holiday greetings from barranquilla

 

So this is Christmas…

No snow. No peppermint hot cocoa. No “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” stuck in my head. It doesn’t feel like Christmas, I whispered to my journal.

And yet I’ve never felt more excited for Christmas.

This year, removed from the usual cues that spark my “holiday spirit,” I found Advent. I found space to remember the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, to marvel at the complexities surrounding its simplicity, to breathe.

This year, within the space of Advent, I feel a sense of urgency for the Word-made-flesh. Some of you know about El Tamarindo, a community I’ve come to care about. El Tamarindo consisted of internally displaced persons who began to be unlawfully evicted just a couple of weeks ago. The families have been harassed and mistreated by local authorities and elites for years. And now they’ve been forced to relocate.

But I’ve come to know El Tamarindo as more than “victims.” They are lovers, storytellers, coffee addicts, playmates, workers of the field. Yes, they must hold unspeakable pain and trauma in their hearts and minds; who can forget the fear of being forced to flee or the desolation of seeing their house destroyed? Yet they continue to live. They continue to laugh, to share, to give really good hugs – extending the hand of God even to outsiders like me.

This year, I feel a small sense of the vindication Mary must have felt when she sang, “God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” And the joy the shepherds must have felt as they hurried to find the Savior. And the deep peace Simeon must have felt when he finally saw Jesus.

So this is Christmas. It feels strange. Partly because it’s still 85ºF outside, and I haven’t decorated a single gingerbread house or human. But mostly because for the first time in a long time, I am excited for Jesus.

May your Christmas week be filled with joy & wonder as you celebrate the birth of our Messiah! You are beloved.

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In El Pueblo, the neighborhood I visit on Wednesdays for Bible study and fellowship. In November we celebrated the birthdays of 3 long-time community members.

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Thanksgiving dinner with my team (Alex, Emily & Sarah our fearless leader)! Grateful for the 10 days we shared together in Bogotá to rest, debrief, join different conversations on peacebuilding, and explore the nation’s capital.

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My host family (Jonathan, Jennifer, Ignacio, Stephanie & Marta; not pictured: Marta Lucia). Their hospitality and generosity are daily extensions of grace.

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finding joy in being real

I CAME ACROSS this poem today in my time with God. It speaks directly to what I was processing yesterday. I think it can be fitting for many people during the holiday season, when the pressure to be happy is at an all-time-high.

Be brave enough to be real.

Be curious about God’s world.

Be fully present to each moment.

Be gentle with yourself and with others.

Be filled with wonder.

And be ready for joy.

This poem is from the December 8th devotional on d365.org.

repost: angels in el tamarindo

ON THURSDAY I joined a group of about 15 faith leaders, lawyers and justice & peace advocates on a visit to El Tamarindo, a community of women, children and men who have been displaced at least once and have relocated to land just outside the city of Barranquilla. It was my 4th visit to El Tamarindo, and I was excited to see familiar faces again.

I’d like to share the following piece by Rev. Sarah Henken, a short but compelling story on our time at El Tamarindo. Sarah is my site coordinator/mentor this year and serves as mission co-worker in Colombia through the Presbyterian Church (USA). The original post can be found on her blog.

Angels in El Tamarindo

Posted on December 4, 2015 • By Sarah Henken

Today is Angel Gabriel’s birthday. Yesterday, our words shrouded by the uncertainty of whether his home would be destroyed today once again, he told me that his birthday always brings sorrow.

Gabriel is a member of ASOTRACAMPO, the association of campesinos resisting one more round of unjust and violent uprooting from their homes on the farmland of El Tamarindo. (If you’re unfamiliar with this courageous community, I’ve written about them on this blog and for the journal Unbound.) They had received word that an eviction action would take place today, but at the last minute that action was stayed yet again. An unexpected respite from the immediate threat, but not a full reprieve. The eviction could take place as soon as Monday.

While they wait to be relocated to new farmland—land to which they can hold undisputed title—they don’t sleep easy at night. This year they have had their water shut off, received threatening phone calls, faced intimidation at meetings with the rich and powerful who want their case to go away. They live crowded together, neighbors previously uprooted taking refuge on their farms, with little land available and not much heart to plant crops that may soon be razed to the ground. And yet, life finds a way.

Fields which a month ago were dry have grown lush and green; a little bit of water has renewed their beauty. As we sat in the oppressive heat, we prayed for the movement of God’s Holy Spirit to flow amongst us, and the breeze picked up to refresh us over lunch. For a community whose path was unclear, a new door has opened as the constitutional court plans to review their case.

A poem for Advent by Ann Weems begins: “Angels still appear to those / ready to receive blessings / in spite of the barren / impossibility of their lives.” El Tamarindo is one of seemingly countless places where hope is hard to find right now. And yet, we await a miracle, an incarnation, for Christ to come and join us in the midst of impossibility and show us the way. This Advent season, it seems we need that improbable blessing more than ever.

I pray today for hope in the face of impossibility, for protection from harm, for light that counters darkness, for hearts of stone to regain their humanity, for wisdom in choosing words and actions, for strength and imagination to nurture peace in the midst of so much violence. And I pray with thanksgiving for Angel Gabriel, that God guide and uphold him, and bless him with many happier birthdays to come.