Colombia Partnership

Building Peace from the Ground UpBy Rev. Lizette Merchán Pinilla, M.Div.
A Colombian, Protestant minister living in the U.S. for 14 years

How It Began, What it's About

The "Where"

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."

The "Why"

"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."

The "How"

"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 "Who"

"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,, May 22, 2015)

Michael Joseph

Michael Joseph

The "Who", Numero 2: Michael Joseph

"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.

Why Accompany Colombia?

"Your presence has allowed us to be here in our village and be alive. You give us hope!"

  • In 2006, U.S. assistance to Colombia amounted to an estimated USD $728 million, approximately 80% of which was military and police assistance.
  • At least 25,000 people were forcibly "disappeared" in Colombia.
  • More than 5.7 million people internally displaced.
  • Syria: 6.5 million people displaced; Colombia: 5.7 million; Democratic Republic of Congo: 2.9 million; Sudan: 2.4 million.
  • More than 27,000 people have been kidnapped, mainly by guerrillas.
  • Guerrillas kidnapped 25,482; paramilitary groups kidnapped 2,541.
  • More than 11,700 people killed in 1,982 massacres largely perpetrated by paramilitary groups.
  • Over 256,000 people newly displaced in 2012.
  • More than 16,800 people displaced in mass displacements in 2013. Of those, 73 percent were Afro-Colombian or indigenous.
  • 359 people wounded or killed by landmines in 2013. 169 people were registered as forcibly disappeared in 2013. Of those, 10 were found dead; 36 were found alive; 123 remain missing.
  • 26 union members assassinated in 2013. 78 human rights defenders assassinated in 2013. [Statistics by Amnesty International and Latin American Working Group.]

Any reasons not to join us?

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! 

Learn more

Accompanying Colombia Facebook Page

United Church of Christ Justice Page: Colombia