By Rev. Lizette Merchán Pinilla, M.Div.
A Colombian, Protestant minister living in the U.S. for 14 years
The Rev. Barbara Gerlach explains: "In 1979 and 1980, when John and I adopted our two children from Colombia, we said that we wanted to adopt a little of their country and culture as well. In the early 1990s, we began traveling to Latin America to learn Spanish and help our children know their cultural roots.
"In 1997 I went on my first human rights delegation to Colombia to see the massive displacement of AfroColombians and indigenous people caught in the crossfire of Colombia's civil war. That encounter captured my heart, changed the course of my life, and set me on a journey working with Colombians to end the conflict and build a just peace."
"I began accompanying Colombians to meet with members of the U.S. Congress and Department of State. I helped the UCC Central Atlantic and Connecticut conferences develop mission partnerships and led yearly delegations to Colombia."
"I spearheaded two General Synod resolutions which led to the placement of a critical-presence Global Ministries missionary in Colombia: Michael Joseph. I learned again how much God's advocacy for us and our advocacy for others are intermingled. We move among people, trying to open communication and joint action so that those without voice or much power can be heard, and their reality is recognized as part of the common good," Rev. Gerlach said.
"The Central Atlantic and Connecticut Conference partnership continues and builds upon Barbara's tireless work," said the late Rev. John Deckenback, Central Atlantic Conference Minister. "We are pleased that Global Ministries has supported this effort through the appointment of Rev. Michael Joseph as our missionary and critical presence [in Colombia]. Michael's work in documenting the continued strife and violence against church workers has been extraordinary."
Deckenback and the Rev. Kent Siladi, Connecticut Conference Minister, traveled to Columbia in 2015 along with five other ministers. (UCC delegation heads to Colombia to aid peace process, ucc.org, May 22, 2015)
"I grew up in Latin America (the child of missionaries to Brazil), and have lived roughly half of my life in the U.S. and half in different countries in Latin America. From a young age I've been interested in the relationship between the United States and Latin America, and Colombia is one of those places where the links are so very important," Michael said.
"Your presence has allowed us to be here in our village and be alive. You give us hope!"
Your witness, your testimony is the best ally/companion we have. To be there and walk together in the struggle – let's make the circle wide!