On July 15 I arrived in Cali, Colombia, to attend the Global Baptist Peace Conference, along with 400 other peacemakers from more than 30 countries around the world. Though many of us were visiting a city and country new to us, the spirit of hospitality was surely in that place, because we felt at home as we shared stories, skills, and resources, and as we prayed for each other, thereby creating new bonds and deepening old friendships.
Still, our sociopolitical realities are always present in the relationships we build. For white, Anglo citizens of the USA, our constant temptation and encouragement is to think that the way we experience the world is the way everyone experiences the world. Traveling to a different country with a history different from our own – yet inextricably tied to the same forces of domination and destruction that presently rule – can be an important way to widen our vision and expand our empathy.
The Global Baptist Peace Conference was held in Colombia to learn about the Peace Accord of 2016 following decades of violent clashes between the Colombian government and the guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). During the conference, our Colombian hosts shared with us their nation’s pain and sorrow, including personal stories, political perspectives and creative means of responding to the domestic terror they have experienced.
The Peace Accord is not a perfect document and has not been perfectly implemented. Fabiola Perdomo, a journalist whose husband was kidnapped and murdered by the FARC in 2002, has dedicated herself to the peace process and to pursuing justice for the survivors and relatives of victims of the conflict. When asked about the flaws in the Accord and its implementation plan, she said, “I would rather have an imperfect peace process that a perfect war.” There is no mere arriving at peace, she told us. Peace is not a destination but a process.
The challenges to the Peace Accord are much the same as challenges faced by countries around the world, especially as fascism, nationalism and populism are on the rise. Challenges such as political polarization, deep income inequity, and the domination of governments by extreme factions are all too familiar in too many places for comfort.
Being in Cali and hearing the stories told there amounted to a call to action. There is something sacred about being physically present with people, about greeting one another in the same spirit across barriers of language and nationality. Together, holding hands, singing in multiple languages, learning and loving, we were able to remind each other that none of us is alone in the work of justice.
Anita Peebles is associate pastor for Next Generation Ministries at Seattle First Baptist Church.