Things I Didn’t Know (But Should): Columbus Day Edition

This is a part of an ongoing series Things I Didn’t Know (But Should). For sixteen weeks, I’m featuring news articles from the developing world.  The goal of my “experiment” is to build awareness and maybe learning something. I’d very much like to see the world as Jesus sees it, with compassion and empathy I want to see myself as part of a larger community. I want to learn to pray for people in other parts of the world. I want to see Jesus increase the size of my heart. By sharing this experiment with you here at Momentary Delight, I also hope we can engage in a conversation and grow in understanding together.

This week I wanted to switch gears to the Americas. Today is Columbus Day and so it seemed appropriate that we should go to the “New World.” When I was a student at U.C. Berkeley, the locals renamed Columbus Day, calling it Indigenous People’s Day. At the time, I confess it seemed a little bizarre to me. It seemed like Berkeley being Berkeley. More recently, I learned that Johanna’s Second Grade teacher has renamed Columbus Day, calling it instead Explorers Day, because in my daughter’s words, “Columbus was a bad man.”

I appreciate the moral dilemma of wanting to celebrate exploration, while wanting to distance oneself from it’s problems. In theory, I love the idea of exploration in all its forms.  I love space exploration. I love how men and woman have always wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill, mountain or ocean. At great personal risk, they have undertaken journeys to discover what might be possible. Without the explorers among us, life would be much poorer, and I don’t mean that in a material sense.

At the same time, I’ve grown to understand the malevolent side of exploration, which includes exploitation, colonialism, and the destruction of native peoples. I wish there was a way to celebrate the wonder of exploration, while recognizing how our actions can often have unforeseen and terrible consequences. This is not about painting anyone as evil or bad, but it’s really about having a conversation about how even our most earnest desires can sometimes hurt other people and how even good people can have blind spots and occasionally do bad things. In the end, I’m not sure that Columbus was bad man and I’m uncertain if it’s important that we say one way or the other.

Today for Things I Didn’t Know, we’re going to talk about the nation of Colombia. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times  by Chris Kraul talked about the optimistic pace of peace talks in Colombia between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombia has been involved in a civil war lasting almost fifty years, which has involved FARC, the Colombian government and independent pro-government militias. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the causes of the Colombian conflict are deep ones, involving any number of root causes.

For our purposes here, I’m less interested in going to the causes of the Colombian conflict and more interested in one particular story. Like many long lasting conflicts, one of the challenges in Colombia is how to reintegrate soldiers, rebels and militia back into society. Many of these people have fought for their entire life and for them war is the only thing they know.

When we think of a conflict, it’s often easy to simply paint one or other side as “the bad guys.” When we find these bad guys, the inclination of governments is to simply kill them. They are bad people doing bad things and so we do our best to eliminate the threat, in other words, we drop a lot of bombs and we kill a lot of people.

Our nations are good at killing people, when they feel threatened, but what happens when it’s time for peace? How do you bring peace to a country. How do you beat swords into plowshares?

In Colombia, they have already demobilized over fifty thousand rebels and militia, but there remains over twenty thousand rebels that still need to find a place in society.

Chris Kraul writes:

The (former rebels and militia) need an average of 6 1/2 years after giving up arms to achieve some degree of independence, and are at risk of being recruited by one of Colombia’s many drug-trafficking gangs if they have no alternative.

One of the reasons for the glacial pace of reintegration is that employers aren’t stepping up with job offers

As we can probably imagine, with the possible exception of the drug trade, there is not a lot of need in the job market for former rebel fighters. A reminder to us that sometimes the reason why people turn to violence, is not because of their character, it’s because they feel as if they have no other choice.

One of the things the government is trying to do to remedy the situation is redistribute more than eight million acres of land that had been taken from people by so-called land grabbers.

Colombia’s landless population of 3 million is second only to Sudan’s, according to the U.N. refugee agency.”

I admit being a little amazed at the number of landless people in Colombia. It’s not something you hear a lot about here in the United States.

Someone who is doing something about the problem of assimilating former rebels into society is Liliana Gallego. Who is Gallego? Who is she and why is taking on this ambitious task?

Is she a government official? Is she a social worker? Is she someone important?

Gallego, a teacher, took up the cause of resettling rebels, paramilitary fighters and displaced families to honor the memory of her two brothers, who were killed by suspected right-wing militias in 2001 and 2002.

Liliana Gallego with two former rebels

As the article shares, Gallego herself is a victim. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the details of Gallego’s story, who according to the Kraul article, has received some attention in her own country for her attempts at reconciliation. It seems like an amazing story. Here is someone dealing with her own personal tragedy and her response is to extend herself and bring healing to others.

In the end, while governments are great at making war, they have a much more difficult time at making peace. Although the Colombian government is taking steps to bring peace, Kraul shares this effort will require “ordinary Colombian citizens doing their part.” All of this reminds us, that healing doesn’t come easy, healing doesn’t come with signing a piece of paper, healing is a process that takes time.

At the end of his article Kraul quotes Liliana Gallego:

“It can’t be the work of just three or four people to build peace. . .All of us Colombians have the responsibility to help our neighbors, to get close to them before judging them.”

There is something essential from the gospel here in the story of Liliana Gallego. It’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s not about how much you might have been hurt, or about judging others, instead it’s simply about showing grace and loving one’s neighbor.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9 MSG)

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2 thoughts on “Things I Didn’t Know (But Should): Columbus Day Edition

  1. This story aligns itself with one of my favorite sayings, “when you heal others, you heal yourself!

  2. Truly, she is living to bless others. What is was others meant as a curse on her family, is becoming an impetus for blessing. Totally mind-blowing.

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