Monday, October 1, 2012

September letter to supporting churches

Below is a letter I recently sent to the Bethel College Mennonite Church (BCMC) in Newton, KS; Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church (LAMC) in Wichita, KS; and Shalom Mennonite in Harrisonburg, VA.  These churches have been a part of my life in both Kansas and Virginia and have provided spiritual and relational support to me in these times of transition.

Update on Working with Mennonite Central Committee in Colombia

                Greetings from Bogotá, Colombia!  Two months have passed since I arrived in Bogotá to begin my three-year term with MCC.  Much of my time has been spent reconnecting with different church communities I got to know during my internship last spring.  The churches here are involved in exciting and necessary work that includes a variety of initiatives such as peace education, safe spaces for people in vulnerable situations, food kitchens for youth, and connecting refugees across borders.  This last week was particularly exciting as many Anabaptist churches hosted activities in celebration of International Peace Day on September 21.  A small group of us facilitated peace workshops in a variety of primary and secondary schools in a marginalized sector of Bogotá.  Our time with the students sparked exciting discussions about how peace is a process that people can build together in their communities.  
                As with many MCC workers I am assigned to work with an MCC partner organization called the Church Coordination for Psychosocial Action.  The acronym in Spanish is CEAS (Coordinacion Eclesial para la Acción Psicosocial).  You can visit an online description of their work at  CEAS is an initiative of the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren, and Brethren in Christ Churches in Colombia with the goal of supporting churches in psychosocial and pastoral work.  As a result of the decades long armed conflict in Colombia, many churches receive people who have been displaced from their homes and have lost family members due to the violence.  People come to the cities looking for new opportunities of work and safety.  Unfortunately they have few resources or connections and find themselves victim to the vulnerabilities of urban poverty.
                While churches do not have a lot of resources and are not set up to provide substantial economic support, CEAS recognizes that churches do provide spiritual support and an accepting community.  While this might not seem like much if economic necessities are not easily available, I have been surprised at how animated people become when they find a place where they are accepted and are able to build community and a social network.  I am learning not to underestimate the power of community in the face of destitute times. 
                My role with CEAS involves learning and evaluating how churches can be supported as they provide psychosocial accompaniment for people who have been affected by the armed conflict.  Towards this end I am in the process of designing evaluation tools and initiatives with the goal of understanding the impact of what churches are already doing and what more they could do to attend to victims of the armed conflict.  Earlier this month I held three focus group discussions with three different churches that were part of an interview project I conducted last spring.  Hearing directly from members of the church communities helps CEAS better understand the variety of dynamics involved in working with people in such vulnerable situations. 
                Please keep the people of Colombia in your prayers as the country continues to live through tumultuous times.  As some of you might have heard, the Colombian government is planning to enter into peace talks with the guerrilla group, FARC, in early October.  While many people are hopeful for this process they are also afraid of its failure and an uncertain future. 
Thank you and God bless you all,                                                                                         Nathan Toews

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