The idea was born during a picnic I
had organized for the dorm students, in my role as “Coordinator of
Community Well-Being” at the Latin American Biblical University. Juan
proposed that they should meet to share concerns about the problems
their countries faced and to “think theologically” about them. I was
appointed to organize the first ever “Political dinner” around the
theme of violence. After a delicious potluck, we retired to the newly
organized lounge and I explained that representatives of four countries
would have 15 minutes each to talk, followed by 5 minutes of
questions and clarifications, then we would open up to general
discussion for another 40 minutes. We heard from Honduras, Guatemala,
Nicaragua, and Peru.
The stories were heartbreaking. They
spoke of living in a suffocating atmosphere of fear and mistrust that
permeates every aspect of their lives. They detailed the structural
violence corroding their countries: corruption, poverty, illiteracy,
concentration of wealth in a few families, military repression,
impunity, lack of justice. They claimed that not only were the
governments not able to control the criminality, gangs, and mafias,
but they participated in them and profited from them. The
governments, they said, align with international corporations to
steal land from Indigenous peoples to exploit petroleum and minerals.
One student told of the systematic destruction of his people, the
Indigenous Miskitos of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. All spoke with
passion and pain. They detailed how the structural violence has
provoked domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and street
crime. The pervasive impunity has motivated a vigilante justice in
which criminals are burned alive by the community. The terror has
forced mass migrations, breaking up families and communities.
What then, has
been the role of the church? Surely the church has
stood out against these injustices, has spoken for the poor and
marginalized, has called for justice? No, it has not, they agreed.
They divided the church into three groups:
Those who have their
head in the clouds and are heavenly bound, not to be concerned
about worldly things.
Those who see their
opportunity and join the system, using religious rhetoric to win
votes, power and wealth.
Those who oppose
injustice and stand for the poor. They are quickly “disappeared”
by the state apparatus.
So, I have
convoked them to a second meeting, coming up on Friday, November 6:
“Last night we heard stories that presented a Reign
of death, violence, terror, corruption, exploitation, misery and
desperation. But we belong to the Reign of Life. We need to meet
again to propose a new way of understanding and practicing our faith
that, like mustard seeds, can create a different reality. I invite
you to bring stories of concrete actions, dreams that you have for
your country, and most of all, a new theology, a new way to see life,
faith and the role of the people of God. Together we can make a
Pray for this meeting and that these deeply committed Christians will
be powerfully used by God in their countries.