Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ask why.


Before I do anything else, I want to give a disclaimer- I don't have internet access here, so it's been difficult even to check email, let alone post anything on this page.  I am at Jess Sarriot's house currently, taking advantage of her internet, but just remember that posts from me will be sporadic until I figure out an internet account or a safe and reliable way to carry my computer around the city.  All told- when I can check, I'm loving your updates and news, so keep sending them, even if I delay in answering.

And without wasting more time- a few reflections.  I've now passed through Nicaragua in a whirlwind of Mennonite Central Committee orientation.  We spent a week at a gloriously green retreat center, and as we were essentially locked in with our group for the first few days, we got to know each other well and quickly.  The group is wonderful- from many different backgrounds, but with a shared spirit of passion for peace work, curiosity to learn about each other, and laughter to tease each other as we learn Spanish and English, respectively.  It feels like they are a safety net for me- leaving the U.S. with very little idea of who was waiting for me on the other end was terrifying, but this group has caught me and supported me already in an amazing way.  More on who they are later... but suffice it to say the orientation helped me integrate a lot of the ideas I've had over the years at EMU about development, peacebuilding, Anabaptist theology, and cross cultural experience with this very real work that I am entering.  It's daunting in scope, responsibility, and seriousness because working for MCC in Colombia is now my reality, not just a case study or an idea, but it's also so inspiring!

So now I'm in Bogota, Colombia, reflecting on my first week of more specific orientation with the Seed team.  I'm living with an older woman from a Mennonite church and another girl from the group, Daniela (from Peru).  We've spent our days in orientation and our free time traipsing around the intense public transit system of the city, learning how to avoid pickpockets, buying everything from mangoes to lentils in mercaditos, getting lost in the maze of streets (8 million residents in the city).... it's stimulating and exhausting all at once.  Add to this the challenge of doing it all in Spanish, and you have one young lady who is welcoming a weekend break.  (My Spanish has thankfully returned to an acceptable level in a short time, but it's still hard to recognize that I really need to study and work on it again.)

Our orientation has spanned a wide area of subjects, but I'll share an idea instead of reiterating the details.  I was talking with someone from the group, Leonel, about the Christian call to non-violence.  I believe non-violence and peace work go much deeper than just the concept of turning the other cheek.  Living in a peaceful way means addressing the roots of violence- questioning the entire system, philosophy, and mission of the violence of the world and living in a way that nurtures an alternative, peaceful lifestyle.  This is a huge concept, but I think what we've been doing in the Seed program so far takes peace work to this deep level.  We have been asking why, over and over again (I have to credit Tyler Groff here for this idea, from a conversation in the U.S. about the point of an education).  Instead of throwing ourselves into the most obvious peace initiatives or political positions, we are taking time to ask why about everything.  Why are the border neighborhoods of Bogota so dangerous?  Why can't we talk about our work over whatever cell phone or in whatever public place?  Why is the evangelical church growing so rapidly in Colombia?  Why are various people we've met so conservative politically?  Why don't we slam the taxi doors?  Why are bananas almost the same price in the U.S. as Colombia?  Why use that Spanish phrase instead of this one?  Why does MCC Colombia maintain a low profile?  Why do they work so closely with the Mennonite church?  And on and on- why, why.  That is our work so far.  We aren't jumping into this, but we are taking the peace process to a deeper level.  Understanding comes first.  And through the process of understanding, we are learning how crucial it is to practice this asking why. 

So, there you are friends.  The musings of the beginnings of the wondering here in Colombia.  More later!

love and esperanza.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

the beginning

"The causes lie deep and simple- the causes are a hunger in the stomach, multiplied a million times; a hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied a million times; muscles and mind aching to grow, to work, to create, multiplied a million times.  If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut... and this you can know- fear the time when Humanself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe... This is the zygote.  For here 'I lost my land' is changed; a cell is split and from the splitting grows the thing you hate- 'we lost our land.'  The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one... this is the thing that is bombed.  This is the beginning, from 'I' to 'we.'"
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The movement from 'I' to 'we,' is the beginning of resistance.  John Steinbeck,writing about farmers fleeing desolation during the Great Depression, saw great helplessness and despair in individual suffering.  When the people were scattered and lonely, they were powerless to make any change.  When they gathered around campfires, fixed each others' cars, shared a few potatoes, and talked about their experience, they began to see themselves as a group, as a 'we.'  They began to gain the power to challenge the structures that kept them down.

For me, peacebuilding work is about connection.  We try to bring people together- either people driven apart by oppression and injustice or by ideology and circumstance.  This is the beginning, as Steinbeck says.  The violence from the powerful in our world is directed at destroying this coming-together, this unity.  It is dangerous.  A 'we' has the power to rewrite the rules around them, to remake their reality.  This is resistance.

This is my work- to take myself- American, white, female, young, pacifist, Christian- and make a 'we,' with the people I meet.  To create a different reality together- of freedom, justice, peace, and hope.  This is our work- to keep our 'we' as we travel away from each other, as we follow different vocations, and as we widen our circles of connection.  This is our work- to reach out and bring each other in, to move from 'I' to 'we.'

Be part of this process with me.  Please keep in touch and let me know what you are thinking!

Take care.