I found this post in my "drafts" folder unfinished but thought I'd post it now just because I want to hit my goal of 2 posts a week, even though I once said I wasn't going to blog about work!
Terry just got back from a two-day trip to the region known as el Chocó, on the Pacific coast of Colombia. The photos in this post are all from a previous trip he took to the region. I've been able to visit several times in the past three years and it's always a pleasure.
It's a very hot and humid area - I think even hotter and more humid than Yarina, where Anita and I grew up. It rains pretty much every day. Most of the travel is by river.
It's also an area that has suffered a great deal. Foreign mining companies, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the elusive coca-to-cocaine industry are all currently active in the area, and it is the small-scale farmers, as always, who are caught in the cross-fire.
This region of Colombia was originally settled by various indigenous people groups; when the Spanish colonizers found gold there, they brought in boatloads of slaves from Africa to do the difficult work of extracting it from the riverbeds. However hundreds of slaves escaped and established their own communities deep in the jungle, and have been living there for hundreds of years now. So the majority of people in this region even now are Afro-descendents.
One sad result of the cocaine industry moving in is that many people have abandoned their cultivation of food crops, in order to grow coca which fetches an exponentially higher price. So nearly all the food is brought in from outside the region, which means that anytime an armed group wants to flex their muscle, they blockade the area and bring it to its knees.
One initiative that our organization has been involved in for several years is supporting a church-based project for replacing coca with cacao. Currently, the farmers involved are exploring avenues for marketing their produce.
It's a big question what will happen in this area once peace accords are signed. Will the armed groups really lay down arms, or will they morph into something else in order to maintain control of narco-trafficking?
Just last month the Mennonite Brethren churches in Colombia celebrated 70 years of existence as a denomination here. They've weathered a lot of storms, violence and persecution. Our hope is that through our presence we may help them weather the coming ones.