Prison missives, authored by Saint Paul to Martin Luther King Jr, have power. When the normal liberties of life have been stripped away, all that remains is the humble authority of conviction and the truth of an unbreakable spirit. From his maximum security prison, where he spent the first month sleeping on the cement floor, community leader Jorge Montes writes, “I only ask God that he keep bitterness and revenge far from my heart and that he fill me with the wisdom to confront and endure this nameless torture. God will help me forgive those who have made me suffer… Only he who is strong enough to forgive an offense knows how to love.”
The community leaders, including Jorge´s wife Miledys, stand firm in their commitment to the nonviolent process, despite death threats. They live out Jorge´s description of a leader as “someone who is tolerant, has patience, is selfless, loyal, caring, untiring, in solidarity, fair, unassuming, capable of giving him or herself entirely, all in exchange for nothing, and above all, he who can resist the attacks of the State in which we live” as they continue to demand the rights of their communities.
From prison, Jorge asks “To my Christian friends: the best gift I can receive from you is your prayers because the Bible says ‘the prayers of the just can do much’. I continue hopeful for that of which we wait, but which can’t be seen and it gives me strength that there is blessedness for those who unjustly suffer. During these imposed vacations I will try to gather my strength because I confess to you that I will never give up on this process.”
This is a paradoxical truth: the more oppression people face, the firmer their convictions become. My friends are not superhuman, but are living representatives of the hundreds of thousands of millions of individuals worldwide who, when faced with the unthinkable, chose hope. I once wrote that “In light of these realities, it is tempting to view positive change as a miracle when it takes place. But behind each and every supposed miracle is the determination and hard work of ordinary people concerned, just like all of us, with the future of their communities, their families and their country. These are the people with faith, not only in the possibilities of change, but also the even larger faith that they themselves are people with rights and responsibilities and the desire to act accordingly.”
As Jorge says, “I want to tell you that I am suffering the worst torture that the Colombian state could do to me, but for the love of my family, of my nieces and nephew who are like my own children, and for the appreciation that I feel for the communities, I live thinking that one day I will overcome this and then will come the joy of having all of you at my side.”
May the lived faith of these people sink into our souls and flow into action for them, for ourselves, for our communities, and for our world. This is my prayer, this is our hope.