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MCC aids church in providing for displaced families in Colombia

Shalom Wiebe and Cathryn Clinton
January 23, 2009

BOGOTA, Colombia – People were forced to abandon their land in the early months of 2008 because of fighting between illegal paramilitary groups in the Choco province of Colombia.

A large number of the displaced families were members of Mennonite Brethren churches from the towns of Basuro and Baudó.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) sent $7,500 to the Mennonite Brethren Church in Istmina to help them respond with emergency food provision.

"We had never seen such massive displacements before; we never imagined it would happen here, in our communities. We never thought it could happen to us," said Yulie Mosquera, coordinator of the Social Service Ministry of the Jerusalem Mennonite Brethren Church in Istmina.

The church provided perishable food items and grains. Dry food aid was given by the local government and other organizations.

"Service to the community is the mission of the church. It is part of our Mennonite identity," said Manuel Mosquera, pastor of the Istmina Mennonite Brethren church and local coordinator of the emergency aid response.

Another wave of displacement occurred in May. These families did not go to Istmina, so the Mennonite Brethren church sent food aid to the site where 400 people sought refuge.

"In the church we always hear about and talk about service, but this gave us an opportunity for people to really get involved," said Yulie Mosquera.

The church response impacted the larger community. "Other churches saw what we were doing and started to ask how they could get involved too," said Mosquera.

A health initiative was jointly planned by the community pastors. A psychologist and doctors attended to the needs of families while church members across denominations coordinated children's activities, clothing distribution and worship services.

In September 2008, the majority of the 450 families returned. Some found their farms had gone wild, and others had their lands blocked by the armed groups.

With MCC's support, the church built chicken pens for those who were unable to access their land. This allowed people to raise chickens in their yards in town.

Even though helping the displaced families could put Pastor Mosquera and his congregation in danger from the armed groups, he says, "As long as we are alive there is hope, and there are opportunities to serve."