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Conversations

Hello friends,

Those of you who know me personally know how I love to talk with people! And praise God, for He continues to use these conversations for the building up of His kingdom.

On the bus trip to Bogotá (a week prior to leaving Colombia), I had a three hour conversation with my seat mate, Jorge (name is changed for security), an older fellow who shared with me some of his experiences living in Colombia during the present conflict “ which has gone on all his adult life.

When I was young and saw all the suffering of the poor, there was a real temptation in my anger to think the only way to bring justice was to take up a gun. One of my friends and a natural leader took up the gun and soon was killed as a young age, killing any future contributions to society as well. Somehow I was saved from going down that road.

I now have a business that works in the countryside. One time in order to do our work, I had to pay off two of the guerrilla groups by giving them jobs and pay off the Pa…

Workings of the Spirit

Hello friends,

The other Sunday a former paramilitary, Jose, who is the leader of a Christian band, invited CPTers to come to the worship service where they would be playing. So I went.

Jose left the Paras (the illegal paramilitary organization) as a result of conversations he had with CPTers in the Opon four years ago through which he came to see the futility of using a gun to try to solve the 40-year-old conflict. Jose told me Sunday, "There were about 50 of us who left the Paras at that time. Some ended up in jail, as they were so used to criminal activity, it got them in trouble. Others returned to the Paras, and a few of us started to try to straighten out our lives. I am graduating from a seminary course Dec. 17. Can you come to my graduation?"
"Regrettably," I replied, "I won't be here in Colombia then."

Recently, when I was picking up a switch at the hardware store, the clerk asked, "Who are you? And what are you doing here in Colombia?"…

Peacemaking in Cucuta, Colombia

Dear friends,

I was traveling with Juan, a rural Pentecostal pastor, on the way to an evening worship service near Cucuta, Colombia. He told me this story:

"One night the Paras (Paramilitaries) took a 23-year-old mother in our church and shot her in front of her children, because the Paras thought she had killed her Para friend. The community was afraid to go to recover the body, for fear of what the Paras might do to anyone who showed sympathy to the mother. So they called me. I went that very night and recovered the body and gave her a proper funeral in our church, as a way of saying that the church was not going to be intimated by the Paras threats. As often happens here in this war, it was soon found out that the killing was a mistake for she had had nothing to do with the killing of her Para friend. Then, led by the Spirit, the church carried the coffin to where Paras lived and buried the body there.

"This made the Paras face their awful mistake every time they passed the …

Getting My Visa Renewed

Dear friends,

I arrived at the border with Venezuela after a long six hour journey of climbing and crossing the magnificent Andes mountains, including being above the tree line and in the clouds at times.


I went to the Colombian Consulate and found it full of people waiting. I went to the desk and, without even allowing me to say my name or why I was there, the secretary said, "Just have a seat. She will call you". I waited for an hour and half while some 40 people came and went, and I wondered if I had been forgotten. Finally the secretary saw me and said for me to go into a side room.

By this time I was rather anxious. I hoped that all 25 pages or so of papers that I had brought for my visa would be OK. The Consulate, Ziada, said, "Didn't you hear me call for those who needed visas?" I hadn't heard her.

I nervously gave her the stack of papers. As she began to go through them, she read about the beginnings of CPT, and she asked, "Who are the M…

Two Days on the Opon (continued)

Hello friends,
The next morning Lisa and I ate breakfast with the Los Neques family. Henry, the man of the house, told us, "Last week from Monday to Wednesday soldiers were stationed just across the river. They didn't do us any harm; they just bought some cheese from us. At night we can hear the helicopters which watch the pipeline." We had a long discussion about snake bites and their pet squirrel.

Next we stopped at Mary and Steve's. Mary made us fresco de guanabana. Ummmm! Lisa and I had a long talk with Mary. She was concerned about the fact that they did not have gas for the community boat, which kept her and others from attending a meeting on getting electricity into the community. Ten years ago they had cleared a path for the electrical poles but nothing further ever came of it. If the project does not get going this year it will cost them more next year. At 11 am a military helicopter was heard nearby. Mary said, "It is looking for the cartel"…

Two Days on the Opon

Hello friends,

As we entered the Opon region, one of the first things Lisa and I noticed was the gas cartel getting empty barrels from areas of high grass on the river bank, along where we accompany the farm families. We did not mention this to the army we were about to meet because this could cause a firefight and that would increase the violence rather than work toward our goal of reducing violence.

As we approached the center of La Florida, we could see a large group of soldiers under a tree on the bank. We pulled up to talk to them. Sergeant G came right up to us and said, "We are just passing through." We started by explaining that we were members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and that we accompany the farm communities here to help enable them to stay on the land and reduce the violence. They were new to the area and did not know us.

The sergeant seemed very interested in talking to us, and very sincere. They eventually found us chairs and we had a 2 and1/2 hour talk…

Breaking the Silence

Hello friends,

The armed men pulled up to our house, and without any explanation took our 28-year-old Johnnie down to where the army was in the soccer field. I went a number of times to try to find out what was happening to him. And they just kept telling us everything would be OK, and that Johnnie would soon be released. Then two days later we found Johnnie's body amongst a pile of bodies in a ravine outside of Grande.

"What was Johnnie like? How would you like to remember him? What work did he do?" asked Chico. Betty responded, "He was such a hard worker. Johnnie bought and sold fish on the street. He loved having his own little business. He liked to tease and joke around the house. He really made our family life happy. We really miss him. He was just a good person. He didn't even smoke. Why did they kill him? I do not understand."

"Do you have any idea who these men were that took him away? Who did people in Grande say these men were? "

Neighbors s…

Light in the Opon

Hello friends,

"Have you heard what happened last night?" Jorge, the pastor, and Lucy, his wife, asked us. Duane and I answered, "No we haven't." This was right after worship at the church in the Opon.

"Two persons were drunk. The one, Felipe, hit the other, Manuel, three times with a machete, one of those times on the head. Manuel was bleeding profusely, was bandaged at the local health post, and then taken the1½ hour boat trip to a clinic in Barranca."

The tension in the town was very high over this, and there was fear that more violence could erupt if family and friends sought revenge. So we thought we should do whatever we could to keep more violence from happening. The church leaders asked us to visit Felipe. In the past Felipe had been a leader in a small church there. He was very glad for our visit.

Duane explained CPT's interest in avoiding violence and offered to help communicate anything Felipe might have to say to anyone that could ma…
Hello Friends,

What a warm welcome I received in returning to Colombia!

"Oh, I am so glad to see you; I thought maybe you were never coming back. I have to tell you how much help your suggestions were to me last year. I found some persons to pray with me who have been so helpful. The Peace Pilgrim pamphlet helped me see the mistakes I have made in not giving my husband and children the time I should have. This store has occupied me too much. Your short prayer for me just before you left a year ago was helpful too. My husband has stopped seeing the other women."

Other friends did not have such positive news. Al shared, "Leo has separated from his wife, and has lost his spot on the street to be able to sell "banuelos'. So it has been tough for him without any work for the last 5 months. However, Leo and I are part of a Catholic prayer group that has been a very good and a big help to us. And his wife and children go to the Protestant church we all used to attend.…
Hello friends,
The guy next to me in the flight into Bogotá just said, "NO, no! Won't work, don't even try it. Don't go there." Then without any explanation, he moved to a back seat in the plane. I guess when he saw me reading Christian Peacemaker Teams newsletter, he saw the word Christian and figured I was an ordinary missionary. So I did not know quite what to do. I had some fear that he did not like missionaries and that is why he moved. I sensed somehow that the Lord wanted me to relate to him, though I was not sure how. So I thought I would at least return the sunglasses which he had left on the seat. And to my surprise, he was very grateful. After a bit he came back and sat with me again and started to do more sharing and was friendlier than before.

He said, "I am here on business. I love shooting guns and killing animals and flying airplanes. I have a problem with the FARC guerrillas. I have been in the Marines for fourteen years, and have been a lo…
Hello Friends,

First on a personal note, I now plan to enter Colombia and get a visitors visa at the airport on September 5th and return on November 21st. I do not know if I will have to go to Ecuador when and if I have to renew it. I hope not.

I could just say I have been able to lower my slightly high blood pressure and cholesterol by exercise, diet, and supplements, which gives me peace of mind for beginning this two and a half months in Colombia. It has been a while since I have had any noticeable depression and that is good too.

A question that is often on peoples' minds is: " Do you see any hope for change for the better?" In the 4 years I have been going to Colombia, each year it seems more and more people, from soldiers, human rights workers, to people on the street, are coming to see that supporting the violence of any armed group just turns into more violence. It is becoming ever clearer that war just does not work to resolve conflicts. That is one thing a…

Is the War Working?

Hello friends,

Is the war working? This is the question I asked the fellow behind the Veterans booth at our County Fair. A little to my surprise he said, "Well, that's obvious. It is not." Later I asked the same question of the fellow at the Republican Party booth. He was a lot more unclear in his answer, but ended by saying: "I do think we need to do a lot more talking and negotiating than we have been doing." I hope this can trickle up to the higher ups in the party.

Both of these are evidence of the growing clarity amongst our population that the ways of violence and war are not practical, that in the end they do not work. That is one thing about war, the more you have it, the plainer the truth about its failures become to more and more people. The ways of the world do not work. I find great hope in this for the future. I see this also in the growing positive responses and the diminishing of negati…
Hello friend,
Cultivating our life spiritually is an important part of peacemaking. This is the first of two letters which will include meditation exercises and some recent reflections that I've found helpful in my journey.Doing these meditation exercises seems to even give me insights for the whole day.For example, when I was tired and considering cutting short my quiet time,these words came to me: "Just show up." In other words, just pray. It's ok to pray even if I don't feel like it, which for me is probably fairly often. It is good just to go through the motions. This is a reminder that the effectiveness of my prayers depends on God and not on me and how I am feeling. Oftentimes it feels like hard work to force myself to pray, but I am becoming more and more convinced that it is worth it. Discipline and disciple go together.The other day I was trying to lift the fighting in Lebanon to the Light. The word I got for both Hezbollah and Israel was,…

"What can I do for peace in Iraq?"

"What can I do for peace in Iraq?" asked someone to Cliff Kindy, a long time CPTer in Iraq, at one of his six seminars at the Cornerstone Music Festival. Cliff replied, "What I am sharing is what I experienced, which is one view of Iraq. Get other views from a number of news sources , talk to people who have been in Iraq, especially soldiers. They need to tell their story and we need to hear their story for our healing and their healing. We need it for the healing of our nation. We can not expect the government to provide this. The churches need to do this." Several times Cliff reminded people how important getting other points of view and connecting with people who have been in Iraq is to build a lasting peace in the world.
Here at our Cornerstone Booth is Hilda a woman from Norway signing up to be on our mailing list, one of the over 300 persons who did so.One of the leaders of the bandMe with out Youput in an unsolicited but good plug for CPT at Main Stage before…

Mennonite Weekly Review

Judging War by Death's Tally
Death and its increase on the battlefield have become the most contentious measures of failure or success for the United States in recent years - pointed to by some as further evidence of war gone wrong, or dismissed by others who see no sacrifice as too great for the American cause. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, varying perceptions of the U.S.-led war on terror have teetered on this quotient of lives lost - as if somewhere in the calculus of human destruction can be found sufficient cause for national shame, or sublime hope for the battles still to be fought. The occupation of Iraq has become especially death-riddled, so there certainly has been no shortage of this volatile fuel.Nearly as troubling as these fatalities are Americans' responses to them, ranging from stoic disregard to disturbing displays of fist-pumping elation. Two recent cases in point:* On June 15, it was announced that 2,500 American military personnel had died in Iraq - a total the…

Tennessee Camping at the Papa Festival

How did you like my CPT Presentation?" I asked a fellow who had attended my slide presentation that morning. "We have been talking about it all afternoon." he replied. My sense is that it was one of my best presentations as far as audience participation. We had more than 30 minutes of good questions, some of which the audience answered because I did not know the answers.The presentation was followed with several hours of personal conversations about CPT work. Many persons at thisPeople against Poverty and Apathy Festivalknew little or nothing about Christian Peacemaker Teams. I made several new friends and connected with lots of old friends. This all made the challenges of camping in this 61 year old body worth it.Thanks for the help of your prayers. Remember to pray for our time at the Cornerstone Christian Music Festival July 4th-8th. We will have a booth there and Cliff Kindy will share in six talks about his time with CPT in Iraq. May the Lord give us humble hearts …

Catching Up with Companions on the Peace Journey

"I am part of the Vineyard church, and we are strong on mercy but low on justice ministry. The church has asked me to develop their justice ministry. As a part of that ministry, I am in the process of developing a sister church relationship for our church with a church in Costa Rica and one in Guatemala. We are excited about our first 1st delegation which we have planned for this summer. I think our church is going to be really enriched through this experience. Do you have any suggestions for us?" Ann Howerton shared these thoughts with me as part of a two-hour visit which I recently had with her husband Craig and her in their home in Indiana. Craig and Ann had visited Plow Creek some years ago and have been receiving my email letters ever since.

This conversation took place on my way to a gathering of folks who have been involved with Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDa), the organization that has facilitated our relationship with Valle Nuevo, El Salvado…

Valle Nuevo, El Salvador Visit

"A thousand saludos (greetings) for Plow Creek. I pray for Plow Creek every day," said Margarita in the attachment. I was glad I could say, "I pray for you daily, too." She than added, "We are so glad you come to visit us; thank you for remembering us; we appreciate it very much. How is so and so¦?" I heard similar words to these over and over through out our week in Valle Nuevo. And they back up their words with the best meals they can afford. What a welcome from some of world's materialistically poorest people, but some of the richest in the Spirit of Jesus.

Margarita will be a recipient of the housing project we initiated this year. There are cracks in her house's adobe walls from the last earthquake, and the termites are turning the wood post into dust. If you are interested in hearing more about this housing project, let me know.

I've visited there at least six times now, and I wasn't sure there was going to be much new. But I found I …

2006 Peace Plans

Greetings friends!

I am recently back from Colombia. Here are my plans for 2006 combined with a report on 2005. To start off, here are some photos that catch some of the main aspects of my work in Columbia.

Here we are in one of our many visits with the farmers in the Opon. The little girl was ill with a fever. We prayed together both for her and for peace. Encouraging us CPTers to pray with the farmers when we visit in their homes seems to be part of my role on the team.




Here we are in our living room in Barrancabermeja praying for the four teammates who are being held hostage in Iraq. This really shook us up and made us consider in a new way that this could happen to us in Colombia. But it also drew us together to pray more. We were very grateful to see them alive on the January 26 video.


Conversations with people I meet, like these guys, have become an important part of my peace work. Fonso, Leo and Joe challenged my stereotyping of all Colombians as people who would take Americans for…

Jim Fitz's Peacemaking in Colombia -- Introduction for Readers

To some this is new, to others it will be a refresher about the civil war in Colombia in which Christian Peacemaker Teams works at reducing violence. It would probably be helpful to keep this for reference while reading my letters when I am in Colombia.

Since 2001, CPT, by their nonviolent presence, has been providing protection for 80 farm families on the Opon River in Colombia from threats and killing by guerrillas and paramilitaries. CPT is an ecumenical organization working to reduce violence in conflict areas of the world.

I am a member of Plow Creek Mennonite Church, Tiskilwa, Illinois. I work full time at peacemaking and as part of that I volunteer 2-3 months each year with CPT in Colombia. While in Colombia, I will send you a weekly letter about our work there.

As security has grown, local Catholic and Protestant churches and development groups have begun to work with the people in the Opon area. The presence of these groups has allowed CPT to reduce its presence from about 4 t…