Crossing the Street in Cauca

“Our church is located in the Cauca province, in the rural village of La Esperanza, which in Spanish means ‘hope’,”

pastor Roberto Yundo says, then adds, “We are determined that our village should live up to its name.”

On the night of April 13th, 2015, a guerrilla commander of the armed rebellion known as FARC entered La Esperanza and attacked some fifty soldiers of the Colombian army who had set up camp in the village’s sports arena. Eleven were killed; twenty-three gravely injured. Villagers fled the crossfire and hid in their homes, some scarcely two meters away. As the conflict escalated over the weeks and months that followed, landmines were planted around the town. A seven-year old girl was killed when one detonated under her feet.

It was not safe to cross the street.

“We pleaded for a ceasefire,” says pastor Yunda. “But both armed groups accused our church of collaboration with the enemy, and our lives were threatened. As Christians, we were stigmatized and watched with mistrust, even when we met for worship.”

The tension was intolerable, creating fear and isolation in the village for well over a year; no one knew who could be trusted. For the vast majority of the victimized there was no desire for any form of reconciliation with those who had committed atrocities in their midst. Then the Esperanza church dared to strategize for hope. They proclaimed that hope boldly through worship and prayer on October 2, 2016, in defiant celebration of the International Day of Non-Violence. Residents of the village, soldiers of the national army and members of the FARC were invited to lay down their arms and join together in in a peace march.

“Children walked with hardened guerillas,” Yunda recalls. “Mothers held both banners as well as the hands of those whose palms were calloused from clutching rifles.” Those rifles were that day disarmed and handed over to authorities. The march ended with a gathering around a bonfire, where bread and peace – Pan y Paz – were distributed to all. Since then, the village of Esperanza has determined to shake off fear, passivity and bitterness and instead become active advocates for the reintegration of ex-combatants in Colombia.

Pray for the peace-makers in Colombia, daring to cross the street.

By N. White