Students find deep faith in Colombian Mennonites during course abroad

GOSHEN, Ind. - When the group of Goshen College students arrived in Bogotá, Colombia, a country in the midst of a 37-year-old civil war, for a three-week “Doing Theology Abroad” course their primary question was, “How do people keep working for peace in a difficult, almost hopeless, situation?”

Answers didn’t come only from learning about the complex conflict involving drugs, oil, land and power that has displaced 2.5 million people from their homes and taken 20 lives every day to fighting among the army and the two illegal armed groups: the left-wing guerillas and the paramilitaries in 2001.

Instead answers came from meeting, living with and learning from Mennonites who, through facing daily violence and injustice, are working to end it while maintaining a faith that students had only read about in accounts of early Anabaptist martyrs.

Faculty leader Ron Stutzman, Goshen College professor of anthropology led the group of 12 students to Colombia in May to experience how Colombian-U.S. American socio-political realities intersect with practical Anabaptist theology, but not at the cost of safety. Group members were hosted by Mennonite families who lead normal lives and stayed in the capital Bogotá. The group never felt unsafe, Stutzman said.

In Colombia, Goshen College graduates and local Mennonite church leaders Peter and Paul Stucky led seminars for the group. The emphasis of this college course was on self-analysis, reflection and action, while also learning about the problems and attempts at peacemaking in the country.

“By moving beyond just studying and researching the problems in Colombia - which can quickly lead to cynicism and hopelessness - to taking action steps, it can give hope and begin to build a network of change,” Stutzman said.

Janna Bowman, a recent GC grad who works through Mennonite Central Committee in Bogotá with Justapaz, “They were eager to learn and open to the difficult, often painful, process of cracking the shell of self-identity to scrutinize the layers implicit in U.S. citizenship in these times,” she said. “Some of the difficulties that Colombian communities face can be traced directly to the United States. Therefore, global education and radical faith are critical for the change we hope to see.”

The course leaders encouraged the students to reflect on the questions: What does it mean to be a citizen of the only superpower in the world today? What does faith look like in the current Colombian and U.S. contexts? What does my faith and Anabaptist tradition demand of me?

Students said they also experienced a transformed view of how theology is to be done. “This course re-emphasized my theology of salvation being tied together with the rest of the world,” said Joel Short, (Sr., Archbold, Ohio). “It is not enough for me to be ‘right with God’ and continue to ignore the structures that oppress many people in all parts of the world including here in the United States.”

The group’s time in Colombia concluded with a ceremony of peace and commitment in Stucky’s living room. “I hope that the students gained inspiration and role models for a life of Christian obedience and service,” Bowman said. “I hope they take back these stories of pain and joy in the midst of war to a church in need of prophetic vision.”

Goshen College • Public Relations Office