As We Share in Our Comfort and Suffering

May 17, 2015
II Corinthians 1:3-7; Isaiah 51:11-16

It is a pleasure to be here again not only being part of such an important event like Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, but also visiting and spending time with the congregation that we consider our community of faith and home church. I am glad that I have the opportunity to do both things; to stand in solidarity with peacebuilders in Colombia and to stand together with you who every year decide to care about our brothers and sisters in Colombia. Celebrating this event with you is even greater when it coincides with potluck day too!

Since Rebeca and I left last year to live in Harrisonburg we have missed our friends, our church, small group. You might want to know a little bit about us, so I’m just going to give you a bit of summary:

Rebeca is now the program director at a local branch of a national organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is very much enjoying this and just recently became a Big Sister herself to a little 7 year old Hispanic girl.  She also volunteers at the Harrisonburg Free Clinic helping families whose primary language is Spanish to follow up with health issues and appointments. She enjoys her work a lot and being involved in the community.  We are both very much enjoying being close to her parents and sister, and we get together weekly for supper club each Sunday.

On my part, I continue as a graduate student at EMU and two months ago I was hired as the director of the Harrisonburg International Festival, which I think was a direct consequence  of my 2015 New Year’s resolution.  My resolution was simple, literally… it was just to “include more music in my life”, and by that I was asking God to help me learn how to play the guitar that we have in our house. I assume God heard my request and said, “oh yes, if its music what you want, I have the perfect job for you.  Please have the task of organizing the best multicultural celebration in Virginia”.   The Festival takes place on September 26th. (Mark it on your calendars)

Harrisonburg is now our home, and our lives have been blessed with good jobs, friends, new things to learn, but our life is far from perfect. We have our own struggles and things that we deal with spiritually and emotionally.

On the other hand, Colombia, is still part of my home, and as part of my home, I care about what happens there and how my family, friends, and people that I know are doing. I try to stay connected. What happens in Colombia and what happens to my family also affects my life here. My life, and now my wife’s life, and her family, are now affected by how my family in Colombia is doing.

We are all connected and the well-being of a family in Colombia is now related to the well-being of a family in Harrisonburg. Because Hyattsville’s connections and relationships in Colombia, it is understandable that the well-being of our friends there are now connected to the well-being of this church. In the same way, the well-being of many people in different places of this country and in other countries affects us too.

The scripture from the Second book of Corinthians today, or my interpretation of it, says that as we share in our comfort as we share in our distress and suffering as well. The first and last verses of this passage are powerful:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God…

And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”    

These verses are talking about a codependency, or interdependency, of a group of human beings experiencing that the comfort [or mercy] from God is sharable, it doesn’t stay with just us, it goes beyond us, where it is needed.

Our suffering is also transferable, which leads me to say that what we experience is felt and experienced by others as well.

What a wonderful message to hear when we think that we are alone and hopeless in the struggles of our personal life, and in our efforts to change systems of injustice. What a relief it is when we hear this from others when they say “you are not alone. I am with you in this.”

“Your suffering is my suffering and my comfort is yours too. Use it!”

Sharing suffering and sharing the comfort of our brothers and sisters in Colombia makes their load of seeking sustainable peace lighter, but it also makes our burdens lighter when we try to find solutions or transformation to our struggles in the United States. Little by little, humanity is realizing how interconnected we are with everything.

And even when these relationships and connections are hard to maintain and prioritize, the tendency in all of us is to figure out how to nurture our connections and relationship with others and to the environment we live in.

We are aware of the amount of suffering happening around us. It has been heartbreaking to see over the news the images of black communities treated violently and with disrespect. It has been painful to hear and know about our problems at the border, and the problems we as a country create beyond our borders.

Suffering is part of life, but it is meant to be shared. Comfort is part of life, but it is meant to be shared!  

We are so interwoven that our brain actually get confused when it sees another human being experiencing suffering or joy, that it actually thinks it is happening to our own bodies. It is called empathy, it is embedded in our instincts and it is there as a gift from God.

It wouldn’t be right to only ask for the well-being of my family or the well-being of Colombians only. It is according to my faith and my responsibility to recognize that our comfort and sufferings are meant to be shared with the whole world. We are starting to see more and more efforts of groups standing in solidarity with people and places they don’t know nor haven’t been to. Today these efforts are more evident through social media and the technology we have, but efforts to stand in solidarity with others have always been there. Or maybe, it is a part of us that is being more and more developed as we accepted and embrace it.

Colombia still has a long way to walk, but figuring out what needs to happen so that at least parties involved can stop shooting at each other is heading in the right direction. The underlying issues of inequality and poverty that caused this war in the first place have still not been resolved and maybe the area that the entire country has to recognize, that inequality and poverty are the source of our conflict.

There are wonderful solidarity efforts happening in Colombia too and today’s celebration is meant to share this message. The peace of tomorrow starts today because we are living a testimony of that right now. Our sister organizations and churches live in a world of peacebuilding because it is their daily bread as it is the daily bread of all us who stand for our faith and values and struggles.

Who hasn’t been infuriated when images of war and violence from here, this country, and from images of violence around the world, come to view? It is much more difficult to live in it and we have to decide to not let feelings of solitude or despair overwhelms us.

Two weeks ago I took a training called STAR (which stands for Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience)  One of the components of the training is meant to helps us understand that due to a traumatic experience, we get stuck in a cycle of violence… spinning around hurting ourselves or hurting others. In order to get out of this cycle, is important to first recognize it, and recognize when others are in this cycle, understand the signs that our own bodies are sending us, and then enable our minds to do everything within our reach to start a different path that seeks for truth, mercy, justice, peace, and reconciliation. Getting out of the cycles of violence requires the acknowledgement that we or others have been wounded, and as all wounds, if they can’t heal on their own, we need the help of someone else.

Poverty and inequality are traumatic experiences and they might have kept our communities spinning in cycles of violence. This is not a formula, but instead, a lenses to understand ourselves and others. I tried to look at my family and the Colombian conflict, and my own family history, to identify the presence of cycles of violence, and boy did I find some.

It was important to apply the lenses of trauma to the Colombian conflict that has been going on for at least 60 years. All these years of trauma related experience have led some people to fight back, others to flight to find refuge, or simply freeze.  It doesn’t matter anymore who started, who committed what, where there has been so much hurt in a society what’s important is to find ways to break the cycle. I realize we all have been hurt one way or another, and when we decide to work at these cycles of violence and woundedness at all levels, that is when Colombia will begin to find peace.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed and scared. It seemed too big of task to address. But having the opportunity to share my suffering and my joys makes the load of all of us lighter.  Besides our most common responses to threat, people and societies have the power of resilience or to overcome difficulties, finding ways to not only survive but thrive. So I also started to look at the signs of resilience in Colombia. Days of Prayer and Action is a sign of resilience. We still get together, and our hope for peace is still unshaken.

Our scripture today ask us, “who are we, that we forget the connection to our Lord, the one who is present in the heavens and in the foundations of the earth? The Lord our God who divided the sea, who has made the impossible happen, and put his words in our mouths. God has covered us with his hands [to protect us].

For more difficult that our tasks seems to be remember that our God is a God of resilience, which we discover in our connection with each other, and our connection to the heavens and in our connection to the earth. Keeping this connection keeps our hope firm and solid.

I found this prayer in the materials of Days of Prayer and Action that I have read several times as I have felt disturbed by different tragedies taking place in Colombia, around the world, and here. I want to share it with you today because I found comfort and we know that comfort spreads around.

Grant us peace that will
BREAK our silence in the midst of violence then prophetic voices shall resonate
Grant us peace that will
PULL US DOWN from the steeple of our pride then we’ll learn to wash each other’s feet
Grant us peace that will
EMPTY us of hate and intolerance then we’ll turn guns into guitars and sing
Grant us peace that will
SHUT our mouths up when we speak too much then we’ll learn to listen and understand what others are saying
Grant us peace that will
DISTURB us in our apathy then we’ll dance together under the sun
Grant us peace that will
BURN our lethargic hearts then we’ll endure burning and let love and justice glow