Colombia: God's Unlikely Table

by Kevin Baker, delegate

On the last day of our CPT delegation, we wanted to do a public action in response to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement recently passed by Congress.  We brainstormed, strategized, and agonized over the best time and place.

Finally, we settled on a street theater – a scene of two tables in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá.  One table was the world of free trade, based on stories we heard during the delegation – stories of violence and displacement fueled by multinational companies robbing the resources of Colombia.  The other table represented God’s table – a table marked by equality, mutuality, and abundance.  With this vision in our minds, we spent hours assembling costumes, writing prayers, and calling Colombian partner organizations.

When the day arrived, it rained.  A lot.  This was not a shower or a drizzle.  It absolutely poured.  Our original plan wasn’t going to work. 

And then, God showed up.  Earlier in the day, we had briefly met a group of former General Motors (GM) employees who were on strike outside the U.S. Embassy.  They had been injured on the job and then fired by GM as a way of escaping its obligation to pay their healthcare costs.  The workers put a few tents together and occupied the space in shifts.

When we met them, they had been there for sixty-four days.  We decided to brave the rain and join them.

What we found there was the table of God’s abundance that we had planned to demonstrate in our action.  But instead of just a symbolic breaking of bread, we found a living, active sharing.

We shared a little about ourselves and heard their stories – of lives derailed by preventable injuries in unsafe work environments, of just compensation denied to “the least of these.”  One man had to sell his house to pay hospital bills for a back injury received on the job.  

We heard God’s vision for humanity from Isaiah 25 – of abundance for all, and an end to death and injustice.

As these sacred tales of brokenness and resistance hung over us in the air like holy incense, we brought out the loaves of bread we’d bought to share during our action, and the GM employees made agua panela (a hot beverage of water and local unprocessed cane sugar).  For a few minutes in a couple of tents in front of the U.S. Embassy, the Reign of God broke into the world, and we shared the feast of victory for our God.   

Now, back home, I reflect on that experience in light of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has blossomed here in Chicago and so many other cities.  I think of new tents cropping up in equally unlikely places, and I see God continuing to break into our reality around tables every bit as unlikely as the one we stumbled upon in Bogotá.