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Sep 27

Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2012 in Richard

Sep 5

Posted on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 in Richard

When BusinessWeek gets the irony, you know it is rich. Check this headline: News Corp. Picks Board Member With Ties to Colombia Wiretaps The coverage of Uribe in the article is actually quite timid. The wiretaps in question covered not only political opponents and human rights workers, but also Supreme Court Justices and embassies of foreign governments. And in my book, it doesn't rank near Uribe's worst crimes. I'm thinking of other headlines... Scandal Plagued News Conglomerate Seeks Scandal Plagued Ex-Pol? Star Crossed Lovers Meet While Overhearing Others? What are your suggestions?
Aug 31

Peace in Colombia?

Posted on Friday, August 31, 2012 in Mamie

Astoundingly, just as we are getting ready to head back to the United States, the Colombian government under President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)  are preparing to sit down for peace talks. It has been ten years since the last attempt at formal peace negotiations - an attempt that ended very suddenly and very badly - and helped open the way toward a much tenser time highlighted by the years of President Uribe's tenure which we caught the tail end of in 2009 and 2010. Rumors of these talks have been bubbling here and there for a while, but without much to back them up. We didn't pay much attention. Then Uribe began to accuse Santos of such talks (yes..."accuse" is the appropriate word, even when talking about attempting peace talks), but who can pay attention to Uribe anymore? He has, in my humble opinion, acted very poorly as a former president during most of Santos' term - very publicly critiquing Santos' every move, even though Santos was his hand-picked successor - so what is one more unsupported blast from Uribe? And then BOOM! Santos formally announces that there have indeed been conversations with the FARC and that the ELN (another guerilla group) have manifested interest in joining in talks to bring an end to the violence in Colombia. AMAZING. For those of you who speak Spanish, here is the official televised announcement. Santos underscores that these conversations are being held with three basic tenets in mind:
  • We will learn from past errors to not repeat them
  • Whatever process must lead to the end of the conflict, not to its prolonging
  • Operations and military presence will be maintained on every centimeter of the national territory
The last point has much to do with the first in that the most recent talk called for a demilitarized zone within Colombia in which the talks would take place, and that will not be repeated. It is interesting, in part, because the FARC has always maintained that they would only negotiate within Colombia, but that seems to have been laid aside now with talks likely happening primarily in Cuba (although most details are still to come). The FARC have not officially made a statement regarding the peace talks, but they have previously promised to put an end to kidnappings (a pre-requisite given earlier remarks from Santos), and after a sharp increase in rebel attacks between July and August, they have dropped drastically since last week.
There is, of course, no guarantee that this will bring about peace in Colombia, but I do think people here want it to. According to the latest Gallup poll, 60% of polled Colombians are in favor of a political solution to the problem. Support for a military-only solution to the conflict is at 37%. (This leads me to wonder what the option is for the other 3%, but I digress...). In a podcast from February 2012 from the Washington Office on Latin America about the 10th anniversary of the failed talks, one point brought up was that in some ways those talks failed because everyone believed they would. That is to say, folks never really bought into the process (and were not brought into it well enough), and that along with a host of other reasons played its role in their demise. And I bet that is true.
Even now, folks have only tentative hope. I do not know what a Gallup poll would say if they asked not what people favor, but whether they believe that whatever they favor will work. It has been too long since there was peace here. There is really almost no living memory of it. There are, however, many living memories of its failure, and of the ways in which some peace talks have resulted in increased violence - either during the talks as a means of influencing events, or in the aftermath of their breakdown. Having little hope makes sense, and yet making sure they do have hope  is incalculably important.
So what we ask of you right now is to pray not just for peace but also for hope. Pray for the willingness to imagine peace - not just an invented peace but a real, lived, true peace. Pray that the vulnerability that will be necessary to achieve such a peace is still possible and that the sacrifice of opening their hearts to such a hope will be rewarded. Pray for the peacemakers - yes, always - but pray for the hope of peace as well.
To read a good (and short) analysis of the prospects for peace from Adam Isacson, an expert on Latin America and particularly Colombia, click here.
If you are interested in more details about the proposed structure of the peace talks, the text of the peace talk agreements to end the conflict can be found here in translation. And for an overview timeline of the peace process in Colombia, click here.

Aug 11

Home is Where the Heart Is

Posted on Saturday, August 11, 2012 in Mamie, Richard

So we're headed home. After a long period of discernment, Mamie, Nora and I will be moving to Louisville, Kentucky.  I've accepted a position as the Coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer Program with the Presbyterian Church (USA), a  program that has been close to my heart and sense of God's call since I became a part of it 13 years ago.  But that is not what this post is about.  Because to start something new, you always have to leave something behind... Here is the letter we sent out to folks in Colombia just a few days ago:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

It is with gratitude to each of you, and with heaviness in our hearts that we share with you our plans to leave Colombia this September to stay in the United States. Though we will be visiting churches through December to speak about the Colombian context, the work of the IPC, and the partnership between the IPC and PCUSA, we will not return to Colombia in 2013. Both the Presbyterian Church here and in the US were gracious enough to extend to us the invitation to return, and though we would love to do so, we feel a great need to be closer to our families and allow them the chance to get to know Nora - particularly while her grandparents are still well.
This has been a very difficult decision, and while our prayers have led us in this direction, we will never cease to miss being among you. What eases are minds is the knowledge that we will continue working with you all, from a distance, as our commitment and care for Colombia could not possibly end simply because we no longer live here. Certainly our daughter is the most dear reminder of all we love in this beautiful country - most of all the people who have been so kind to us over the past three years.
We will leave in early September, though the date is not yet finalized, and we will move to Louisville, Kentucky. Richard will begin work as the Coordinator for the Young Adult Volunteer Program of the PCUSA which we hope to bring to Colombia in 2014. Mamie hopes to find work, and we are grateful for your prayers as she searches. Nora will simply miss you all terribly as you are all she has ever known.
Once again we thank you for all the ways you have helped us, guided us, taught us, laughed with us, shared with us, and transformed us. We welcome you in our home as you have always welcomed us into yours. We look forward to visits here or there and continued service together in new ways.
Blessings of grace and peace to you all,
Mamie, Richard, and Nora Elena


We are grateful for the opportunity to go back to the US and be close to dearly missed family and friends.  We are excited for the opportunities of new and challenging work.  But we are deeply saddened to leave Colombia, and a piece of our heart will always stay here. Thanks be to God for our wide, wide family. And pray for us as we leave home.  
Jul 19

Una Vez del Colegio Americano…

Posted on Thursday, July 19, 2012 in Mamie

The Presbyterian Church of Colombia has been around for 156 years now, and its commitment to education has existed since its inception. They are very proud of their schools, named American Schools (Colegio Americanos), and their motto is "Once a part of the Colegio Americano, always a part of the Colegio Americano." And now...we are part of that history. Yes, Peanut went to her first class today. Gah. Incredible. She is starting a little early (usually they take kids at two years, and her birthday isn't until September), but she is not wildly far off and the folks at the Americano were very welcoming. To be honest, I didn't know how it would go. Peanut is pretty independent, but in new situations with new people she is more of an observer and can get overwhelmed quickly - especially if folks want to hug and touch her, as they almost always want to do. Apart from seeming like a "muñeca" to many, the culture here is one of much greater touching and greeting than Peanut is up for occasionally, so I am always trying to walk the line between defending my kid's boundaries and stretching them. Anyway, I was prepared to go in, sit with her and see the classroom, and potentially leave after 30 minutes or an hour. We would meet the teachers, she would get some of her famed observing in, and we would try again for a little longer on Monday (July 20th is a holiday - Happy Independence Day Colombia!). As a result, I took nothing to entertain myself as I waited in the office for 3 solid hours. That's right sisters and brothers, my kid was SUPER fine with this whole "Yeah, I go to school" thing. We did have a lot of things in our favor to help her enter well, but I was still amazed that as I gave her a kiss and said, "I'll be back" that she just kind of looked at me like, "Cool. See you." I didn't tear up then, it was more like relief really, but later when a teacher in a nearby classroom called me to come see the video she had taken of the Nutter while she was painting with her classmates, I swear I choked. It was all good, just kind of overwhelming. So now we have to buy the uniform, we figure out what packing snacks looks like, and we start on the next adventure. Now, if you'll pardon me, I need to go look at some homework.
Jun 27

Preaching Notes

Posted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Richard

So I'm preaching this week, which means I'm doing the usual hunting and pecking around the internet...  I have a very atypical request for a short sermon (no hour long biblical excursion!) but I have found an abundance of poignant materials for this upcoming week.  This weeks' Gospel texts speak very much to the suffering we all face, and God's grace in it.  In the Old Testament, underneath a touching lament of the loss of friendship is a bald display of the costs of war.  I'll be preaching the NT, but I believe the OT speaks to our country very much in this next week. In Dan Clendenin's  I'm Already Against the Next War, he reflects on the inevitable cost of war - whether in the Samuel narrative against the Philistines or in today's wars around the globe.  Far more than discussing if war is ever right,he presses for our realization that war always brings a price we can scarcely imagine. Origen of Alexandria (185–254 AD), perhaps Christianity's greatest early scholar,[offers a  repudiation the violence of war, military service, and even the state itself.]
And as we — by our prayers — vanquish all the demons that stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this service are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers, we practice self-denying disciplines and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be lead astray by them. And none fight better for the king [and his role of preserving justice] than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he demands it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army of piety by offering our prayers to God.
There's some good homework for us this Independence Day. the lectionary texts are here
Jun 23

Colombian Links – 6/23/12

Posted on Saturday, June 23, 2012 in Richard

Another collection of interesting links from around the web - lots of good writing out there!    
Jun 22

Swords into Plowshares

Posted on Friday, June 22, 2012 in Richard

The  Presbyterian Peacemaking Program has a nice summary up on the shared ministry for peace between the PC(USA) and the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. Read the article here:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) established its first permanent mission in Latin America in Bogota. This culminated in the first Presbyterian Church, founded in Bogotá in 1856. We continue to share in ministry with our Colombian brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus Christ. Here are ways to learn more about our partners in Colombia, the PC(USA) response and the situation in the country: [Read more]
Jun 21

Kony, Compassion, and the WSIC – links

Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2012 in Richard

A collection of interesting links from several of the burning memes of the internets in the past months: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="457"] From Duncan Green's From Poverty to Power blog[/caption]   Kony 2012 Backlash, Graphic Anti-Smoking Ads, and More - On The Media On the Media's podcasts are always interesting, and this one was packed with good stuff. The White Savior Industrial Complex - Teju Cole - International - The Atlantic Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction Medellín emerges as a Latin American trailblazer for local economic growth | Global development | 7 worst international aid ideas | Matador Network The Shipbreakers - A great longfrom piece on trade and destruction of old shipping vessels.  It looks closely at the tensions between development in poor countries and environmental degradation.   
Jun 3

Make it Your Weather

Posted on Sunday, June 3, 2012 in Mamie

Yes, we are back. You didn't know Colombia doesn't celebrate the month of May? Whatever. It is so hot right now that you don't even have to go outside to get a sunburn. I swear that in our three years here it has never been this hot. I have decided that I do not gain weight here because new pounds are literally afraid to have to sit so close to the old ones I have been carrying around. Either that, or they tried and just slid off because there is no dry surface on which to cling because sweat has covered even the inside of my body. The old pounds are still here because they don't want to move because moving just makes it worse. So imagine my reaction when I went to The Weather Channel website to look up the weather for today in Barranquilla. (I did this because my mother, who went home today, wanted to take perverse pleasure in hearing just how hot it would be here as she packed to leave...) Besides my obvious joy for the prediction of 105 degrees (with heat index, but duh - how hot it feels is much more important than how hot it is), I almost started laughing in spite of the extra sweat that would cause. In the top left corner, where The Weather Channel logo is usually located, the box had changed to say, "Make it Your Weather" and offered me options of 77 and 84 degrees (the predictions for each of our home towns).  I started clicking like mad, but it turns out it was not a magic button to actually make that my weather. What is up with the false advertising is all I have to say about that.
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