by Julie Myers
On 22 March, just weeks after celebrating International Women’s Day, the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) asked CPT to join them in visiting Iluminada, a friend and colleague. Her neighbor, a man who identifies himself as a paramilitary, had attacked and threatened her in her home.
In a show of solidarity, eleven women from the OFP along with four CPTers went to her house that morning. As we greeted Iluminada and entered her simple home, I saw a tear run down her cheek.
We barely fit in her house. We sat on arm rests and squeezed onto couches, stood up against walls, and spilled out into the street. We talked briefly about the incident, but our energy was that 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, he saw 15 women laughing and drinking coffee, telling stories, and sharing news.
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 15! And there was no doubt that we were in the presence of something greater than ourselves.
The joy of this gathering soon wore off though. A few days later, the OFP called again, this time for a case of domestic abuse. A 21-year-old woman had been beaten unconscious by her husband who threatened to kill her. And it was not the first time he had hit her.
The gynecologist who examined her in the hospital referred her to the OFP. She struggled to walk, breathe, sit, stand, keep her eyes open.
The OFP called the police so she could file a complaint. Eventually eight officers arrived and collectively decided they didn’t know what to do, so they left.
We took this wounded sister to the police station to file the complaint there. Gloria from the OFP requested that the police escort the woman to her neighbor’s house where her young 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.
Gloria always travels with a copy of the law in her bag. She opened up to the text and pointed to the rights of abuse victims – the right of a safe place to stay;(cont’d next page)the right to a safe escort home. No luck. Instead, this woman slept on a mat on the floor at an OFP house.
The next day she was shuffled around to more appointments: doctors offices, police stations, hours of sitting and waiting – painfully. Each movement looked excruciating.
When the police finally agreed to escort her home to reunite her with her son, restraining order against her husband in hand, Gloria breathed a tired sigh. She had fought hard for the sliver of dignity this woman was awarded. She had talked to dozens of police officers and government officials on her behalf. She tucked the text of the law back into her bag. She would need it again soon enough.
Both of these accompaniments with the OFP – the joy of cramming into Iluminada’s house and the deep sadness of seeing this woman beaten by her spouse – 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 file her complaint.
It is no wonder that the women of the OFP are constantly under threat. They live out solidarity by 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 – and feel the presence of Christ.
Julie Myers, from Ohio, USA, has served full time with the Colombia team since 2009.