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PEACE BUILDING: Dialogue Is Crucial in Reconciliation, Forgiveness Cannot Be Demanded: Rev. Ricardo Esquivia, Colombian Mennonite human rights lawyer

Colombian activist shares insights from decades of peace building.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Human rights lawyer Ricardo Esquivia has been working with churches, civil society movements and victims of violence, with a goal towards conflict resolution, reconciliation and peace in Colombia. A member of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, he initiated the Justapaz Christian center for justice, peace and non-violent action in Bogotá.

One of the keynote panelists at the LWF Council 2012 meeting in Bogotá, he spoke to Lutheran World Information (LWI) about his work for peace in Colombia.

LWI: In your own experience working peace for more than 40 years, what do you believe we need?

Esquivia: We need a lot of patience—it is the essence of peace. We need to understand the changes among the generations, not only among individuals, but also in the community. Building peace is a political process but that is not only at one level. We need to understand the public politics that are supporting peace. We must work as a team with the state in order to build peace.

LWI: Why is it so difficult to find peace in Colombia?

Esquivia: We do not know which kind of peace we are talking about. We are ignorant whether it is peace in the absence of armed conflict or peace with life and abundance. Even the government only thinks that it is about ending the armed conflict—that is only one step, but if they are working towards peace, that is positive. The current President Juan Manuel Santos wants to be remembered as someone who ended the armed conflict.

LWI: How can we live out peace from a faith perspective?

Esquivia: Peace must be explained as integral peace. It is the Shalom with the neighbor, nature, myself and with God in the framework of a complete relationship. I want to add that peace which can only be found without any acts of violence.

The message of peace by the church is build step-by-step, and this gradually leads to peace. The church is a fortress and we must have a lot of hope.

LWI: What does reconciliation mean in the Colombian context?

Esquivia: It is a paradigm with different actors, who must meet at one point. It is like beginning again to learn to live and put all the pieces together.

We must find a compass that will lead us to reconciliation. It is like a horizon that we will never grasp but we are on the path. The church is on the way.

LWI: What is needed around the table if we want to arrive at reconciliation?

Esquivia: The victim needs to know what happened, what to do with the offender, how the offender will be punished, and how the problem will be resolved.

A process of forgiveness must happen; the offender needs to repent. Forgiveness cannot be demanded, the goal is to arrive at a point where forgiveness is granted.

LWI: How can we live reconciliation from a faith perspective?

Esquivia: From a Christian point of view, we must remember that reconciliation is about moving forward. We need to understand that is something different in each generation and we need to be patient as we make some steps.

LWI: You are promoting sustainable hope through a program called “chocoro o vasija de la transformación creativa” or “jars of creative transformation.” What does it involve?

Esquivia: It is about bringing and sharing hope through “a jar which is filled with all the harvest.” To a vulnerable person, it means it is possible to get help from the church.

It begins with support for the basic needs as Jesus did. We cannot pray when we are hungry. The truth is first about supporting those who are suffering.

The program includes small stores for farmers to sell their produce. It promotes network marketing, where everyone benefits from a retail chain whereby needs become the power to help each other out. Church members are educated to buy what the people produce and also to help them.

There are many victims of the armed conflict in the region called María Montes with more than 36 massacres from 1988 to 2006. One of them was the family of Rev. Jasper Rodríguez who lost 22 family members in 2001. He is part of this program and continues to work in the city of Sincelejo in a church called Remanso de Paz (“Haven of Peace”), which is a great example of work for all of us.

LWI: What does it mean for you that The Lutheran World Federation chose Colombia to host its Council meeting this year?

Esquivia: It is a message directly from God that God never abandons us. This means that we cannot disappear. That the LWF is here gives us new hope, a sign that gives us encouragement that God’s design can be complete.

LWI: What is your experience with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia and its concern for peace?

Esquivia: I have known the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) for a long time, from when I worked in the area of human rights at the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL), which comprises pastors from the main Christian denominations.

I believe that the Lutheran church has also learned to transform social conservatism into action, as its work should be translated into practical actions or events.

LWI: What is your message to IELCO in this path towards peace?

Esquivia: Don’t be discouraged–continue in the way of learning and growing because your task is important. It does not matter that we are a small church; we must bring hope to our people.

We are under the tree that is not born yet but its seed is growing. We must have much faith so that we can see the tree inside this seed. This is what faith is about.

Adapted from the original interview in Spanish by Edwin Mendivelso conducted on 16 June 2012

Photo: Rev. Ricardo Esquivia (LWF  Milton Blanco)

Source: Lutheran World Federation, LWF: 


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