Elizabeth Miller is serving with MCC in Bogotá, Colombia, along with her spouse Neil Richer. Miller works as an Anabaptist identity and history promoter, and Richer is a micro-loan promoter. They are members of Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana.
My work as a church historian with MCC Colombia is a unique one in that it has allowed me to know the Anabaptist churches here in both their present and historical realities. Over the past four years, this relationship has gradually convinced me that we in the North urgently need to know the history of our brothers and sisters in faith around the world.
Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite missionaries from North America first arrived in Colombia in the late 1940s, just as the country was descending into a violent civil war. In this tumultuous context, early believers were ostracized and discriminated against by local political and religious officials because of their non-Catholic faith. In response they formed tightly-knit communities shaped by corporate worship, Bible study, mutual aid and a common experience of resisting state political and religious norms.
When the persecution subsided and believers from these rural churches began moving to rapidly expanding cities in the 1950s and 1960s, the churches responded by opening up their communities. Some evangelized in new and underdeveloped urban neighborhoods, offering uprooted newcomers a place to belong in the ever-expanding city. Others engaged contemporary social movements and sought ways to theologically and practically connect the needs of Colombia’s context to the church’s mission.
Colombia’s civil conflict escalated throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s with the formation of new illegal armed groups, harsh government retaliation and human rights abuses on all sides. The churches tapped their historical experiences as marginalized communities to once again resist the “powers that be” and respond to the spiritual and material needs of their context. When faced with threats of violence for their positions, they refused to capitulate and instead cited the way of Jesus and his call to non-violence as their most primary commitment.
These churches are far from perfect. But through their history and current witness they have gifts to offer us in the North, especially their ability to read their context, identity the greatest needs, resist its most seductive forces and be willing to suffer for their commitments. In their witness and risk-taking, however, these Anabaptist communities also need us. They need our prayers and our listening ears. But they also need our ability as citizens and stakeholders to address the North American-based mining companies, military campaigns and government policies that heighten Colombia’s conflict and entrench its inequality.
Each April, believers in North America and Colombia observe and honor this mutually-giving relationship with the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia (DOPA). Our first step into entering in relationship with the global church is to hear their histories of faith and community. The second step is to give and receive from one another. DOPA is a way to do both within your local congregation and to become a part of the Colombian Anabaptist story.
For resources and more information about Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, visitwashington.mcc.org/days. Join hundreds of congregations in the United States and Colombia to pray and take action for peace in Colombia.