By Anna Vogt
In Colombia, Mennonites demonstrate every day that being a peace church means taking concrete actions to stop violence.
Colombia has been in armed conflict for over 50 years. Seven million people have been victims of the resulting violence. This violence has been supported in part by Plan Colombia, a multi-billion-dollar military aid package from the United States to Colombia.
Three years ago, the Colombian state and the largest guerrilla group, the FARC, began a peace process. Colombian churches, while applauding the talks, urge the two parties to stop active fighting immediately, out of respect for life.
“From the beginning of the dialogue process, as civil society organizations, we have insisted that an essential condition [of the dialogues] should be a bilateral ceasefire,” says Jenny Neme. Neme is the director of Justapaz, a ministry of the Mennonite Church of Colombia. “Increased armed confrontation not only harms the civilian population, but also causes environmental damage and generates risks for the entire conversation process.”
Justapaz plays a leadership role in an international ecumenical platform, DiPaz (Inter-ecclesial Dialogue for Peace). Ever since DiPaz’s formation in early 2015 in Bogota, the collective international voice that includes both Protestants and Catholics has been amplifying the call of Colombian Mennonite churches.
“With the strength of our Christian faith, in memory of our ancestors, in communion with the faithful of our churches and with our sisters and brothers from congregations and communities of faith, we lift up our cry calling for a bilateral cease-fire leading to a bilateral cessation of hostilities,” states a letter sent by DiPaz to peace talk delegates from both the Colombian state and the FARC. “You can count on our prayers, our effort, and our energy for the dialogues to flow towards that goal.”
In response to this call from the churches, along with other civil society actors, on July 20 the FARC declared a cease-fire and the government responded by stopping aerial bombardments.
Because of the churches’ active peace presence around the country, the dialoguing parties invited them to help verify that neither armed group violated their agreements.
It was a practical chance for the churches to demonstrate their call to be peace actors.
Thanks to the verification work on the ground, a report issued on levels of violence declared that August has been the least violent month in Colombia in 40 years.
For the Mennonites, however, this is simply one more step in the right direction to end the conflict for good and a normal part of their work for peace. Other initiatives have included inviting Anabaptist churches in the United States to join them in demanding support for peace and a reduction in military aid from their own government, as another important part of sustainable violence reduction.
In July, members of Justapaz traveled to Washington and met with various members of Congress to ask for their continued support for the peace talks and the work of the churches. As Neme says, “It is necessary to come to concrete agreements, to stop the armed confrontation and, above all, to prioritize and privilege respect for life.”
Anna Vogt is the Regional Advocacy and Policy Analyst for Mennonite Central Committee, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Story originally published on September 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.