Illinois man peacemaker in Colombia

Compiled by Susan Johnson

Copy Editor

Part 1

Jim Fitz, of Tiskilwa, Ill., is working as a volunteer in Branncabermeja, Colombia with the Christian Peacemaker Team. CPT is a peacemaking program of the Mennonite Church, the Church of the Brethren, and the Quakers, and includes volunteers of many other Christian denominations. CPT works in violence reduction in Colombia, Palestine, Canada and New York. They are pacifists who work only with persons not connected with armed groups, and only at the invitation of the local community.

In Colombia, CPT is engaged in accompanying displaced civilian farmers who wish to return to their land and homes. These people are caught between the fighting of the armed groups of paramilitaries and government against the guerrillas. CPT volunteers document and do public denouncements of human rights abuses and illegal actions that they witness. Recently, they witnessed a gun battle between the government and the paramilitaries against the guerrillas.

Fitz reports that many of the guns used by all the armed groups come from the U.S. through Plan Colombia. As a U.S. citizen, he is greatly disturbed by this. He recently sent a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin asking him to vote against sending any more arms to Colombia, citing the government’s poor record of human rights abuses.

CPT began in 1984 when delegates to the Mennonite World Conference responded to the call of Rod Sider, who issued the challenge to go into the world. He said, “We must be prepared to die by the thousands. Those who believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives … they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time, and they laid down their lives by the millions. Unless we … are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic, vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we never really meant what we said, and we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands filled with injustice…”

Sider’s words galvanized a group of activists in the traditional peace churches: Mennonite, Brethren and Quakers. Their response was the beginning of Christian Peacemaker Teams. The idea was to place teams of 4-6 people who were trained in nonviolence and rooted in prayer into conflict situations. They would be armed with nothing more than a pen, a notebook and a camera. They were asked to get in the way of violence, to disarm violence with love. And teams of Christian Peacemakers have been following their motto, “Getting in the Way” in Haiti, Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. over the last 14 years.

CPT volunteers have literally stood in front of Israeli bulldozers in Hebron who were ready to demolish Palestinian homes. They have accompanied peoples of these countries to school, to vote, to the doctor, from one part of town to another when it was dangerous for these people to walk alone. They have been creative. One CPTer saw a Palestinian being detained illegally by a soldier at gunpoint. The Palestinian was without a jacket, and it was cold. The CPTer took off his jacket and sat down beside the man, saying that he, too, was going to stay there until the man was released. Soon he was.

In a letter dated March 5 to local friends, Fitz said, “I would like to make two appeals. The first one is for economic support for CPT in Colombia. From what I gather, it is costing a bit more to run this project than others. Transportation is expensive. We are running a boat and motor. The other day the motor broke down, and it cost $80 for parts and repair. To fill up for gas, it costs us $100. On our present motor, the transmission is going out, so we bought a new one for something like $3,000. To fly to Bogota costs $100 as opposed to $20 on the 8-hr. bus trip… Because of where we live, it costs $1 for a taxi, and we have to use it a lot—we are often going to meetings with NGOs or to buy things in the commercial district… In an evaluation on Sunday of our work by the people of the Opon, one of the things they asked for was for us to increase the size of the team. This takes people and money. So if you believe in this work and can send us some financial support, I encourage you to do it. Thanks again for the generosity of so many of you that enabled me to come here! Send it to CPT, P.O. Box 6508, Chicago, IL 60680, and I would appreciate knowing about it too at

“The second appeal is for persons to respond to the call of the Lord to work here. The first thing is to fill out an application and then visit a CPT site with a delegation. There is now a delegation visit planned for here—4/20-5/1 in which there are still quite a few spots to fill. Even if you are unsure whether the Lord is calling you to this work, this is a good way to test it out and see what CPT is all about in the field. For applications, e-mail or call 800-318-2843 or 312-455-1199…

“Visited with one of the leaders of the displaced today for about an hour. Manuel’s, the missing leader’s wife, was there. She had just had an operation and was in a lot of pain from that, and also crying about not knowing about her husband. The leader shared with me about his thoughts about what a proposal should look like in thinking about a possible meeting with an armed group. It was good to hear. He also shared that he thought we were very valuable to be doing what we are doing, and how much he appreciates it. Also had a nice visit with a pastor. He invited me to worship. I hope I can work it in.

“Well, I should go get some supper. We are on our own tonight. Usually, someone makes supper, but tonight there are only two of us. I think I will get a Papa—a deep-fried mashed potato ball about the size of a baseball. It has some carrots and maybe some tomatoes mixed in it. I like them. Also maybe I’ll have some ice-cold tamarind juice, or tutti frutti juice (a mix of papaya, orange, pineapple and banana in small pieces—one of my favorites). They also have fresh orange juice that they make right there. They sell these things most everywhere along the street. It is one of my pleasures in living here.”

To be continued…

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