COLOMBIA: A Christmas Odyssey



December 25, 2002

COLOMBIA: A Christmas Odyssey

by Kathleen Kern

“That’s your story,” Pierre Shantz told me, as we left

the family’s kitchen — four poles and a thatched roof

— to get into our motor canoes. “These people used to

be displaced and now they’re back.”

I had had some difficulty finding something to write

about during this first CPT joint Colombian and North

American Mennonite Choir tour of the area around

Barrancabermeja. Armed groups vying for control of the

region have killed and tortured civilians there with

brutal regularity for the last few years and forced

thousands more to flee their homes.

But while we were there, nothing much happened. The

eight of us – three Colombian and five North American

Mennonites – sang in a Catholic and a Baptist church

in Barrancabermeja and an old school where a few

displaced people from the Cienaga del Opon area still

live. We then went on a tour up and down the River

Opon, singing for families who live in isolated


When I asked about the current situation, as I drank

water from freshly-harvested coconuts, the response

was non-committal. “Oh, you know as well as I do,” one

woman said. “Things are pretty calm.”

So we held babies, played dominos, let children show

us their pet squirrels, parrots, and puppies, swam in

the river, ate plates of yuca, beans, and rice, and

drank many cups of chocolate and “tinto” — sweet

boiled coffee. Only once did I see distress in the

people we visited: when team member Keith Young told

them that CPT Colombia might have to shut down,

because the Colombian government has refused to grant

team members visas.

“We feel safer when you’re here,” one man told the

choir as other community members nodded in agreement.

Security improved considerably when the team began

regularly spending nights in their communities, he


We gave our last public performance on December 20 for

a family who fed us on our way back to

Barrancabermeja. No brilliant star had led us to the

Opon. Just families who wanted to live in peace. The

gifts we brought them were of no material value, and I

certainly felt no wiser before or after.

But then, I suppose, the magi didn’t find stained

glass and ambient mood lighting when they came to

Bethlehem. Perhaps the lively children, houses with

dirt floors, and animals we saw in the Opon were not

unlike what the magi saw in Bethlehem when they

visited Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

The story of the magi, of course, may not be the most

encouraging parallel to draw to the Christmas choir

tour, when one considers what Herod did to the

children in Bethlehem after the wise men left their

gifts and returned home. But of course, Herod’s death

squads and those who followed their example over the

centuries are a reason why CPT came into being — so

that tyrants cannot kill children and their families

with impunity.

Participants in the Christmas Choir delegation

included Sandra Rincon (Bogotá, Colombia), Julian

Carreño (Bogotá), Adaia Bernal (Bogotá), Lisa Brightup

(Wichita, KS), Pierre Shantz (Kitchener-Waterloo, ON),

Matthew Wiens (Winnipeg, MB), Janine Martin (currently

serving with Mennonite Mission Network in Bogotá), and

Kathleen Kern (Webster, NY.)

Photos of the Christmas Choir are available at The title of the

album is “CPT Colombia Christmas Choir Delegation.”

Faces of the listeners have been blurred for their



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