In a powerful and emotionally charged Bishop’s Forum, the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church came together with the Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective to host an event titled “Peace on the Land: The Campesinx Struggle for Reclamation and Healing in Colombia” on November 15 at the NC Conference Office in Garner, NC. The forum shed light on injustices endured in Colombia and the Church’s role in fostering peace, accountability, and solidarity.
Colombia has a complex history marked by social and political unrest, with the Campesinx community, comprised of rural farmers, often at the center of struggles for land, justice, and peace. In hosting this forum, Bishop Connie Shelton of the NC Conference helped amplify the voices of those directly affected by these challenges and discern the Church’s role in advocating against these injustices that are often funded through U.S. foreign policy.
Members of the NC Conference traveled to Colombia to visit the Campesinx community earlier this year. Rev. Edith Salazar and Michele Vansteen from White Plains United Methodist Church spoke strongly about how the trip affected their understanding of migration and the role of the U.S. government in displacement. Rev. Mattheue Locklear, who also went on the trip, compared the experience in rural Colombia to that of his Native American ancestors here in North Carolina.
The highlight of the event was the emotional testimony provided by Briceida Lemos Rivera, a leader in the Campesinx community. Her story painted a vivid picture of their hardships and injustices, emphasizing the importance of solidarity and support from the international community. She shared experiences of displacement, violence, and the constant threat to their way of life.
With help from Tirzah Villegas and Jessica Garcia from Witness for Peace, the forum delved into the specific challenges the Campesinx community faces in their struggle for land reclamation. Many have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands due to armed conflict, illegal land seizures, and the expansion of industries.
Despite the hardships, the event also showcased the resilience of the Campesinx community. They have established a School of Agroecology, a Women’s Leadership School, and Campesino University as part of their commitment to reclaiming their land and creating opportunities for their community.
The Bishop’s Forum served as a call to action for the attendees and the broader church community. Participants were encouraged to advocate for policies that protect the rights of the Campesinx community, support full implementation of the 2016 Peace Accords, and promote peacebuilding efforts in Colombia. Witness for Peace offered a petition that could be signed online along with additional action steps such as sharing the petition, contacting your elected representatives, and getting involved with future efforts. Bishop Shelton read from Resolution 6129 in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, reminding us how the Bible makes justice the inseparable companion of peace.