by Julie Myers
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. –Mt. 18:20
Just weeks after International Women’s Day, March 8th, it seems that the situation of women in the region is as grave as ever. On March 22nd, the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) asked us to visit the house of a friend and colleague, named Iluminada. Her neighbor, a man who identifies himself as a paramilitary attacked and threatened her in her home. She is part of the OFP. In a demonstration of beautiful solidarity, eleven women from the OFP showed up to her house that morning, plus four CPTers, two from the Colombian team, and two visiting on a delegation filled with CPTers who work on other teams.
And when the man passed by the house that morning, he saw eleven women from the OFP and four CPTers laughing and drinking coffee, telling stories, and sharing news. We barely fit in her house. We sat on arm rests and squeezed on couches, stood up against walls, and spilled out onto the street.
I couldn’t help but think of the verse in Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” But we were fifteen! And there was no doubt that we were in the presence of something greater than ourselves.
The joy of this gathering wore off soon though. On Sunday the 25th, we got another call from the OFP, this time for a case of domestic abuse. The woman had been beaten unconscious by her husband, who threatened to kill her. She is 21. And it was not the first time he hit her. She found her way to the OFP through the gynecologist who examined her in the hospital. She struggled to walk, breathe, sit, stand, keep her eyes open. OFP called the police to record her denouncement. Two police officers showed up. “What did you do to deserve getting hit?” They didn’t know what to do. They called two more police officers. They didn’t know what to do. They called two more police officers. Eventually, when eight police officers were at the OFP Casa de la Mujer [House of the Woman], they collectively decided that they didn’t know what to do for this case of common domestic violence. So they left.
So we went to police station to do the denouncement. Gloria, from the OFP, requested that the woman be escorted to her neighbor’s, where her four-year-old son was staying. They said they couldn’t because it was unsafe. Gloria requested that the police find her a place to stay that night. Again, they said they couldn’t. Because she predicted this answer, Gloria travels with a copy of the law. She opened up to the text and pointed to the rights of abuse victims. The right of a safe place to stay. The right to a safe escort back to their homes. No luck.
Instead, this woman slept on a mat on the floor at the OFP’s Casa de la Mujer. The next day she was shuffled around to more appointments: doctors, denouncements, hours of sitting and waiting – painfully. Each movement looked excruciating. Gloria fought for every “right” she had, though “rights” by their very definition should be granted freely and not almost impossible to attain.
When the police finally agreed to escort this woman back to her home to reunite with her son, with a restraining order against her husband in hand, Gloria breathed a tired sigh. She had accompanied this woman for over 24 hours. She had fought tooth and nail for the sliver of dignity she was awarded. She had talked to dozens of police officers and government officials on this woman’s behalf. She tucked the text of the law back into the plastic envelope she travels with. She would need it again soon enough.
Both of these accompaniments with OFP, the joy of cramming into Iluminada’s house and the sadness of seeing this woman, beaten by her spouse as well as the law, were true reflections of the Matthew verse. Jesus was surely present with all fifteen of us as we drank coffee and laughed, and Jesus was surely present as we physically lifted this woman out of her chair because of her aching ribs to record her denouncement. It is no wonder why the women of the Popular Women’s Organization are constantly under threat. Their faith is one of action. They live out solidarity – quite literally – in sheltering the oppressed, visiting the vulnerable, healing the wounded, and walking side by side with one another on this journey, carrying each other when necessary. May they continue to be inspiring examples of what it means to be a Christian in these difficult times. And may we continue to gather with them: two, three, or fifteen of us, and feel the presence of Christ.