Some of my country’s people are feeling the weight of the same statements and questions we find in Lamentations, Job, and Habakkuk. “I am the man/woman who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath… indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long… He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship… Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer… I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.” (Selected verses from Lamentations 3.) “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” (Job 3: 23-26.) “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4.)
After almost a month of daily riots in most major cities, the shortages of gas and basic food supplies continues to grow in Colombia. This shortage is the result of military and police barricades in some areas and the protesters’ own barricades in others. The number of dead is estimated by human rights organizations to be around 40, although the government has claimed this number to be 17. The more concerning number is the amount of “disappeared” people. The government believes 127 people are still missing, while human rights organizations claim over 400 people remain unaccounted for. In the meantime, the protesters have pledged continued strikes, even as their organizers and the government have spent an entire week in negotiations. At the heart of the problem is a widening gap between the poor and the rich, lack of educational and employment opportunities for young people, and serious deficits in healthcare for the poor and lower middle classes.
Many of the protests have been peaceful, but the heavy-handed reaction of police forces in many areas of the country have sparked violence and serious human rights abuses. On the other hand, many criminal elements and former guerrillas have used the chaos caused by the demonstrations for nefarious reasons. Caught in between these two extremes, many young people “march in protest during the day and join the prayer vigils for peace at night.” (Fr. Daniel Mafla, Colombian priest serving in Cali, the epicenter of the protests and violence.) The vigils for peace, of which I have been a participant, elevate the people’s laments to God and pray for the negotiations between both sides to lead to social changes, especially in the areas of education, healthcare, and employment.
The scope of the crisis is so large that several of the organizers of the vigils have sounded a bit more desperate over the last few days. About two weeks ago, I clearly remembered the words of a wise mentor who died several years ago, “When confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges, just do what you can with the resources you have and remember that inactivity is never an answer.” Saint Dunstan’s has acted, and we will do our small part to alleviate the needs of a vulnerable population often forgotten by many in South America.
The “El Valle del Cauca Restorative Justice Program for Juveniles” is an initiative that was funded a few years back by a local foundation in the city of Cali. Covid-19 shortages, however, led to the defunding of the program in June of 2020. The program provides counseling, case management, advocacy, and religious services (liturgy, Bible studies, prayer sessions,) to juvenile offenders ages 14-16. (There are over 1200 kids in Juvenile Justice Centers in Cali alone.) After the funds ran out, the program coordinator, Fr. Daniel Mafla, continued his work for free at great personal sacrifice to him and his family. “I just couldn’t abandon the kids who depend on the program and their families.” To subsidize his ministry, Fr. Mafla has been leading services at a local congregation for a small stipend, “That, and we have gone through any savings we had. My family helps a little, but they themselves are going through a very difficult time.” The situation is so precarious for Fr. Mafla’s young family of four that a group of us have stayed online after the vigils to pray for him and his clients.
Last week, I felt the necessity to call Fr. Mafla to inquire about his program’s needs in more detail. I was very surprised when I found out that the complete budget for the program comes to a bit less than $600 dollars per month. Think about this! $7,200 dollars a year pays for all the services provided by this valuable program, which serves some of the most forgotten and vulnerable children in Cali, Colombia. Needless to say, I felt this was something we could do.
During the month of June, we will be conducting a fundraising event I have chosen to call “Project Colombia.” My goal is that by the end of June we will have fundraised enough funds to support this project for one to two years. We already have some funds pledged by Saint Dunstan’s “World Mission Fund.” This fund is composed of unspent money from our former mission trips to Dominican Republic. I believe we can fundraise the rest in the month of June.
To kick off our campaign, I have invited Fr. Mafla to a number of gatherings to meet our parishioners and tell us a bit more about his program. We have created a wonderful PowerPoint presentation with recent pictures of the kids and some additional information about the program. He spoke last night in our Newcomers class, and he will speak again at our “Coffee with the Rector” on Tuesday, June 1st, at 8:00 am. EVERYONE is invited to come and meet Fr. Mafla. His energy is contagious, his love for these kids is inspirational, and his story will make you proud to be an Episcopalian. This will not be a fundraising event, nor will any pledges be taken that Tuesday. This will be an opportunity to connect to a ministry that is fully alive, spreading God’s kingdom among the least and the lost. The code for that Zoom is https://zoom.us/j/791441889 and the password is Dunstan. Please join us!
If you would like to contribute to our June fundraising campaign, just write a check to “Rector’s Discretionary Fund,” with a Memo Line, “Project Colombia.” Or give online by clicking here. Even if you do not contribute, please continue to pray for Colombia and for all of those working for peace and reconciliation in this close ally to our beloved Episcopal Church.
Blessings to all,