By Jennifer Schrock, director of Mennonite Creation Care Network

Periodically, MCCN receives requests for help regarding deforestation and lack of environmental sensitivity on the part of Old Colony Mennonites in Central or South America. Last month, one such situation came to us from an environmental scholar with connections to the Council of Indigenous Communities in Cauca–the largest Indigenous organization in Colombia.

She reported on a land conflict involving the Sikuani, Old Colony Mennonites and the government near Puerto Gaitán, a community about 200 miles west of Bogotá. Through the Colombian government, the colony has acquired 17,000 acres of Sikuani ancestral land and are beginning to farm it.

Environmental advocates are extremely concerned about the clearing of sensitive rainforests to raise monocultures such as soybeans. This is land with many endemic species that do not easily recover from disruption. Quotes from Spanish language newspaper articles suggest that the Old Colony perspective on this is that they are simply trying to make a living for their families and future generations. 

Situations like this can make us feel powerless. They are far away and far beyond our scope. We also know our own histories here in North America and know that our farming ancestors did the same thing. 

But there is one way we can respond to this clash of worldviews: through the power of imaginative prayer. Can we imagine bridges between the Sikuani and Old Colony Mennonites that enable shalom for all parties? Can we imagine forest livelihoods that support both groups without destroying precious forest ecosystems? Can we find Puerto Gaitán on a map and call for the Spirit of all holiness and goodness to bring about restitution and reconciliation beyond our imagining? Can we ask for insight into aspects of our own lifestyles that might support rainforest destruction? Please join me in intercessory prayer. 

If you have Old Colony ties or suggestions for ways to bring justice to the Indigenous peoples of Puerto Gaitán, can connect you with the person who brought this concern to us. Below is a prayer you could use in a worship service. 

Loving God,

We lament the colonial violence and environmental degradation that is occurring in Colombia. 

We pray that the Sikuani will have their ancestral lands returned to them and that your spirit be present during this time. 

Pour out your wisdom on all who are involved in this ordeal – that justice be restored and that all may live in peace. Help us all to work actively to decolonize our institutions and dismantle colonial structures everywhere.  – Prayer by Kate Strathdee

Additional information in Spanish