Relationships of Peace

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Peace week! We looked at many different ways of building peace, from the bottom up through grassroots movements, to laws and international activities. Peace is so much more creative than conflict!

Over and over, it was stressed that we must examine ourselves and our personal approaches to conflict, lifestyle and peace. The need for coherence cannot be over stated. Unless we, in our organizations and personal lives, actively practice values such as participatory democracy and gender equality, how can we expect others to also hold to those values? We cannot think of ourselves simply as the heroes or peace bearers as we leave for our communities.

Rather, we are entering a complex web of relationships, relationships that stretch both horizontality, within community, and vertically, within various power structures from state government to families. These are the relationships and interactions that result in conflict, peace and everything in between, on both a micro and a macro scale. Yet our presence within those relationships brings the potential to either act as a catalyst for good or for bad.

Everywhere we go, we are involved in relationships with others. After all, how did I end up here in Colombia if not for a network of people and experiences that combined in a certain way to bring me here? At the same time, there are structures in place that allow for certain relationships to take place in certain ways, and others not. How does transformation take place within this web? What creates change within relationships? For example, we heard stories about individual communities have banded together, and refused to allow admittance to any armed group, whether government, paramilitary or guerrilla. These peace communities are creating a powerful witness to the strength of community organizing and grassroots movements to stand against the destructive power of violence. However, we have also heard stories of people who have not seen any other option but to continue involvement in armed group, to feed their families, as this video demonstrates.

What creates change? We are always acting within relationships and contexts, yet perhaps recognising these relationships give us the power and agency to work for structural change. Additionally, this involves searching not for deficits, but for strength that already exists. Once we stop and see the various webs and structures that we are within, as well as our own tendencies, is it possible to act for change? I have to believe yes, but am still trying to understand the various factors that are involved within that change, especially individual human transformation.

Human beings can change. We are not static and stuck in one position for the rest of our lives. We all have agency and the potential to behave and believe in both good and evil, and all the variations in between. We act on what we know, but our agency can be displayed in numerous different ways. In very small ways, we act to gain control over our lives. The fields of history, resistance and post-colonial studies are full of examples of the agency people have displayed, often in ways that are often not recognized, for thousands of years. These stories illustrate key principles and strategies for non-violent resistance, which draw on the capability of all of us to learn and to change, to be confronted with our own potential, and to understand we can achieve nothing alone.

Maybe the clearest indicator of human nature that is present in these scenarios is the potential we all have to listen, to process, to consider, and to change, while working within overarching structures. Yet, I do not believe that God is removed from this picture. When we interact and encounter others, we are in fact interacting and encountering another made in the image of God. Perhaps each interaction is then a chance for a conversion experience, for me and for them. This is a space where transcendence occurs.

Speaking of relationships, let me introduce you to some of people that I am getting to know, and will continue getting to know, over the next two years. These are people that I have the great joy of sharing life and the work of peace, as we continue to reflect on our role here in Colombia. Daniela is from Peru, Leonel is from a Low German speaking Mennonite colony in northern Mexico, Cellia, Carolina, and Juan are from Colombia, Will, Jessica, Erica and Larisa are from the United States. One of our leaders, Alejo is from Bogota, and our other leader, Jes, is from the United States. Check out this blog from a family working with MCC to get a perspective of family life in Bogota.

It has been wonderful to be here, to get to know people, to laugh and to tell stories and share culture. I love hearing lectures from different professors and organizations! It has been so encouraging to see firsthand the amazing NGO community here in Bogota and hearing from them that they support the work we are about to do.

However, I am getting increasingly nervous/excited about leaving for the coast. Our plane tickets are bought and we fly out on September 5th! I got to meet some of the women from my community yesterday, and that made everything seem very real. It’s very exciting, but also a little bit overwhelming to think about all of the theory of Bogota all of a sudden being real and something that I am going to be an actor within.

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