by Kevin Baker
On the last day of our Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation, we had big plans. We wanted to do a public action in response to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (which is now a done deal). We brainstormed, we strategized, and we agonized over the best time and place and finally, we planned the street theater- a scene of two tables to be held in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá.
One table is the world of free trade, in which Colombia is being devoured by its free trade partners (such as Canada and European Union), while the Colombian resistance tries to hold back the monster of U.S. corporate greed. This table was based on stories we heard during the delegation, stories of violence and displacement fueled by multinational companies robbing the resources of Colombia.
The other table is God’s table, a table marked by equality, mutuality, and abundance.
With this vision in our minds, we got to work, spending hours assembling costumes, writing prayers, and calling Colombian partner organizations.
Soon, the big day arrived. And… it rained. A lot. This was not a shower or a drizzle. It absolutely poured. As they say in Spanish, llovió cántaros. It was obvious that our original plan wasn’t going to work.
And then, God showed up. Earlier in the day, we had briefly met a group of former General Motors employees who were on strike outside the U.S. Embassy. These were workers who had been injured on the job and then fired by G.M. as a way of escaping their obligation to pay the healthcare costs. These workers wanted justice and so they camped out in front of the diplomatic entrance. They put a few tents together and occupied the space in shifts. When we met them, they had been there for sixty-four days. We decided to brave the rain and go join them.
What we found there was the table of God’s abundance that we had planned to demonstrate in the second half our action. But instead of just a symbolic handing out of bread, we found a living, active sharing. We shared a little about ourselves, and then we heard their stories – stories of lives derailed by preventable injuries in unsafe work environments, stories of just compensation denied to “the least of these.” One man had to sell his house to pay for hospital bills after a back injury he received in the factory.
We heard God’s vision for humanity from Isaiah 25 – a vision of abundance for all, and the destruction of death and injustice, and we prayed and broke bread. As these stories – these sacred tales of brokenness, injustice, and holy resistance – hung in the air over us like holy incense, we brought out the loaves of bread we’d bought to share during our action, and the G.M employees made agua panela (a hot beverage made water and local unprocessed cane sugar).
God was there present among us as we shared in the least likely of Eucharists. For a few minutes in a couple of tents in front of the U.S. Embassy, the Reign of God broke into the world, and we shared the feast of victory for our God. It was beautiful.
Now, back in Chicago, I reflect on that afternoon in light of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has blossomed in Chicago and so many other cities. I think of new tents cropping up in equally unlikely places, and I see God continuing to break into our reality around tables every bit as unlikely as the one we stumbled upon in Bogotá. And maybe across this world, God’s Kingdom is continuing to come in the places where it is most needed, but least expected. And maybe one table is being cleared so that a new one might be set.