Blessed are the Peacemakers: Church of God Advances Reconciliation in SW Colombia
By Abby Torgeson
Puerto Asís, Putumayo, Colombia. In a nation ravaged by conflict over the past several decades, the political process of achieving peace has been difficult, to say the least. Whether through bombs and bullets, or dialogue and demobilization, no single strategy has been able to untangle the complex web of guerilla fighters, paramilitary forces, corrupt police and military officials, common criminals, and narcotraffickers, many of whom were recruited as children to fight for freedom, power, or just another meal.
The year 2016 brought the first historic peace agreement between the government and the largest guerilla group, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish). The group officially disbanded, but the political, economic, and social fallout was significant, as thousands of former FARC fighters had to decide whether to accept the deal and find a way to reintegrate as upright citizens, often with no education or civilian work experience, or to reject the deal and join the rebels not represented in the accord. Conversations and conflict have continued.
Through it all, the Church of God in southwest Colombia has remained a steadfast presence, faithfully serving victims in their community and broadcasting messages of hope and salvation to encamped guerilla fighters. Pastor Angel Pinto and his wife Jeanet arrived in the city in the year 1988. The years have not been easy. In the early days, communication with their family in Bogotá was difficult. Quality health care was not accessible in this jungle outpost. Yet the love of Jesus and the hope that he provides compelled Angel and Jeanet to persevere in the face of threats, violence, kidnapping, illness, and loss.
Through their years of working in a zona roja, where many church members and preschool families have personally experienced violence or lost loved ones, the Pintos have come to know firsthand the need for peace. They know that peace is more than the absence of conflict, and it’s more than just a feeling. Even for believers, lasting peace does not just happen. It must be cultivated. As they have ministered, Angel and Jeanet have partnered with ministries dedicated to peacemaking, including a Mennonite church in Boise and the Justapaz organization in Colombia, to take practical steps to bring peace to the hearts and lives of people in their community.
On August 25–26, 2023, the Church of God in Puerto Asís was chosen to host a historic meeting of firmantes del acuerdo de paz, demobilized guerilla fighters that had signed the peace agreement, and victims of the conflict. A number of governmental, nonprofit, and religious organizations came together for the two-day event. On the morning of the first day, the firmantes came. The hosts led sessions on laying down the weapons of their heart and what it means to have inner peace. After lunch, it was the victims’ turn. Jeanet reported that the work with them was even more challenging, as they had lost family members, some of whom were never found. They were also taught about the meaning of true peace and the hard work of forgiveness.
On the second day, both groups were brought together. Pastor Angel and a local priest shared a devotional, which was followed by a time of conversation in which participants from both groups had the opportunity to share their hearts and hear one another’s pain. Over time, the rough edges were smoothed, as people came to understand one another. Ideological and social barriers began to fall, and hearts were mended. The firmantes asked the victims for forgiveness, and their request was heard and answered. The conversation came to a close with tears and hugs, then victims and fighters alike came together to hold hands and pray together. It was a moving scene.
“I don’t know how God chose me to be involved in this,” says Pastor Angel.
The day ended with lunch, as the firmantes and victims sat down to break bread together with their hosts, as well as representatives of the mayor’s office, police force, and other community officials that had come to witness and celebrate the symbolic reconciliation.
After the weekend was over, event organizers turned their attention to the next steps. After years of working with victims of violence, the Church of God was asked to do something different: walk alongside the former guerilla fighters as they work to build a life of peace.
Twenty firmantes came to the event at the church, explained Pastor Angel, but they come from an impoverished community of more than two hundred, which includes women, children, older adults, and disabled people. They need help. Church members and youth teams are making plans to visit the area and build relationships there. The congregation is also partnering with other churches and organizations to bring school supplies, clothing, and medical teams to meet the community’s practical needs.
“What the firmantes did is really important,” says Pastor Angel. “They laid down their weapons, left the war, and embraced peaceful coexistence and civilian life. Some of them were fighters for more than thirty years. The past is history. We have to build on what there is so that they can know the love of God. The majority have only lived under a military-style regimen, lacking love, compassion, and help. They need to understand the love of God, the love of the church, and the love people have for them.”
Please pray for the congregation in Puerto Asís and all the churches in Colombia as they engage in this important process of peacemaking. “It’s important to see what the Lord does in and through us when we walk in his will,” says Jeanet.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:19 NIV).
Blessed are the peacemakers, indeed. Blessed are those who know the peace of Christ and allow it to reign in their hearts. Blessed are those who lay down their weapons, including the weapons in their hearts, and confess their sins. Blessed are those who do the hard work of forgiveness and embrace those who have hurt them. Blessed are those who bring a cup of cold water, a bag of school supplies, or a pediatrician to an impoverished demobilized family that has never known love, showing them a better way to live and giving them the tools needed to live it.
Blessed are those who day in, day out, do the work of making peace—in Colombia and around the world.
Learn more about the ministry of Jason and Abby Torgeson, regional connectors to Latin America for Global Strategy, at chogglobal.org.