Today my accompaniment partner Lora and I traveled to the town of Chigorodó where we are staying with Pastor Bernardino. This area has a mix of cultures as it is home to Indigenous peoples, Afro-Caribbean peoples, and people from all other regions of Colombia because it is near the pan-American highway.
We showed up at a house about a mile from the main square of town (still very dense neighborhoods) in a cab carrying our one big bag of supplies for the next two weeks. We sat in the house for sometime before Lora started translating where we were or who we were with. Then suddenly we sat down at a small dinner table with the pastor and his wife. we were surved a delicious lunch with pork, rice, pickled carrots and fried bananas. Once we were settled there he started to tell his story.
Pastor Bernardino has been here for 8 years but has been a church leader since he was 16 (in 1987). The area where he lives now was originally a banana plantation. When the owner could not pay his workers, they decided to move onto the property as payment. Since the people were favored by the local guerrilla armed group existing here at the time, the land owner was afraid to evict the new residents. Currently the neighborhood is well organized with grid-pattern streets, electricity, plumbing, and beautifully painted homes and businesses.
Previously Bernardino was the pastor in Apartadó where he was the head of the Urabá Presbytery. During that time, paramilitaries and/or guerrillas had been destroying the schools in the region so the presbytery decided to open a school (colegio) in Apartadó to support the community. Currently local schools are better funded from the government and safe so the colegio is smaller. They are now offering night college courses in the space as well.
Bernardino explained that there are three main ministries of his church, evangelism, deaconia (social justice), and environmentalism. At the local government level there is an association of pastors that do massive evangelism events (campaigns) and he is Vice President of this association. The group includes all churches who wish to participate. The Catholics are not part of the association but they have been invited. The IPC (Presbyterian Church of Colombia) has a good relationship with the Catholics (most people here identify as Catholic but I am not sure how many actually practice).
Bernardino's church also has connections with the local and regional government that meet regularly to discuss human rights concerns that they learn about through the congregation. We will visit some church members who were recently pushed off their land and still have not been able to find permanent settlement in this area. I think most of the people here have come here after being displaced from their land in other parts of the country. This community of displaced people has come together over many years.
In addition to all of this, the church partners with organizations to promote environmental sustainability. This is a huge issue in a region where most of the industries involve extracting something from the land: bananas, pineapples, gold, copper, titanium, and oil. There are huge swaths of land still covered in rainforest, although it seems like they may be going away rather quickly.
Basically, my first stop in Urabá is with a family of IPC all stars. I feel so honored to be staying with them this week. I pray we are open to learn from each other.