I don’t think I had ever heard of World Vision until this year. The first time I heard about it was last March when they reversed their decision to recognize employees’ same-sex marriages. Then I heard a lot about it.
The next time I heard about World Vision happened shortly thereafter. I was looking for an old friend from my youth, the daughter of a missionary I had stayed with in 1964. I stumbled upon the obituary of her father. It was written by someone I had known on that mission trip to Guatemala in 1964. I remember the conversation when the missionary, John Shackleford, had talked to Don about coming back to Guatemala and devoting his life to a camping program there. He did.
Don helped me get in touch with Pep, the daughter. Barbara and I visited her in June, and I will see her again this week on a trip to California to visit my mother.
I believe Don’s work, and much of the work of Pep and her husband, were supported by World Vision.
We all live in boxes and are unaware of much of the world outside us. It is good to occasionally have a door opened to the world outside ours.
And so it was with a greater sense of context that I received an email last week from an old friend announcing that our mutual friend, Ricardo Esquivia, and his organization, Sembrandopaz, received the International Peace Prize from World Vision.
Here is the announcement from World Vision:
Congratulations to 2014 World Vision International Peace Prize Winner, Sembrandopaz grassroots peacebuilding organisation in Colombia
“The armed conflict and war have robbed millions of children the opportunity to live their childhood.
“Colombia is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that has not made it out of its armed conflict. For these reasons peace is very important for Colombia.
“We are much honored to receive this award and we will gladly accept it on behalf of all members of the community and community leaders with whom we work. It is their work what really moves us towards peace in Colombia.”
I met Ricardo on a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia in 2002. It was an interfaith delegation, of about thirty people, representing a variety of churches. We met Ricardo in Bogota, and I was in the group that went to Sincelejo with him.
(The following are excerpts my book: NORMAL: Stories from my Life. The last section of the book is called “Activism” and this story is called “Economic Justice: Part 1. Colombia and the FTAA”)
The initial part of the delegation was a two day conference in Bogota with leaders from the various Christian denominations in Colombia. Ricardo Esquivia had put the conference together. He was a man who was respected by all. One had to respect him because of the incredible work he had done negotiation between rural pastors, the various paramilitary organizations, and the ELN and FARC. Most rural areas of Colombia were not under the control of the government, but under the control of the other armed actors. In these rural areas, the minister of the local church, usually an evangelical church, was the only authority that the armed actors could use to communicate with the population. When there was a change in power the minister would be executed for having cooperated with the opposition force.
Ricardo had personally gone to the headquarters of all of the armed actors, at considerable risk of life, and had created a code of conduct which all parties agreed was permissible for a minister, so that the minister could cooperate with the prevailing force without being seen as aiding them in their cause. It was heroic work, and saved the lives of hundreds of ministers. So when Ricardo called all of the denominations to a meeting with religious leaders of the United States, there was impressive attendance.
As we sat around talking, Ricardo picked up some ripe mangoes that had fallen from the tree under which we were sitting. He passed them around to our group. People didn’t know what to do with them. When one came to me, I peeled it and stuck my face into it and ate the wonderful sticky fruit that dripped down my front. I’ll never forget the smile on Ricardo’s face when he saw me eating that mango.
Years later, his son, Daniel, needed a place to stay in Boston in order to receive a scholarship for a summer course in art. My wife and I gladly volunteered to host him. He stayed with us for two summers and we helped him a bit with tuition for his masters degree at an art academy in New York. We went to Daniel’s master’s exhibit and had dinner with him, Ricardo, and Ricardo’s ex-wife. We also dined with Ricardo at Daniel’s wedding. But I know that Ricardo mainly remembers me from eating that mango.