COLOMBIA REFLECTION: From the center to the margins


27 June 2011
COLOMBIA REFLECTION: From the center to the margins 

by Paula Miller

[Note: Miller was on the May 2011 CPT delegation to

 In the beginning of his Gospel, Mark lays the foundation of
Jesus’ mission to show the disciples and us a new way to salvation.  At that time, the Temple served as the
center of Jewish life, the place where the economic transactions and social and
religious rituals were supposed to sustain the community.  However, often these transactions and
rituals benefited only those in power and oppressed the poor.  When Jesus arrives on the scene from a
small town in Palestine he doesn’t go to the Temple.  Instead, he meets up with John the Baptist in the wilderness.
 Here is where he starts his

  When we arrived
in Bogota, we came from our own centers.  Our own countries, our own communities, our homes.  We arrived at a new center, Bogota, the
capital of Colombia.  Like the
Temple, Bogota is where the political and economic decisions that benefit the
rich and powerful are made. We met
with people and groups that gave us a foundation of how these decisions are
affecting those on the margins—the pastors being assassinated for speaking about
peace, the history of the mining communities’ struggles, the policies of
development by blood and fire to enrich the multinational companies.     

 We left Bogota—the center—and traveled to Barrancabermeja,
the center of the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia.  In Barrancabermeja, we met with people
who told us the story of their struggle.  A city founded on oil—the rich resources of the land soon
began leaving the region to profit others.  Because of this injustice, the people of Barrancabermeja began
their struggle to defend their rights.  We met with organizations that work with women to empower
themselves, with campesinos working to defend their rights to their land, with
union organizers facing death threats, and with youth working to stop forced
recruitment into the military.  We
also learned first hand the consequences of these struggles when we visited the
memorial for the 16 May 1998 massacre in Barrancabermeja and met with the
families of the victims.   

 From Barrancabermeja, we continued our journey to the
margins as we left for the mining community of Mina Vieja in the Sierra de San
Lucas mountains.  Leaving at 5:00
a.m., we traveled by chalupa, taxi, truck, mule, and on foot.  We arrived in Mina Vieja fifteen hours
later, most of us covered in mud that at times was two feet deep.  We quickly learned that our difficult
journey was nothing compared to the struggle of the mining communities to stay
on their lands.  The leaders told
us that the military pressures them in subtle ways to leave the land.  Soldiers cut their water lines, steal
their wood, and verbally abuse them on their way to the mines.  Despite these daily challenges, community
members told us, “We don’t give up easily.  Look at the resistance here—they threaten us, cut us,
assassinate us but we continue to stay because the riches of this country are
for the Colombian people.  God has
given us a large resource.  We
don’t use violence in response.  We
are honest, hard-working people who love life and are united in culture and
ethics.  We are

   It is at the
margins—in the wilderness—where the sovereignty of God is made manifest and
where the story of liberation is renewed and God’s intervention in history
occurs.*  As we journey back to our
centers we need to take with us the message we received from every person we
met along the way:  that where
there is love there is life, where there is life there is hope, and where there
is hope there will be justice.   



*Ched Myers, Say to this Mountain, page 12    




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