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