Over the last sixty years of armed conflict, Colombians have redefined what it means to be a victim.
“If you do not yourself get shot, you are not a victim,” Ricardo, a representative of an MCC initiative known as Justapaz, explains. “One man, his village was a war zone between paramilitary groups and drug traffickers. Bullets would fly though his windows” But because the villager was never actually hit, he did not consider himself to be in any way victimized by the violence.
Marta, the director of Edupaz, an MB organization that seeks to facilitate peace and reconciliation in Colombia, shakes her head. “Our whole way of life is being victimized, because violence has become normal. Even if we lay down our guns, there is still a weapon inside us. We are victims of our own hate.”
Ricardo agrees. “It is not easy,” he says, “But we only stop being victims once we forgive.” Ricardo’s own story testifies to this truth. He had been giving workshops in local churches, equipping them to welcome demobilized combatants and help reintegrate them into society peacefully. To the armed gangs and paramilitary groups, he was seen as a threat, seducing soldiers with promises of peace and forgiveness. They watched him for months, clocking his daily routines, waiting for the right moment to kidnap him. Oblivious, Ricardo went on with life, including his own wedding. He and his new bride were preparing to visit relatives in a rural village when a frantic phone call came from his employer, the director of MCC in Bogota.
“Hide!” his boss cried. “They are coming for you. Your parents also, they must run!” Leaving everything behind, Ricardo’s parents fled to a different state, never to return, and Ricardo and his wife escaped to Honduras. It was nine years before it was safe for Ricardo to return to Bogota. Once home, though, he lost no time in picking up where he had left off.
“Armed rebel groups are demobilizing, and they are afraid,” he explains. “They fear their victims will hate them and seek revenge.” Ricardo has not only forgiven his enemies, he is eager to serve them by continuing to train churches to reach out to ex-combatants. “We at MCC work to build bridges,” Ricardo says. “And the churches cross those bridges to stretch out a hand to those on the other side. Together God is working through us. Colombia is on the verge of peace!”
By N. White