Colombia, my home country, is undergoing one of the toughest times in recent times. To comprehend the current tragedy, you must know a bit about our recent history. After about 65 years of insurrection and what some describe as civil war, Colombia signed the famous Havana Peace Acord with the Marxist Guerrillas back in 2014, ending the bloody and costly conflict. At the time, this was the longest armed insurrection in any country in the history of the world. As a result, the president won the Nobel Peace Prize, and many European and American investors began to return to Colombia. Unemployment dropped to historic lows, new markets were opened, and new infrastructure was developed (Medellin, for example, is known as the most wired city in Latin America, and a center for medical innovation, with many American and European-trained doctors and scientists.)
The best part of this new time of peace was the fact that many travel magazines around the globe began to recommend tourism to Colombia. I took my family to Medellin in 2014 and we were amazed at the progress and the general feeling of safety and progress around the city. Chris and I went to Cartagena in 2017 and fell in love immediately. All of this progress indicated that perhaps Colombia was on its way to sustained and sustainable peace. Over the last ten years, my siblings have invested heavily in the country and several of them bought seconds homes, farms, and rental properties.
Now, to be fair, underneath the layers of progress and peace, there was always a large segment of the population who was under-employed and even unemployed. There were towns that remained very unsafe, and the production of cocaine continued in several regions of the country. All in all, however, it seemed like the Government was meeting the challenges of the day, people’s needs were being taken care of for the most part, and the guerillas were slowly re-incorporating themselves into the life of the nation, finding jobs, and settling roots.
Then two major crisis took place around the same time: The Venezuelan crisis brought hundreds of thousands of displaced Venezuelans to Colombia’s borders, and this created a humanitarian crisis to which Colombia responded well with the help of American and European aide. The influx of this large amount of people, however, created a security threat for Colombia, especially in border towns and cities. Additionally, the still developing infrastructure of the country was greatly taxed by this crisis, and unemployment rates started to climb all over again. This crisis was followed by a new presidential election and the replacement of a fairly well respected leader with a man who has shown a great lack of political experience. Some of his decisions thus far have been controversial to outright unpopular. Political corruption at all levels has been alleged over the last two years, and civil rights abuses are beginning to be reported once again by international watchdogs.
Then came the Corona Virus Pandemic. After 14 months of lockdowns, quarantines, hefty fines for not wearing masks, and heavy police presence throughout the country, unemployment has risen to as high as 35-40%, new rates of infection are increasing, and we have seen some of the highest daily death tolls the country has seen since the start of the Pandemic. The situation is truly precarious. Supermarket shelves are nearly empty, inflation is rising, and the heavy-handed approach of security forces have added to the overwhelming sense of insecurity and fear in the country. To these issues, you need to add the great influence of social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and What’s Up (Facebook.) It is now common to see videos of police and military brutality against the general public in real time. Some of these videos are as cruel as the video of the killing of George Floyd.
The Latino Ministry Office of the national church called a group of Colombian-born pastors to create a planning committee to address the crisis through prayer. I am one of fourteen leaders tasked with the responsibility of planning daily Evening Prayer services that can gather clergy and lay people from around the globe to pray for peace and reconciliation. These Spanish-only services will take place via Zoom and Facebook Live every day for the next two weeks at 8:00 pm Central Time. If any of you are interested in attending these vigils, please let me know. Even if you do not attend the vigil, I ask that for the next ten days, all of you will join me in a moment of silence and prayer at 8:00 pm. Just think about the suffering and affliction of those in Colombia and utter a silent prayer. Please keep my extended family in your prayers and one of my sisters who has been in her Colombia home for several months and now finds herself stranded there.
Let us pray,
God of peace, whose Son is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, bless the people of Colombia with peace and tranquility during this time of crisis. Protect those who are at risk, soften the hearts of security forces, reduce the corruption at various political levels, and give the nation a respite from this Pandemic. In your infinite mercy shelter those who suffer, the weak, and the disenfranchised. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen!