2015 Changemakers in Colombia

“What’s the purpose of the trip?”

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We get asked, a lot, “why are you going to Colombia?” I saw a Facebook comment asking, “what’s the purpose of the trip?”

What’s the purpose of the trip?

If you check out the news story on the PSR, you’ll see that we’re there to “engage” and “be in conversation.”

What does that mean? Sounds blurry, unclear. All the work, planning, and expenses that have been put into this trip, how do we justify all of that? Is this just so we can engage and converse?

Today was our first day in Colombia. After a delayed flight, we arrived at our hotel around 5am, just in time for a good long nap. After a delicious local meal, we spoke with human rights activist and lawyer Joana Rocha. She discussed the situation here, about how armed para-military forces are used to displace rural communities for the benefit of large, multi-national corporations. These corporations, ruthlessly driven by profit, pillage the natural environment for whatever they can use or sell. Actually, I’m offering a huge  oversimplification. This has to do with human rights violations, politics, globalization, respect for the land, poverty, and greed. The problem is complex, and the solutions aren’t simple. Joana Rocha, and the organization Tierra Digna, advocate for these rural communities through various efforts, including legal aid. Still, the situation looks grim. According to Joana, roughly 3% of the lands are being pillaged, and in the next 30 years, they expect that number to grow to around 62%. I can’t explain exactly why, but when we look at forecasts like this, hope and perseverance are especially important. In the face of all pain and exploitation in the world, hope fuels the work that leads to a brighter future.We need hope to overcome despair. 

This still doesn’t answer the question.
What’s the purpose of the trip?

It seems like the purpose of the trip is not to produce tangible, measurable outcomes. If this were a scientific excursion, that would be a deal-breaker, but fortunately, we’re not here to be scientists or statisticians. In our world of facts and figures, statistics, and standardized testing, everything seems to need measurable outcomes to have value. This trip is valuable, even if the results aren’t directly measurable.

One of our intentions on this trip is a process known as International Protective Accompaniment. Accompaniment began over 30 years ago. The basic idea is to send teams of volunteers human rights defenders and communities in areas of conflict, raising visibility. According to Peace Brigades International, Accompaniment has three primary impacts:
– Protection of threatened human rights defenders and organisations by raising the stakes
– Moral support for individuals and civil society movements
– Contributing to the building of a global movement for peace and human rights.

When we visit communities and organizations with our matching blue shirts, we raise the stakes. We show that communities are being watched internationally, and that acts of violence will yield international consequences. In doing this, we can help to protect human rights defenders, as well as the rural and indigenous communities. We can also provide moral support and lasting relationships.

So the purpose of the trip is Protective Accompaniment, right?

That’s a part of it, but that’s not all of it. I can’t exactly what I mean by that. Fourteen justice-driven seminarians and a United Methodist minister/scholar, there’s something about this trip. The work that’s being done here, the purpose of this journey, we can grasp some of it, but the whole picture is beyond our comprehension. It’s more than what we can put into words. Maybe it’s the launching pad for new relationships, ministries, and revelations. Maybe this is the beginning of a movement, or the next chapter for an existing movement.

Whatever it is, the purpose of this trip is not for me to say. It’s beyond my understanding, and that’s ok. Humans aren’t supposed to know everything. Only God is all-knowing. Maybe I’ll have a clearer answer in a few days, but for now, I can offer this:

We are here to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to serve, compassionately. 

Posted by Trust Hilton