Accompaniment as an antiracist practice, embodies transnational concern for human dignity and flourishing by ensuring that violence and injustice cannot remain hidden or unaccountable. Through the sharing of experiences and commitments to action, accompaniment combines compassion and empathy with the action that solidarity requires. In Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Columbia, accompaniment strives to offset the fear upon which violence in the region thrives.
The Mennonite Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action (Justapaz), a longstanding Partner of Global Ministries, invited me to participate in a virtual visit to several communities in the “Bagre” Department in northwestern Colombia. Justapaz accompanies indigenous and Afro-descendant churches and communities in the western part of the country. They seek the fulfillment of the Peace Accords signed in 2016, recognizing that compliance has diminished in the years since the signing. They also document violations of Human and Humanitarian Rights covenants in that place and provide for the basic needs of the people there.
The challenge is vast. Nine indigenous and Afro-descendant pastors from churches in Bagre told stories of trying to keep their church families and members of their communities safe. The regrouping of paramilitary organizations in the area, forced recruitment of youth and children, threats, killings, and forced displacement of families affect the wellbeing of the people. It was excruciating to hear stories of how pastors and church leaders must be extremely careful about their sermons and in their pastoral accompaniment through the community. People from paramilitary groups visit churches, become members of them, and then, request to check on offerings and internal affairs. They also threaten local businesses, charging them “security and protection” fees to avoid kidnapping or destruction of property. COVID-19 has affected police and patrolling in the sector, even though community leaders also stated that the presence of authorities tends to exacerbate tensions, conflicts, and even violence there.
Each of these episodes and others seems to have a single purpose: to cause fear, anxiety, and forced restriction of mobility in indigenous and Afro-descendant territories. This culture of fear undoubtedly affects already challenging conditions of life, violating international human rights covenants as well as humanitarian laws protecting civilian populations from warfare. In a debriefing after the virtual visit, our partner shared with me how those recent violent re-groupings are no longer motivated by political stances, but on drug trafficking and illegal appropriation of land for mining and the exploitation of resources in those areas. By bearing witness to the challenges facing the community in Bagre and taking action to urge real safety and self-determination, Justapaz and we as solidarity partners, supports intervention in this culture of fear, hoping to create space for a culture of care and connection to flourish instead.
Angel Luis Rivera-Agosto, Area Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean
For further reflection, check out these helpful Tenets of Accompaniment.
Companioning God, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we long for your presence and sometimes fail to recognize you as you journey beside us. As you broke the bread, so too break open hearts, revealing to us the journeys of love, justice and solidarity that unfold before us as callings. In your resurrecting name, we pray. Amen.
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