Saturday, December 3, 2011

Quito, Ecuador

The majority of my work this year has been with persecuted families in Colombia.  For many, they are no longer able to live in Colombia because of their persecution.  I work with an MCC network of churches in Canada who have helped to sponsor some of these families if they qualify as a refugee and are able to migrate.  This is a very long and complicated process, involving a lot of legal and administrative paperwork, emotional turmoil, complicated, confidential maneuvering, and matching of families to local Anabaptist congregations who then take financial, spiritual, and emotional responsibility for supporting these families.

While it is never easy to complete this process, both because of the pain and suffering involved, as well as the acculturation and grief issues related to leaving your home and trying to create a new life, it is also a beautiful testimony to the global church community.  Families are supported and mentored and cared for in the context of a community of believers.  They are integrated into this community and often feel "as if they are getting a new family."

Sadly, the Canadian government has decided that this program is no longer needed.  They have decided that the problems in Colombia no longer necessitate a refugee program.  On a personal level, this decision is absurd, as I continue to hear daily accounts of persecution and fear.  On a political note, it seems that it resonates with the other powerhouse decisions that are being made, especially in terms of free trade.  How can all of these horrific things be happening, how can we recognize human rights abuses even indirectly and still be able to have free trade?

Due to this change, a delegation of MCC workers who work on refugee issues came to visit us in Colombia.  We visited with families here, went to the embassy, and talked about possibilities for the families we were working with.  Then together, we travelled to Ecuador, to talk about the situation there with Colombian refugees and the possibilities of church sponsorship there.

I loved seeing Quito.  I was inspired by the work of the church there that is already happening, as well as some of the organizations who are supporting Colombians in Ecuador (like Asylum Access and UNHCR).  However, it become evident that Ecuador was also not a safe viable option for some of the families we work with locally.  It was difficult to return with this news.

My hope is that this visit will clear pathways perhaps for others who are suffering from human rights violations.  I was very impressed with all of the Canadian MCC workers who came, with their compassion and knowledge of issues related to refugees.  We left Ecuador and returned together to Colombia to meet with the Justice and Peace Committee at the church and think about what other options might be next to pursue.  I am humbled to belong to a denomination that cares so passionately about human rights and helping people to be able to live safely.  It resonates with my own faith and understanding of what the work of the church should look like all over the world.  The families I work with here live in so much uncertainty and pain.  I hope that they are able to find a way to live meaningfully here, or that another route to safety can open up for them.

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