Every three months SEED as a program visits the location of one of its workers; every four months MCC has a retreat. It just so happens that to accomodate an advocacy trip a year from now SEED had to visit *two* locations this month (mine, here in Medellin, and Choco) and, because of “New Wine, New Wineskins”, Colombia’s country rep becoming regional rep and some coincidence, the retreat this year was in Medellin and was heavy on the meetings/reflection side. All this is to say that the last two weeks have been blessed and overwhelming madness (I also got an ear infection somewhere in there) as I have been in charge of the logistics and entertainment of groups of 14-33 at different points in time. I’m not really a detail person, so it was rough. On the other hand, the past two weeks, with it’s workshops, group reflections, trips, and community building have also given me opportunity to re-examine and refresh some convictions and ideas as well as be exposed to new facets of what justice and injustice look like in this country and through the eyes of this program.
Part one: Accountability and Equity
I was nervous about the Seeders arriving in Medellin, seeing my house, going out on the town. I was excited to see all of them, but I also know that their contexts are not the same as mine. With one possible exception, all the other Seeders have more intense/difficult living conditions than I do. It’s something we’ve talked about, it’s understood, but it is still a point of almost continual re-evaluation and struggle within a group so focused on equity and justice. I can go swimming, play pingpong, play volleyball for free. I can go to the movies, dancing, I can drink wine, I can buy peanut butter, heck I can buy TOFU if I really wanted to (and was willing to buy little else…which I am not) because I’m in Medellin and everything is accessible. I also can have near unlimited access to the internet and a large degree of freedom in how and with whom I spent my free time. This was all true for me in the US and so, while I understand that it’s not the norm in the world/this country/within my group the truth is that it doesn’t FEEL like such a privilege.
I tend to think more about what’s frustrating for me in this context than what isn’t. For example, it’s obnoxious that my balcony and part of my living room floods when it rains hard…but it’s really nice that I don’t live next to a river that floods the whole community when it rains or makes it impossible to enter or leave. It’s nice that I *have* water. Or it’s really hard that nearly everyone I work with has such a different world view than me/conservative theology…but it’s really nice that at various points during the week I can talk with people from back home about it, or with other Colombians of a different mindset; something that isn’t the case for others.’
Here’s the thing: I think it’s great people here can go to the pool for free. I think it’s great that people feel safe enough to go out dancing and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me getting to know people outside of the evangelical bubble. I also think it’s great that there are local vegetarian restaurants popping up and that good coffee shops exists. (The caveat, obviously, being the social principles of the company, effect on local market, etc) But I’m also grateful that two of my fellow Seeders independently told me how uncomfortable or angry they felt after having arrived to Medellin. Just SEEING the disproportionate amount of infrastructure and services, on the one hand, and comparing our individual freedoms and access-level as Seeders on the other was really hard for many of the Seeders. I feel defensive, borderline hurt and wanting to justify myself. “I didn’t chose to be here! I actually asked for another placement!” I think, or I say what I already have: these things are not bad! It’s not bad to have working sewage systems, public services, etc! This is what we’re about! Thankfully, we all love each other, we have all worked on communication at some point, and so we get along, we continue to love each other, but still—there is the contrast right in front of us, there are the feelings on both sides.
I have to sit down and think for a minute about what is true. What is true is that it is not just, it is not fair that I have all these things and my other Seeders do not. It is not fair because it is also not fair that people living in Medellin (especially relatively wealthy people) have access to all these things while people living on the Coast, Soacha or Choco do not. That doesn’t mean that the stadium is bad, or having running water is bad: au contraire. It’s good, but it should be a shared good. Their anger/discomfort was hard for me, because I’m in the privileged part, and I’ve been trying and succeeding to a large degree to not live my life based on guilt, but the anger comes from something true, a reality not to be forgotten.
Loving each other despite the injustices that stand between us is an interesting exercise. Having to be reminded on a micro scale what one always knows on a macro scale (after all, we Westerners all know our lifestyles are unfair compared to most others) is a challenge. Think about your peers, your friends, those you confide in: are they not usually people of more or less the same socio-economic level? We had experimented with this dynamic already with the North/South divide of our group in Bogota, but now we are having to do it all over again based on our regional advantages and disadvantages (I, for example, cannot go to the beach or see other members of the team without traveling many hours; there are multiple aspect of justice to be judged) and it is tense, sometimes, but it is also stretching.