LA MESA, Colombia (Mennonite Mission Network) – The streets of La Mesa, Cundinamarca, in Colombia were transformed into a sea of faces as hundreds of people marched for peace on February 4.
Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Colombia Soy Yo” (I am Colombia), five young women -- members of a Radical Journey team serving in Colombia -- marched alongside their Colombian friends in a protest against the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a guerrilla group involved in countless kidnappings and acts of violence.
The back of the white shirts bore the official march slogan: “No more kidnapping, no more lies, no more deaths, no more FARC.”
“We all wore the official campaign T-shirts, and one of the teachers here commented that it was cool to see non-Colombians supporting the cause,” said Rachel Voran, a team member from First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan.
Radical Journey, one of Mennonite Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, invites young adults ages18-30 to take a year to focus on faith formation and leadership development. Teams spend 10 months serving in a variety of international and domestic locations, like Colombia.
The Radical Journey team and other marchers in La Mesa joined protestors in many other countries around the world, including France, Japan and the United States.
According to BBC News, the protest grew out of a grassroots movement on Facebook, a social networking site, begun by 33-year-old engineer Oscar Morales from Barranquilla, Colombia. As members flocked to the site to join the group, radio, television stations and other media outlets across Colombia began to publicize the idea.
“Standing there in the crowd, I couldn’t grasp the power in what was happening. I knew that other countries were marching with Colombia that day, and I knew that this violence is a reality for Colombians. I felt honored to be a part of this experience,” said Stephanie Hollenberg, a Radical Journey participant from College Mennonite Church
Although La Mesa has not experienced overt violence as often as some places in Colombia, the effects of violent conflict have been felt. The area is home to many people who have been displaced by violence and have relocated to La Mesa in search of safety.
“People said there had never been a protest this large and universal in La Mesa. Usually individual groups organize smaller protests,” said Amy Bradshaw, a Radical Journey participant from Faith Mennonite Church
in Newton, Kan.
The march in La Mesa wound through a two-mile stretch of the town’s main streets and ended at a Catholic church in the city center. Protestors wore white and included church members, school children, and individuals of all ages. The protest also included speeches from a number of organizers and clergy, a time of prayer, and singing.
The five Radical Journey participants joined their host families and students and faculty from Colegio Americano Menno, a Mennonite school where the participants volunteer, in the march.
“We are in Colombia, we are against violence, and we’re the representatives of Colombia to our homes in North America,” said Radical Journey participant Melina Hunsberger of Kaufman Mennonite Church in Davidsville, Pa.
While the primary focus of the march was to address the brutality of the FARC, the marchers also were advocates for peace in other situations as well -- domestic violence, violence in schools, fights between students, and other places where violence is present.
Karin Esh, a Radical Journey team member from Iglesia Cristiana Carismatica Maranata in Lancaster, Pa. said, “It was important for us to be involved because it showed that there are peaceful ways to protest and that people who are not Colombians care about issues that affect Colombians.”
For more information on Radical Journey, visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.