura Chacón, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator of the LWF Colombia and Venezuela country program, moderated the panel.
Nidiria Ruiz Medina has contributed to peacebuilding through founding the AINI women’s association and engaging in the victims' association Communities Building Peace in Colombia (CONPAZCOL). “We want to exchange tears for smiles,” she said. As is the case in many instances, family members and relatives of hers have “been forcibly disappeared.” Now, she leads a process with relatives of the disappeared and searching for truth. Coming to terms with the pain caused by these losses and finding a path of reconciliation between victims and perpetrators is a process that needs to be accompanied by the church, she said. “Being with our communities and providing the touch of a hand reduces the pain.”
Representing 34 indigenous communities, Blanca Ligia Bailarín, is the leader and spokesperson of the Mesa Interétnica por la Paz and manages the Mother House (Casa Madre). It provides a space for these communities that feel abandoned by the government and are now striving to build peace at a grassroots level and strengthen their indigenous identities. That includes reconnecting to indigenous spiritual practices: as young people often opt to join armed groups out of desperation, elders would “do a spiritual ritual to prevent young people from joining an illegal armed group and harmonize the community.”
Luz Mary Cartagena Ceballos is an ex-combatant who laid down arms and signed the Peace Accord six years ago. However, following the path of peace is not easy, as numerous ex-combatants have been murdered, and many are disillusioned because “the government abandoned them.” Nevertheless, Luz Marie currently is the vice-president of the Jacobo Arango Territorial Training and Reincorporation Space. And “the Lutheran church did not forget us, and this accompaniment must continue - hope must be kept alive,” she said.
Adding the perspective of an international body was Montserrat Solano Carboni, Deputy Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. She reiterated the UN’s commitment to peace and accompaniment in Colombia. However, “structural causes for the conflict need to be addressed,” she said. Human rights defenders were murdered, people confined or displaced, and some armed groups replaced the government in the areas they control, subduing the people living there.
Solano commended the churches’ involvement in defending human rights, saying that “protection through presence from church representatives” had been effective in reducing violence. Also, spirituality could help “to resist conflict.” Nevertheless, “reconciliation and forgiveness take place on a personal level,” Solano said, and could be supported by spirituality.” On another level, churches could provide spaces for “safe, open, non-discriminatory participation of victims in the peace process.”
The Colombia-Venezuela country program
Carmen Garcia, Country Representative of the LWF’s country program in Colombia-Venezuela, introduced the program to the Pre-Assembly participants. LWF has been running the program in Colombia for more than twenty years.
“For two decades we have accompanied people living in regions in Colombia most affected by armed conflict and inequality”, she said. “Our commitment to peace focuses on respecting and working with the communities with the highest rates of poverty in the country and those most affected by the internal conflict. We aim to reach the most remote places directly, building trust to work hand in hand with local partner organizations.”
“It is our calling to be ‘One Body’ working together with IELCO and other partners, healing the wounds of people marginalized through armed conflict, climate change, displacement, and migration.”