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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 while they made us lunch. I showed my photos of CPT work around the world. We talked about how they were putting the civilians at risk by being in the village. The sergeant agreed and said that after lunch they would be moving on.

I eventually pulled out copies of the CPT magazine with the photo of the soldiers just watching the gas-stealing cartel go by. The fact that I had been present when this had happened and taken the photo insured a great conversation about this. The sergeant was shocked by the fact that this photo was of soldiers and not paramilitaries. He remarked, "This is corruption. Was the sergeant punished?" I showed the photo of us meeting with the colonel to follow this up and also said, "I did have an interview with the Army lawyer later and he told me that this colonel was trying hard to set an example so that this corruption does not continue."

Sergeant G, who had been in the army 11 years asked, several times, in different ways, "Do you think God could forgive someone who has killed another person" This question seemed to trouble him. (I wonder how many American soldiers struggle with this same question.) Lisa answered, I think God is a merciful God and will always forgive us if we are truly repentant. At the same time I think we are always challenged to pay attention to how we are living our lives and to see if the way we are living our lives is in line with God's will. He seemed to reflect deeply on all we said.

When we got on the subject of war, Sergeant G remarked, "War is a racket and it makes no sense for Colombians to be killing each other." The corporal remarked, "The guerrillas are the entire problem." All and all it was a good conversation. After eating lunch we closed with prayer and the soldiers who were interested came. They had apparently been at the worship the night before with Jorge and Lucy in the Cienaga. Sergeant G remarked," It was a very moving experience for all of us."

We ended with reminding them again, "If the paramilitaries or guerrillas would attack you here, the civilians could easily be caught in the crossfire, so please be moving on as soon as possible." Sergeant G responded, "My colonel told us that too, and we will be moving on."

Next we stopped by the house of Lucy and Jorge, the pastors of the new church. They spoke about the service the night before with the soldiers and how they all set their guns down and closed their eyes for the final prayer. They said that Felipe and Manuel, the man Felipe hurt with the machete, are both in the Cienaga. There have been no further problems. They have spoken with Manuel and he tells them he feels their drinking is entirely to blame for their fight and that he doesn't feel a need for revenge. They said, "Both Felipe and Manuel have continued drinking and we will meet with Felipe only once more if he continues drinking." I encouraged them, "Keep meeting with Felipe even if he is drinking; that is when he needs you most." We had some lemonade and prayed before leaving. I was moved by Lucy's prayer in which she made a point to say we are all sinners and that we all need God's help to straighten ourselves out.

That night we camped in the school under mosquito nets, after getting relief from the heat by bathing from the well.

Peace,

Jim

I am showing Sergeant G my photo album of CPT peacemaking work around the world and in Colombia, while his corporal listens. In the background the soldiers are cooking lunch, which they invited us to share.

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