by Duane Ediger
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”- Matthew 5:11-12
Farmers and small scale miners in Colombia’s Southern Bolívar province are in a pinch. Palm oil conglomerates and international mining firms have set their sights on lands where the people have lived and worked for decades. Military bases dot the region. Paramilitary groups carry out selective assassinations – about one every day or two.
Simon*, a regional community organizer, and I listened as a local leader shared her story of displacement several years ago from a neighboring province. Colombian military-backed paramilitaries took possession of land there through acts which included child rape that she personally witnessed. They threatened her life, forcing her to sell her ranch for 2% of its value.
The next day, Simon, probably seeing in my face a reflection of the pain to which I had become a secondary witness, approached me and shared the following story.
“There is a village not far from here where paramilitaries have come repeatedly, pillaging and burning houses on 7 different occasions. At a certain point, the community assigned a lookout to warn them. When the paramilitaries were coming, the people would get their electrical generator, their music and beer and hide them. The paramilitaries would arrive, kill chickens and pigs, take what they wanted and burn some houses. But you know what? By the next day, the people of that village would get out their generator, put on their favorite music and throw a party.
“Foreigners, when they see this kind of behavior, are dumbfounded. But these people have learned something. If you let the loss and violation get to you, you get worn down and eventually give up; that’s what the attacks are meant to do. It doesn’t mean they don’t take time to cry and feel the loss. But celebrating for these people has become a form of resistance.”
May this be a lesson when we are hesitant to take risks for justice. Get started with joy. Keep risking until the persecution comes; then we will have both a cause for celebration and a means to conquer fear!
*Name changed to assure presence at future parties.