What does peace need to thrive?

A YAMENer's reflection from Colombia


Peace doesn’t look the same in every context. That’s a lesson that Hector “Ramon” Calix Dueñas says he’s learning during his YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) year in Colombia.

Dueñas is 27 and from Saba, Honduras, where his parents are pastors of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Hondureña, the church he grew up in. He says service has always been an essential element of his expression of Christianity. Recently, he wanted to match his desire to serve with travel and cultural discovery. When a friend completed a year with YAMEN and encouraged him to consider the program, he knew he found the match and applied for the program.

YAMEN is a yearlong service opportunity for young Christian adults outside Canada and the U.S. Participants experience living in a different culture while serving alongside local MCC partners in schools, farms, community agencies and day cares, gaining hands-on experience. The program is jointly operated by MCC and Mennonite World Conference.

Dueñas has completed eight months of the program, working with two church ministries in Cali, Colombia. One of these ministries, Cruising for Jesus, operates in one of Cali’s roughest neighborhoods, where talking about peace collides with the reality of everyday violence for most attendants.

One of the most important things I’ve learned through my year is being able to see Jesus from a different perspective.

Hector “Ramon” Calix Dueñas

YAMENer in Colombia

A large group of people meet outside, sitting on lawn chairs
YAMNer Hector “Ramon” Calix Dueñas speaking to young adults of the Jesus Christ Light and Life Mission Church of Cali, Colombia, in their camp in La Cumbre, Colombia, on seeing Jesus as the anchor of our lives. (Photo courtesy of Hector “Ramon” Calix Dueñas)

“The kids who are coming to these meetings are coming from a very vulnerable place, really harsh and difficult situations,” says Dueñas. “We have a big focus on conflict resolution, not only with the kids, but for the community in general. The neighborhood we’re in, fights can take place at any time of day. We talk a lot about forgiveness and the process of healing your heart.”

Cruising for Jesus offers two weekly events that Dueñas helps run: a Wednesday evening service designed for those who haven’t had a lot of exposure to the Bible or Christian teachings and a Saturday afternoon meeting catered to teens and young adults. While Dueñas has been working on transforming communities, he’s also felt like he’s been transformed himself.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned through my year is being able to see Jesus from a different perspective,” he says. “It’s beyond what you can learn about Jesus during a church service; it's how you see him outside of it. It’s understanding what Jesus preached about while you are teaching kids math or Spanish, or just seeing Jesus through different eyes. I love seeing him through those small things.”

A young man poses with a large cheeseburger at a table
YAMENer Hector “Ramon” Calix Dueñas enjoys lunch in the city of Bogota one day before leaving with the MCC team to the retreat in Suesca, Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Hector “Ramon” Calix Dueñas)

Dueñas says these new perspectives have helped him realize that understanding context is critical for building a lasting peace.
“When you’re carrying peace in a very difficult environment or to a very vulnerable population, you have to understand what you’re bringing with you, in Jesus’ name,” says Dueñas.

With the end of his term not far off on the horizon, Dueñas says he’s not sure what his plan is when he returns home, but there is one thing he already feels excited about.

“Part of me wants to stay longer, but I also can’t wait to go back and share what I’ve learned and seen with my community. There's just another thing that the church needs to understand — this is our responsibility, to take care of people. That we need to look after the people who need support and figure out how we can just walk with these people and teach more the way Jesus tried to teach us.”

For more information about YAMEN or to sign up, visit MCC’s website.