Joy and Just Peace to you from North Coast Presbytery, Baranquilla Colombia. We are safe and in a comfortable setting in this city of 1.4 million folk. We met our team companion Connie in Pamana City and were met by the Presbytery Executive [Jairo] and the Director of the Diakonia Dept [German] of Iglesia Presbiteriana Colombia with no delays at Immigration or Customs. The Presbytery Office and quarters for the Accompaniment Team are in temporary facilities loaned by a well-to-do Presbyterian family on the 9th Floor of a Condo. There is a wonderful breeze and temperate weather at present.
We want to reassure you that the concerns for threat that led to the initial creation of this Accompaniment Program are very much less significant. There are reasonable threats of being in a large city and we usually go out as a team or at least 2 people and use Taxi after dark. Apparently, after the election of President Santos, threats and violence against Protestant Church lessened substantially.
Accompaniment has been reaffirmed for the relationship with PCUSA in terms of ‘walking with’ Christian brothers and sisters, and a sense of solidarity and presence which the Colombian church values highly. Accompaniment is also a foundation for IPC to describe their call to the mission of standing with victims of injustice and structures of poverty. There seems to be a commitment to approaching this mission ecumenically when possible.
In our first week here we have been struck by the important influence of two women. One of the women , whose strong women whose strong influence on the Colombian Presbyterian church we’ve come to appreciate is Lidia Bourelli . When she died on our second day here, we were invited to accompany the Presbytery Secretary to the funeral and had the opportunity, not only to see the cultural pattern of funeral behavior in Colombia, but to hear the many personal family and Presb ytery-wide ‘witnesses’ to Lidia’s influence on individual lives and programmes of the church.
This Presbyterian Leader from Baranquilla, has had an almost lifelong influence. From a wealthy family, she gave away most of her resources and committed herself to work with women and children’s programs and influenced others from the IPC to take-on such ministries very seriously. In many ways the values and curriculum of the Presbytery’s Collegia [elementary and high school] and the programme of the Presbytery reflect the leadership of Lidia. One Pastor told us of his experience with a number of other young people of having Senorita Lidia as their Sunday School teacher, and of the life-long impact that had on their lives and careers. At some point, Lidia became concerned about some pattern of behavior among the pastors and wrote them admonishing the need for change. The Pastors quickly paid Lidia a visit, agreed on the need for change and implemented her suggestions.
The second woman is Alice Winters who was a Presbyterian Mission Co-worker for over 30 years in Colombia and retired recently. It is remembered that in her early years here, Alice travelled through the countryside by foot to make contact with people about God’s love. An account is told of Alice coming into direct contact with a Guerrilla leader who became convinced of Alice’s commitment to the rural poor of Colombia, and her role and influence became firmly established. In later years, Alice taught Old Testament, Theology and Exegisis and other courses at the Presbyterian University Program of Theology, so most of the Pastors have been influenced by Alice Winters. We understand that Alice is to be honored by the PCUSA General Assembly this year for her long-term service.
The commitment of the Colombian Church to the leadership of women is long-standing. Almost half of the Pastors and local church leaders are women. It has been a great aspect of our initial time here to have the experience of introduction to the great roles of these two women.
Other Activities of the First Week
Orientation to current social political situation in Colombia; history and current Presbyterian church situation; visit to Collegio Americana and attendance at a Seminary Class with an Ecumencally committed R. Catholic priest as guest lecturer discussing Pastoral Leadership and we felt his directive to us to Listen, Discern, Be Present, and Be Family; visit to a Senior Center program supported by a number of Presbyterian individuals as well as NGO and city support. We made an overnight visit to Sincelejo-Sucre [about 5 hours from here] where we visited about implementation of the Victim’s Law, and shared worship and youth events with a Presbyterian congregation.
We send greetings, early in our month. Hopefully it will reassure you of our safety and the feeling that we are learning a lot and contributing by our presence. We are feeling very busy, but are having time to rest. It is our expectation that we will have a rewarding experience, and we look forward to sharing more with you bi-weekly. We appreciate your prayer for us.
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