A pastor talks about his call to ministry and the challenges facing his rural community.
I was born in Bebedó, Colombia in 1960, and have lived here most of my life.
When I was growing up, I remember that we would call not only this community, Bebedó, but the Chocó region in general a peaceful place. We could sleep with our doors open and we could go up and down the river whenever we wanted and nothing would happen. We never heard gunshots.
But armed groups began to arrive in 1989. Then we started hearing the sounds of these weapons, and we’ve learned to cope with fear.
You can learn to live with fear the same way that you learn to live with a disease or illness or with poverty or with riches; you just get used to it because it’s going to be there. You get used to hearing shots at some point, and you just keep going.
In my case, we live across the street from a police station so we know that if there’s a confrontation we’ll probably be in the middle of it.
I remember there used to be more than 2,000 people living in Bebedó, more than twice the population today. Due to violence people have left and they never came back.
I am the pastor at Emmanuel Mennonite Brethren Church. I was born in a Christian family, and I had Christian training since I was a child, but I came to work as a pastor more because of need in the community than because it was my dream.
Growing up, I always dreamed of being a soccer player. I played soccer as a child, but I wasn’t very good at it. After that I was more interested in agriculture. I wanted to be an agronomist or agricultural engineer. I didn’t get to that level, but I did manage to get a technical degree in agricultural sciences. In 1990 I started working as a teacher here in Bebedó. Since then, I’ve been teaching agricultural science, and I also work with my wife in our small grocery store.
In 2006 there were several Mennonite Brethren churches in the area that did not have pastors. They did a survey of the different churches and they suggested different people’s names and I got quite a lot of votes. I was the first one to be surprised because I had no idea that people from the other churches knew me. I talked it over with my wife and we decided that we had to meet the expectations. It was a challenge that was before us and we couldn’t say no.
After beginning work, I started falling in love with the ministry and I’m still here. When you have a ministry like this you have a closer relationship to God, and that helps you fall in love with what you do.
Over the years I have seen changes in my community because of the increase in mining and growth of illicit crops, mainly coca. We had more contact with different kinds of cultures. Violence increased as well as prostitution and drug addiction.
I think as long as there are illegal armed groups in the area, violence will always be a concern for people here in the San Juan river area and in Chocó in general.
About two years ago, the government started fumigating crops here. When they did, the illicit crops were affected, but it also affected the rest of the community because other food crops were damaged.
Here, the church is trying to get people to be a part of the agricultural program so that those who are still growing coca can stop and can start growing other crops, food crops.
In other communities, churches have responded through social programs working with children and also working with people who’ve been displaced by the violence. Churches are giving counseling and sometimes, if they have the means, economic help as well.
One of my main goals for our community is that all people be Christian or convert to Christ.
Only four brothers in Christ from the church are part of the agricultural program, but some people who are part of the program who aren’t part of the church are trying to get closer to the church. Their relationship is becoming a bit closer because they feel that the church has an interest in their lives.
(By Wilfrido Murillo; As told to Emily Loewen)
Wilfrido Murillo is pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Brethren Church in Bebedó, Colombia. Members of his congregation and community are part of the agriculture project run by the Mennonite Brethren Church in Chocó, an MCC partner, which provides legal and sustainable alternatives to growing coca, used in the production of cocaine. Learn more about this effort.