23 April 2012
COLOMBIA: Where two or three… or fifteen are
by Julie Myers
[Note: This release has been edited for length. The original version is available
For where two or three
are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.
Just weeks after the celebration of International Women’s
Day, on 22 March, the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) asked us to visit the
house of a friend and OFP colleague, named Iluminada. Her neighbor, a man who identifies
himself as a paramilitary, attacked and threatened her in her home. In a demonstration of solidarity,
eleven women from the OFP showed up to her house that morning, plus four CPTers.
As we formed a line to greet Iluminada and enter her simple
home, I saw a tear run down her cheek as she smiled at her fifteen guests. We
talked briefly about the incident, but the energy in the house was one of
triumph, of togetherness, of strength in numbers. No woman is alone in this city, it seemed to say.
And when the man passed by the house that morning, he saw
eleven women from the OFP and four CPTers laughing and drinking coffee, telling
stories, and sharing news. We barely fit in her house. We sat on arm rests and
squeezed on couches, stood up against walls, and spilled out onto the street.
I couldn’t help but think of the verse in Matthew: “For
where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” But we
were fifteen! And there was no doubt that we were in the presence of something
greater than ourselves.
The joy of this gathering wore off soon though. On Sunday
the 25th, we got another call from the OFP, this time for a case of domestic
abuse. The woman had been beaten unconscious by her husband, who threatened to
kill her. She is 21. And it was not the first time he hit her. She found her
way to the OFP through the gynecologist who examined her in the hospital. She
struggled to walk, breathe, sit, stand, keep her eyes open. OFP called the
police to record her complaint. Two by two, eventually eight police officers showed up and collectively
decided that they didn’t know what to do for this case of common domestic
violence. So they left.
We went to police station to do file the complaint. Gloria,
from the OFP, requested that the police escort the woman to her neighbor’s,
where her four-year-old son was staying. They said they could not, because it
was unsafe. Gloria requested that the police find her a place to stay that
night. Again, they said they couldn’t. Because she predicted this answer,
Gloria travels with a copy of the law. She opened up to the text and pointed to
the rights of abuse victims. The right of a safe place to stay. The right to a
safe escort back to their homes. No luck.
Instead, this woman slept on a mat on the floor at the OFP’s
Casa de la Mujer. The next day she was shuffled around to more appointments:
doctors, complaints, hours of sitting and waiting—painfully. Each movement
When the police finally agreed to escort this woman back to
her home to reunite with her son, with a restraining order against her husband
in hand, Gloria breathed a tired sigh. She had fought tooth and nail for the
sliver of dignity she was awarded. She had talked to dozens of police officers
and government officials on this woman’s behalf. She tucked the text of the law
back into the plastic envelope she travels with. She would need it again soon
Both of these accompaniments with OFP, the joy of
cramming into Iluminada’s house and the sadness of seeing this woman, beaten by
her spouse as well as the law, were true reflections of the Matthew verse.
Jesus was surely present with all fifteen of us as we drank coffee and laughed,
and Jesus was surely present as we physically lifted this woman out of her
chair because of her aching ribs to record her complaint. It is no wonder why
the women of the Popular Women’s Organization are constantly under threat. They
live out solidarity in sheltering the oppressed, visiting the vulnerable,
healing the wounded, and walking side by side with one another on this journey,
carrying each other when necessary. May they continue to be inspiring examples
of what it means to be a Christian in these difficult times. And may we
continue to gather with them: two, three, or fifteen of us, and feel the
presence of Christ.