By Paula Miller
In the beginning of his Gospel, Mark lays the foundation of Jesus’ mission to show the disciples and us a new way to salvation. At that time the Temple served as the center of Jewish life, the place where the economic transactions and social and religious rituals were suppose to sustain the community. However, often these transactions and rituals only benefited those in power and oppressed the poor. When Jesus arrives on the scene from a small town in Palestine he doesn’t go to the Temple. Instead he meets up with John the Baptist in the wilderness. Here is where he starts his mission.
When we arrived in Bogota we came from our own centers. Our own countries, our own communities, our homes. We arrived from those centers to a new center, Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Like the Temple, here is where the political and economic decisions that benefit the rich and powerful are made. Here we met with people and groups that gave us a foundation of how these decisions are affecting the people and communities on the margins – the pastors being assassinated for speaking about peace, the history of the struggles of the mining communities, the policies of development by blood and fire to enrich the multinational companies.
We left Bogota – the center – and traveled to Barrancabermeja, the center of the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia. In Barranca we met with people who told us the story of their struggle. A city founded on oil – the rich resources of the land soon began leaving the region to profit others. Because of this the people of Barranca began their struggle to defend their rights. We met with organizations that work with women to empower themselves, with campesinos working to defend their rights to their land, with union workers facing death threats for organizing workers, and with youth working to stop forced recruitment into the military. We also learned first hand the consequences of these struggles when we visited the memorial for the May 16th massacre in Barranca in 1998 and met with the families of the victims.
From Barranca we continued our journey to the margins as we left for the mining community of Mina Vieja in the Sierra de San Lucas mountains. Leaving at 5AM, little did we know what was to lie ahead in our travels. We traveled by chalupa, taxi, truck, mule, and on foot and arrived in Mina Vieja 15 hours later, most of us covered in mud that at times was two feet deep. We quickly learned that our difficult journey was nothing compared to the struggle of the mining communities to stay on their land. The leaders told us that they are being pressured by the military in subtle ways to leave the land. They cut their water lines, steal their wood, and verbally abuse them on their way to the mines. They asked us to accompany them to meet with them and express their concerns. Despite these daily challenges their love of life and the land endures. They told us, “We don’t give up easily. Look at the resistance here – they threaten us, cut us, assassinate us but we continue to stay because the riches of this country are for the Colombian people. God has given us a large resource. We don’t use violence in response. We are honest, hard-working people who love life and are united in culture and ethics. We are peacemakers.”
It is at the margins – in the wilderness – where the sovereignty of God is made manifest and where the story of liberation is renewed and God’s intervention in history occurs*. As we journey back to our centers we need to take with us the message we received from every person we met along the way. The message that where there is love there is life, where there is life there is hope, and where there is hope there will be justice.
*Ched Myers, Say to this Mountain, page 12